NOTE: This is one in a series of posts from my moral theology assignments. They are intended to be brief responses. In many cases, the topics could be extensively explored, but that was not the intent of the assignment.
Jesus came to fulfill the Old Testament Law (Matthew 5:17), which means that He demonstrates its true meaning, rather than rendering it null and void. The Law presented in Exodus, Leviticus, and Deuteronomy elaborates on the Decalogue, mostly in regard to the ritual and juridical precepts that set the People of Israel apart from all the surrounding tribes. These precepts apply to the Old Covenant and help the Hebrews to attune themselves to holiness.[i]
If we look at the center of the Law (the Decalogue), we can see that Jesus never set it aside. However, Jesus came to fulfill and perfect the Law and to establish a new covenant. He begins by revealing the depth of the Law in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5–7. In this action, He refocuses attention on the moral precepts of the Law, but He interprets it in such a way as to show the Father’s intention: “I desire mercy, not sacrifice” (Matthew 9:13). It is not sufficient to conform externally only; one must conform one’s heart to the Law. His focus is on the interior morality rather than simple external conformance.[ii] In Matthew 15:11, Jesus says that it is not what goes into the mouth that defiles man but what comes out, that which proceeds from man’s heart. Cleansing the exterior of the cup does no good if “inside they are full of extortion and rapacity” (Matt 23:25).
While the moral law of the Old Testament, which reflects natural law but is perfected in revelation, does not pass away, the juridical and ritual law is specific to the Old Covenant. Jesus, establishing the New Covenant, replaces the old ritual law with the Sacraments of the Church.[iii] The juridical authority represented by the Mosaic Law interpreted by the rabbis, then, gives way to the authority of binding and loosing given to Peter and later to the Apostles in Matthew. In this way, Jesus supplants those elements that do not apply to the Christian faithful while maintaining the moral law common to both Old and New Covenants.
i. Benedict Ashley, “Moral Theology: Lecture 2A—Lesson Three,” International Catholic University, 6 February 2010, http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c00303.htm.
ii. Benedict Ashley, “Moral Theology: Lecture 3A—Lesson Five,” International Catholic University, 6 February 2010, http://home.comcast.net/~icuweb/c00305.htm.