The Law: Delivered by Moses, Fulfilled by Jesus – Wednesday- 10th Week in ordinary time-Matthew 5: 17-19
In order to constantly understand Jesus as presented in Matthew’s gospel we need to keep in mind a Judeo-Christian community that has found itself locked out of the synagogue by the Jewish authority. So while Matthew portrays Jesus as respectful of the Torah, he will not show the same courtesy to the keepers of it who are seen by Jesus as hypocrites.
The Pharisaic halakha with which Jesus was in conflict, was a collective body of Jewish religious laws derived from the written and oral Torah. It included 613 mitzvot or commandments. The mitzvot were both ethical and ceremonial.
Verse 17 begins with what could only be seen as a presupposition. Their religious leaders had already begun to poison the minds of the people against Jesus, presenting Him as a radical leader. For them, He was not really a rabbi for He disregarded the law and the prophets. Jesus takes on this slanderous accusation head on. He is clear, He is not here to abolish the law but to fulfill it and fulfill every letter of it.
For four hundred years up to Jesus, the voices of prophecy had been silent. In this void, a group of people known as the Pharisees and scribes become interpreters of the law and in a sense de facto intermediary between God and man. To the people, these leaders were examples par excellence, men to be followed for their religious piety.
Imagine the challenge that Jesus threw His hearers when He said that the righteousness of an ‘ordinary Jew’ must exceed that of the scribes and Pharisees, in order to get into the kingdom of heaven.