In recent times the “rule of law” in democracies has been frequently referenced as the foundation for communities of justice, opportunity, and peace. Based on a belief in the equality of all human beings, it holds that no one is to enjoy privileges that are not extended to all people and that no person is immune from accountability. In other words, no one is above the law.
Although this context is radically different from today’s Gospel, I wonder if Jesus is protecting the law of the Torah much like a contemporary democracy seeks to uphold its rule of law. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets,” Jesus says, “I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” Beyond simply upholding the law, his words promise its fulfillment.
Formal biblical interpretation aside, I believe Jesus is giving “heart” to law in today’s passage. He was routinely attacked by religious leaders for breaking the law when, for instance, it was really for the sake of love that he healed on the Sabbath. Recall that Jesus summarized the commandments of Moses in a two-pronged commandment to love God and to love neighbor: “On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets” (Matt 22:36-40).
In our litigious and somewhat jaded society, it is a challenge to remember what Jesus teaches us: law is about love before it is about behavior. Ultimately, it is a matter of the heart, for before the law is broken the heart is broken. In God’s eyes, the greatest in the Kingdom—on earth and in heaven—is the one who obeys and teaches the commandment to love.