The gospels present differing pictures of Jesus’ attitude towards Jewish Law and scholars debate about his precise views. For those of us who would like a working understanding of Jesus’ thinking though, here are a few observations. First, Jesus respected the Law of his people. Second, Jesus seemed to want folks to focus on the heart of Law, not on simply the externals. Third, he oriented his thoughts about The Law around his promise of God’s Future.
Jewish Law (capitalized because it is sacred in Jewish faith) preserved civility among the people, protected the powerless and united the people in their relationship with God, the core of their communal being. In a way foreign to us, there was and could be no separation between sacred and profane law. Jesus honored this vision of Law. He also tried to turn a spotlight on its heart.
His message was, don’t do things by halves; don’t play hide and seek with God. Look at what the Law promotes and commit yourselves completely to that goal. Don’t begin by seeking the minimum that you have to do. Begin with the determination to live the heart of the law as completely as possible.
The issue isn’t how much you have to love but how you can love completely. The issue isn’t how much you have to share with the poor but how you can help the poor find their rightful power and move into security and dignity. The point isn’t how much you can legally and socially get away with in your sexual relationships; the issue is how you can treat others in the most respectful way possible in every circumstance. Ask these questions not to avoid punishments from a judgmental God. Ask to them to advance the Future that God offers.
With Jesus, the assumption is that we and our Creator have a common goal and we are determined to do all we can to achieve that goal as quickly as possible.