Fifth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year A

The Sermon on the Mount Carl Bloch, 1890

The Law of The Spirit

Scholars have interpreted the Sermon on the Mount in various ways. Some have said that Jesus did not actually mean everything he said, at least not literally. His interpretation of the Law of Moses may have been a little too strict because that was before his crucifixion. The Law was Old Testament and now we have the New Testament.

How do we interpret these words of Jesus?

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.”  (Matthew 5:17-20)

Jesus is not providing much wiggle room. When the Law seems too difficult to follow should we redefine it or interpret it more liberally. The Pharisees made it a practice. In doing so, they decided who was keeping the Law properly and who was not. Perhaps they did not understand the Prophet Isaiah:

If you remove the yoke from among you,
the pointing of the finger, the speaking of evil,

if you offer your food to the hungry
and satisfy the needs of the afflicted,

then your light shall rise in the darkness
and your gloom be like the noonday.   (Isaiah 58:9-11)

When people find that they cannot live up to the tenants of the Law they shift the focus to others. That is to say, you have fallen short more than I have. The good news is that we have all fallen short. Our fallen flesh simply fails. The Apostle Paul wrote:

“For we know that the Law is spiritual, but I am of flesh, sold into bondage to sin.”‭‭.  (Romans‬ ‭7:14‬)

If our flesh fails then why are we depending upon it? The key is that understanding and keeping the Law is spiritual. The key is that the Law, itself, is spiritual and only the Holy Spirit of God can empower us to keep the Law. It is the Spirit that produces fruit:

But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law. Those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. Since we live by the Spirit, let us keep in step with the Spirit. Let us not become conceited, provoking and envying each other.   (Galatians 5:22-26)

 If we are to keep the Law then we need a heart change, continually. Jesus has remitted our sins by his death on the cross. By faith we receive his grace. We show him our appreciation by granting him access to our hearts. God has promised us that he will enable us to keep the Law. Jeremiah prophesied such a time:

“But this is the covenant that I will make with the house of Israel after those days, says the LORD: I will put My law in their minds, and write it on their hearts; and I will be their God, and they shall be My people.   (Jeremiah 31:33)

Now is that time. Are we ready to let the Law of God flow within us by the power of the Spirit. The Apostle writes:

There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.   (Romans 8:1-4)

On our own, we will always struggle to keep God’s Law. By the power of the Holy Spirit the Law will be fulfilled in us, provided we are in Christ Jesus.


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Filed under Epiphany, homily, Jesus, lectionary, liturgical preaching, liturgy, preaching, Revised Common Lectionary, sermon, sermon preparation, Year A

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