So what’s the verdict? Can we eat pork or not?
Day 21: Matthew 5:17-18 – Part 5
Do not think that I have come to do away with the Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets. I have not come to do away with them, but to make their teachings come true. Remember that as long as heaven and earth last, not the least point nor the smallest detail of the Law will be done away with—not until the end of all things.
[This is the last of 5 reflections on this scripture.]
Finally, in this last of five reflections on this scripture, I’m going to address two final points that Jesus makes here – that the Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets will endure until the end of all things, and that they will eventually “come true.” Pretty cryptic.
My Thoughts about the Eternal Truth of the Law and Teachings
In this scripture Jesus says, “Remember that as long as heaven and earth last, not the least point nor the smallest detail of the Law will be done away with—not until the end of all things.” In other words, he says that the Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets are somehow “eternal.” I think perhaps Jesus is trying to say that the Laws and teachings articulate eternal truths, like the “laws of nature”, that will be in effect as long as heaven and earth and humans exist. They can’t be modified, rescinded or revoked. For example, the Law says, “Thou shalt not kill.” Killing always causes pain and brokenness. It’s true, whether you write it down as a law or not. Like the Law of Gravity. It is in effect whether or not you believe in it or observe it or enforce it or write it down. What goes up goes down. Killing creates sadness. If you don’t have dietary laws you will probably die prematurely. If you live your life compulsively sacrificing animals in the hope of gaining God’s favor you will live a wasted life. Without articulated guidelines regarding appropriate sexual behavior and partnerships there will be social and emotional chaos. If you can’t get along with your fellow human beings you will have a stressful, miserable existence. The details of these “laws” may change over time, but the need for rules about these kinds of things is unchanging.
How Can the Law and Teachings “Come True?”
As a result of reflecting on this scripture, I had a sort of revelation that the difference between the Earth and the Kingdom of Heaven is summarized by the Law. For example, there is killing on earth, but no killing in the Kingdom. Jesus says at “the end of all things” we won’t need the Law anymore. We’ll all know how to behave ourselves. We will completely surrender to the truth. No more double-mindedness. We will flow in the Spirit and love confidently. When the Kingdom of God is established here on earth we won’t need the Law because we will all be doing the right thing naturally, without having to think about it all the time. We will all then embody the Law of Moses and the teachings of the prophets. At that point “the teachings will come true.”
So is it OK to Eat Shrimp?
In the final analysis, after spending five days on it, I can only conclude that this is not a simple scripture to understand. Certainly from a legalistic point of view it’s always going to be frustrating because the contradictions and inherent ambiguities in Jewish Law it can only be understood on a highly philosophical or deeply spiritual level. Anyone offering a quick, simple interpretation of these words of Jesus is probably on the wrong track – particularly any Christian who uses it to justify things like homophobia or to convince you that God will strike you dead if you eat pork.
Ultimately, Jewish law is a way of life. It makes no sense to pick and choose; it’s not a smorgasbord. Either you’re in or you’re out. If you choose to ignore or disobey even one rule then you are demonstrating that you don’t have confidence in the Law as the definitive, conclusive, immutable, comprehensive expression of God’s will for humankind. Furthermore, if you have ever shaved your beard or eaten shrimp or failed to recite the Shema or stayed home from church even once you have already blown it because here and now in twenty-first century there is no remedy for your sin according to the Law. The Temple is gone and so are the priests who, under the Law, are the only ones who can offer the atoning sacrifices that are required to reconcile you to God and make things right. You are doomed by your own legalism. Either you buy into rule-based, unchanging religion or spirit-based, evolving religion. Oh, and just in case you are STILL thinking that Jewish Law is perfect and infallible, please take this fact into consideration: There is nothing in Jewish Law about rape. Rape is perfectly OK under Jewish Law, as long as it’s not another Jew’s wife. Does that sound perfect to you? Not to me!
Everything we do has an effect on those around us. The Law trains people not to act on their every selfish desire. Eventually Jesus says that the Law teaches us how to love. In fact, in the Great Commandment, Jesus says that to love God and love one another is the meaning, the fulfillment of the Law. We need to live our lives thoughtfully and intentionally, always aware of how our actions affect those around us and all of mankind, for that matter. We should want to live good lives and make the world a better place, and God wants to tell us how to do it. But the prophets tell us that more rules won’t help. We need more love and kindness, not better laws.
It was always certain that we must be in true relationship with God if we want to know God’s will for our own lives. We will never find that in any list of rules. The Bible is about God; to make it a substitute for God is to make an idol of it. Same goes for the Law of Moses. Jesus taught us that we are already reconciled with our God who loves us as deeply as a good father loves his own children, whether or not we obey the letter of the Law. He also taught us that we need to develop an intimate relationship with God through study, prayer, scripture, contemplation, discernment, and the leading of the Holy Spirit. These are the things we must rely on we want to know what God requires of each of us now in this time, in this place. The Law is a poor substitute for this.
There, that’s it. Finally done. I seriously got a lot out of that that scripture. I will never look at that it in the same way. But now I’m ready to let it go. On to the next one.
What does this scripture say to you?