Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,
“You have heard that it was said: An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth. But I say to you … when someone strikes you on your right cheek, turn the other one to him as well.”
Six times, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus makes statements like this. On the surface — even though He said He came to fulfill the law — He appears to be overturning the law. “Jesus did away with all that” is the attitude people sometimes take. But this leads to the false and dangerous conclusion that we can ignore the Old Testament.
One of the keys to understanding Jesus’ ministry, however, and maintaining a proper Christian sense of the Old Testament, is to see the trajectory that God is taking with His people. God takes them one step at a time toward the fullness of truth. When Jesus appears to be overturning the law, He’s usually just taking them the next step on the path that God has laid out. The fulfillment may be surprising. It may appear to be new and contradictory — the same way a flower can appear new and contradictory compared to its seed. But, in fact, it’s an organic continuation of the same line of growth. To think that “Jesus did away with all that” is like trying to have flowers without seeds.
What’s the end goal? Jesus reveals that when he concludes His discourse on the law by saying: “So be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mt. 5:48)
People often dismiss this, too. How many times do we hear people say, “Of course, we’re never going to be perfect?”
That sentiment, so seemingly reasonable on the surface, is contrary to the Gospel and the trajectory of the entirety of Scripture. In Leviticus 19:1-2, God makes His holiness the standard of our holiness. “You shall be holy, for I, the Lord, your God, am holy.” Jesus picks this up when He tells us to be perfect as His heavenly Father is perfect. Revelation 21:27 puts the icing on the cake by telling us that nothing unclean will enter heaven. Scripture — at its beginning, middle and end — tells us that perfection is the goal.
Of course, we shouldn’t misunderstand what perfection means. It doesn’t mean making everyone exactly like everyone else. The perfection of a strawberry is different from that of an apple. The perfection of a dog is different from that of a horse. Likewise, the perfection of one saint is different from that of another. St. Therese of Lisieux is different from St. Thomas Aquinas, who is different from St. Ignatius of Loyola, who is different from St. Teresa of Koklata, and so on. God gives each of us different gifts; God asks each of us to play different roles. When we use the gifts and play the roles perfectly, we grow into those differences.
The truth of the path that God gives us. Patience with people as they walk that path, one step at a time. Determination, always challenging and encouraging people to take the next step. These are three key characteristics of the ministry of Jesus. If we do away with any of them in our ministry — truth, patience or determination — we part company with Jesus.