Fr. Mike Schmitz explains why Christians are called to follow some laws of the Old Testament and not others. Passing on the advice of Pope Benedict XVI, he distinguishes between universal laws, like the Ten Commandments and “case by case” laws, like those to be followed only in the kingdom of Israel and the temple.
“I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.” Matthew 5:17–18
The Old Law, the law from the Old Testament, prescribed various moral precepts, as well as ceremonial precepts for worship. Jesus makes it clear that He is not abolishing all that God taught through Moses and the Prophets. This is because the New Testament is the culmination and completion of the Old Testament. Thus, nothing of old was abolished; it was fulfilled and brought to completion.
The moral precepts of the Old Testament were laws that flowed primarily from human reason. It made sense that one should not kill, steal, commit adultery, lie, etc. It also made sense that God should be honored and respected. The Ten Commandments and the other moral laws still hold today. But Jesus brings us much further. He not only called us to go much deeper in the keeping of these commandments, He also promised the gift of grace so that they could be fulfilled. Thus, “Thou shall not kill” is deepened to the requirement of complete and total forgiveness of those who persecute us.
It’s interesting to note that the new depth of the moral law Jesus gives actually goes beyond human reason. “Thou shall not kill” makes sense to almost everyone, but “love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you” is a new moral law that makes sense only by the help of grace. But without grace, the natural human mind alone cannot arrive at this new commandment.
This is extremely helpful to understand, because oftentimes we go through life relying upon our human reason alone when it comes to making moral decisions. And though our human reason will always direct us away from the most obvious moral failures, it will be insufficient alone to guide us to the heights of moral perfection. Grace is necessary for this high calling to make sense. Only by grace can we understand and fulfill the call to take up our crosses and follow Christ.
My most high Jesus, You have called us to a new height of holiness. You have called us to perfection. Enlighten my mind, dear Lord, so that I may understand this high calling and pour forth Your grace, so that I may embrace my moral duty to the fullest extent. Jesus, I trust in You.
Reflect, today, upon your own calling to perfection. If it doesn’t make sense to you how God can expect perfection of you, then pause and reflect upon the fact that you are right—it doesn’t make sense to human reason alone! Pray that your human reason will be flooded with the light of grace so that you will be able to not only understand your high calling to perfection but that you will also be given the grace you need to achieve it.