“Not the Smallest Letter of the Law Shall Pass Away….”

If you attended Mass this morning, you heard the Gospel from Matthew in which Jesus tells his followers that he has come not to abolish but to fulfill the Law, and until that time even the smallest part of the Law remains. He adds that those who fail to teach this Law will be considered the least in the Kingdom of Heaven.

Since Matthew was writing to a primarily Jewish audience, he used the phrase, “Kingdom of Heaven” rather than what the other Synoptics used, i.e., “Kingdom of God.” As you know, the Jews would never dare utter God’s name, so Matthew refrained from using the word “God” in favor of “heaven.” Whether the former or the latter phrase is used, the meaning is the same: The Kingdom of God is GodĀ who is now among us.

You may wonder how to understand Jesus’ admonition about the Law, and the strong words he uses to describe those who fail to teach the Law and observe it. Does what he say lend itself to scrupulosity and legalism?


It is necessary to consider that the entire Old Testament is to be understood in the context of Jesus Christ. One cannot understand the Old Testament without coming to know Jesus from Nazareth who is the Son of Man, Emmanuel, the fulfillment of the Law.

The Old Testament is the revelation of God to his chosen people, a revelation which was progressive and continual. The manner in which God revealed himself to them — the burning bush, the plagues of Egypt, the multitude of prophets sent to Israel, the Ten Commandments, the manna and quail, the Law of Moses, to name a few — was his way of preparing his people, indeed the entire world, for the great and definitive revelation in his Son Jesus Christ. The Mosaic Law, then, and the people of God as a whole, prefigure and predict the Kingdom, the real presence of God in Jesus Christ.

God was present, one can say, in a indistinct manner in the Law and more evidently in his chosen people Israel, yet his presence was a veiled presence, a presence that could not be gazed upon directly. You might say looking at the Mosaic Law, of which Jesus speaks today in the Gospel, was like seeing the backside of God, His face was hidden from view. In Jesus Christ we are able to see God distinctly, for he took on our flesh and became one with us and thus visible to us. When we look at Jesus, we see God-revealed; we see the “Kingdom.” We see him as if we were to gaze on God’s face and be seen by him. Thus, Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law a fulfillment that does not destroy, but rather brings to complete fruition.

There is another aspect to today’s Gospel that needs our reflection. Jesus is giving us a clear mission: “Teach God’s law to the next generation. Woe to you if you do not!” we can almost hear Jesus say. Yes, today’sĀ Gospel is a call to action, a call to teach the Gospel to those for whom we are responsible. We who are parents need pay heed. Have we taught our children the faith? We who are ordained, have we preached and taught well the faith handed on to us?

If we haven’t, Jesus says we will be the least in God’s eyes.


About Deacon Bob

Moderator: Deacon Bob Yerhot of the Diocese of Winona, Minnesota.
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