Reflection on Matthew 5.17-19 (Lent)

Jesus said: 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.

Today’s reading is a call for us to travel in humility as we live out our daily lives. We live in an age in which we celebrate, and even honour, certainty. We wrap our certainty up in all sorts of words: determination, duty, principle and resilience, for example. However, these ‘commendable’ words only reflect our attitude to the power we wish to take over our own lives, and often over the lives of others. Whether our attitudes are informed by faith, or whether they simply state our personal preferences and prejudices, they could not be more distanced from Christ’s call to live a life of humble love and service.

In today’s reading we hear Jesus’ statement that he did not come into this world in order that he might overturn God’s law and the words of the ancient prophets. Jesus makes it plain that, no matter what humanity has done to those laws and those divinely inspired words, his role is to honour and fulfil all of the interactions between God and human beings. Jesus then goes on to encourage us to live as he lives, in humble submission to the rule of our heavenly King, God himself. We find this to be difficult teaching because we like to think that we are in control of our destinies. We revel in being described as determined, dutiful, principled and resilient, even when those human attributes of self-reliance and self-determination separate us from God.

Then Jesus speaks words that should give us great cause for concern. Jesus says: 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. As we live our lives in ways that put us at the head of the queue, at the top of the hierarchy, in a place where others are led away from God, we are putting ourselves amongst those who will be called least in the kingdom of heaven. As we exercise our power and influence over others we run the ongoing risk of leading others away from God as well as condemning ourselves to eternal damnation.

Teachers know that it is a privilege to work in a world where they shape the knowledge, the thinking and the skills of others. No matter what age the student, it is their responsibility to enhance the life of others. In this sense, and in the context of today’s reading, we are all called to be teachers. And, of course, like the very best teachers, we are called to ‘practise what we preach’. We are called to honour God’s law and the proclamations of the prophets as we go about our daily lives. We are called to teach from a position of integrity, leading others into a deeper relationship with God.

Let us pray for the strength and the courage to set aside our desire to be honoured for our personal strength. Let us pray that others might come to know God through our humble love and service to all.