Matthew 22.40 The whole Law of Moses and the
teachings of the prophets depend on these two commandments.
It is often said that Jesus did
nothing to negate the age-old traditions of the Hebrew faith. Matthew
5.18 is quoted in support of this: "Not the least point nor the smallest
detail of the Law will be done away with."
It doesn't take much savvy to see that the traditional
teachings of some Christians in this respect don't make much sense. For
if they were true, the entire body of law in the Hebrew Bible would
apply to all Christians today.
And if that were to be the case we would, for example,
be allowed to use captive women for sexual sport and their men as
slaves. Times have changed. If American or British soldiers in Iraq did
that today, there would be an immediate outcry and rapid prosecution of
That civilised nations don't as a matter of course abuse captives is due
to the revolutionary teachings of Jesus - teachings which have changed
the world immeasurably. It's hard for us to grasp the depth and power of
what Jesus said.
For not only did his words alter the behaviour of those who listened
to him, but they also changed the the way we understand what God wants
We should appreciate that an almost universal belief in his time was
that to know what to do in any situation we should look backwards. The
"fathers" or the "ancestors" had, it was thought, shown us how to do
things. Morality and good government were enshrined in the past. It
followed that problems arise because we have strayed from the proven
solutions of previous generations.
Recovering and re-stating the ways of the ancients was big business
in Roman times and amongst the Hebrews. Similarly, the Church was at its
most powerful when it monopolised the past and used it to lay down the
law for everyone. To this day it is taught that what has happened should
determine what happens now. For example, what Jesus is reputed to have
said about Peter determines that one man has authority to send you or I
to heaven or to hell: "Whatever you bind on earth will be bound in
heaven" (Matthew 16.19)
No, said Jesus. Laws established in the past hang from the
commandments to love. And when one things hangs from another, it
has neither power nor effectiveness without that from which it hangs. It
"depends" upon it.
Many saints and scholars, starting with Paul in his praise of love in
the first Letter to the Corinthians, have shown that to put love first
is to change fundamentally how we regard the past.
The past is what has been - which is the same as saying the past
can't be changed. If you and I go by what can't be changed when we
relate to others, we're bound in the straightjacket of what has been.
Love requires that we think of the present and the future. We may
refer to the immutable "what has been" - but only as data to work out
what will be. What will be is the only aspect of time over which we have
some control. What will be hangs or depends upon what we do now. So we
look backwards only in order the better to go forwards.
That's what Jesus meant when he said, "The Law of Moses and the
teachings of the prophets [what has been] depend upon love."