“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Jesus says something very controversial in today’s passage that I am sure many teachers of the law wish he hadn’t. He says that “anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven”. What’s the controversy? Jesus seems to imply that anyone who breaks one of the commandments might be the least in the kingdom of heaven, but he will be *in* the kingdom of heaven!
What could he possibly mean? Let us understand a few things. The law is the law that God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai: the Ten Commandments. These laws are as valid today as they were when they were given, because following them ensures a harmonious relationship with God and fellow man. But it is practically impossible to follow these laws by human effort as anybody who has ever tried can attest. And the people who do and think they are succeeding become remarkably self-righteous. Like the Pharisees.
The Pharisees believed they were following the law, and not satisfied with Ten Commandments, they added another six hundred to them! They believed that obeying these laws guaranteed them admission into heaven, but Jesus tried to get them to realize their foolishness. “Do you think just because you haven’t slept with another man’s wife you haven’t committed adultery?”, he asked one day. “You so much as *look* at a woman with lust and you have committed adultery” (see Matthew 5:27-28).
So, we can’t get to heaven by merely following the law. We get to heaven by following Jesus, who fulfilled the requirements of the law by living the perfect life without sin that we couldn’t live. Then, sinless, he paid the price for our sins by dying in our stead as the perfect sacrifice: the lamb of God without blemish. “The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord,” (Romans 6:23) declares Scripture. When baptized, we are united in Jesus. Consequently, when he dies, we die with him, all our sins nailed to the cross with him; and when he rises, we rise with him to eternal life.
*That* is the entrance ticket to heaven. Now, God still demands holiness, but whereas we couldn’t do this before through our own efforts, with the new life comes the Holy Spirit, who resides in us. He helps us to live the life of holiness that God asks us to. But what if we fail? Well, we can still trust that God’s mercy and forgiveness will see us through to heaven because of Jesus’ sacrifice, but we should strive unceasingly to follow the commandments, and teach others to follow them too. And what are these commandments? Jesus simplified it. Love God. Love your neighbor. That will ensure a great reward in heaven.
May the Spirit be with you.