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Who Do You Say That I Am? - Part 18

XVIII. The Sermon on the Mount continues with the “Torah of the Messiah,” as Pope Benedict puts it: the promised “new teaching” of the Anointed One sent by God. However, Jesus immediately clarifies that He has come not to abolish the Law and the Prophets, but to fulfill them. He will not eradicate anything of the history of salvation; He is its completion, its final step. Indeed, He claims as much in the repeated formula: “You have heard it said … but I say to you …” Matthew in particular notes that the people were shocked, in fact alarmed and scandalized, by this. No rabbi before had presumed to correct or dared to augment God’s revealed Word to Moses in the Torah. Just who did this Jesus claim to be? It would seem to the attentive and objective listener that Jesus was making Himself equal to God, and making Himself the goal of human searching for the divine: “I am the Way, the Truth, and the Life.”

And in fact, this was the ultimate “crime” of which Jesus was found guilty by His people and handed over to the Romans. As the crowds accuse Him: “You who are only a man are making yourself equal to God!” (John 10:33). For John’s Gospel, the irony :is clear: just the opposite is true. It is God Who has made Himself man, and accepts the consequences of the rejection of God by humans across all the ages on the Cross.

This identification of Jesus with the goal of revealed truth requires a choice, even in the Torah. As Pope Benedict points out, following the work of the Jewish rabbi Jacob Neusner, the “Torah of the Messiah” seems to challenge and change at least three core commandments of Judaism: to honor one’s father and mother (vs. “Whoever loves father or mother more than Me is not worthy of Me” [Matthew 10:37]); the keeping of the Sabbath (vs. “The Son of Man is Lord, even of the Sabbath [Matthew 12:8]); and to be holy as God alone is holy (vs. “If you wish to be perfect, go and sell what you have, and then come and follow Me” [Matthew 19:21]).

As Benedict points out, Neusner’s imagined dialogue with the rabbi Jesus helps us appreciate how radical and troubling the claims of Jesus seemed to His contemporaries. And although the world and times have changed, the call and challenge to surrender our wills to God’s remains the same.

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