All of us are subject to law. Jesus himself was subject to law, both human and divine. As he grew up he obeyed Joseph and Mary. He obeyed the law of the land. And of course he obeyed the law of God. Here it is Jesus” attitude to the law of God that concerns us.
He found no fault with the law itself. His problem lay with the way it was interpreted and applied by the religious leaders of his day. For them it was the letter of the law that mattered. Once you fulfilled that you were okay. But for Jesus it was the spirit of the law that mattered. The important thing is not how many commandments we obey, but the spirit in which we obey them.
The Pharisees looked only at the outward act. But God sees the heart.
So Jesus said we have to look not just at our acts, but at our thoughts and desires, even though they may never actually lead to acts. We may never have killed anyone, but we may have entertained hostile thoughts about them and harbored hostile attitudes towards them. We may never have committed adultery, but we may have entertained lustful thoughts and desires.
Again, Jesus saw that the commandments were interpreted in a very negative way which led to minimalism – doing the bare minimum. He interpreted them in a positive way. For example, the fifth commandment says, “Thou shall not kill.” But he said, “You must love your neighbor.” The seventh commandment says, “Thou shall not steal.” But he said, “You must share your goods with your neighbor when he is in need.”
He also saw that obedience was often rooted in fear. He wanted it rooted in love. His whole relationship with his heavenly Father was based on love. When you love someone, you avoid doing anything to hurt that person. Where there is love, there is really no need of law.
But the most significant thing of all that Jesus did was this: he brought in a new and more exacting law – the law of love. Far from contradicting or abolishing the old law, the new law goes beyond it, and so brings it to perfection. He said that all of God’s laws could be reduced to two: love of God and love of neighbor. In truth, there is only one law – the law of love.