In today's gospel, Jesus announces that he has not come "to abolish the law or the prophets...but to fulfill [them]," insisting that his listeners continue to obey the old commandments and laws to be "called greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven."
After only my first or second reading of this passage, I knew I would struggle with it. From a personal standpoint, I have always preferred innovation over tradition--"out with the old and in with the new," as the adage goes. I imagine that I'm not alone in this inclination. Newness grants us a rush of excitement; it opens the door to undiscovered worlds and unseen possibilities. Didn't Christ do just that when He came with His message of salvation? He even brought new commandments, the most memorable of which may be "Love the Lord your God with all your heart...and love your neighbor as yourself."
Jesus' new commandments are wonderful. They are essential, life-giving, and offer an ethical foundation from which to live our lives. Still, he insists on keeping the old laws! Cue the confusion from the revolutionaries in the crowd. But there must be a good reason behind all of this.
While reflecting on this gospel, I examined my own life and dichotomized it into "old" and "new," trying to recognize the value of each. Last summer, I moved from Washington State to Cape Cod to become a teacher at SFXP. This fresh beginning has given me so many gifts: a beautiful location, a fulfilling job, and new friends. Although I did leave behind cherished loved ones and places in my "old life," I also felt relieved to shed the burden of past failures and painful memories. Couldn't I disregard everything from my old life and rely solely on the abundance of my new life? Couldn't Christ's followers abandon all those Old Testament commandments and build their faith from Christ's new messages alone?
What would happen if we erased our pasts and cut ourselves off from our roots? It might be exciting, but I imagine it would also be damaging. So much of our identity is born from the past. The "old" often contains invaluable lessons and important relationships. Imagine if the Jewish people had suddenly abandoned all of their societal laws in the time of Christ: things might've worked out, sure--but they also might've descended into chaos.
Yes, the laws and prophets needed fulfillment. They needed to be balanced by the new messages of Christ. But they still served a purpose. So too do our pasts.
Sometimes we want to turn away from the old--it's too monotonous, too tedious, too painful, or too flawed. These criticisms often hold truth, and we can't become totally engrossed in tradition. I propose we find a balance. We recognize and value the old, we respect the past--and we open ourselves to renewal. Christ strikes this harmony perfectly, weaving the commandments of the Old Testament and the New Testament into a complex but cohesive message. We need the whole story--not just bits and pieces.
Take your past--the painful bits included--and cherish it. Respect it. Remember it. Then look forward, opening yourself to the future. It is within this equilibrium that we find peace, and within this equilibrium that we find the complete message of Jesus.