In the first encounters of the Gospel with Judaism, especially in the early Jewish Christian communities, the relationship between Jesus and the Law was an urgent question.
The Law had sacred value. It was thought to be the summary of all wisdom, human and divine, the revelation of God himself, a complete and secure guide to conduct in every human situation. For most Jews, the Law was the final revelation of God himself.
Jesus does not accept this. He says is he has come to bring the Law to its fulfillment. Not the Law of Moses with its explanations and interpretations, but the Law of God which enhances the human spirit and which Jesus exemplifies in his life. In other words, it was not outward fulfillment of precept, but the inner transformation of heart that Jesus reveals. This change of heart in turn expresses itself in benevolent behavior.
In the hands of the ‘caretakers of the Law’, the Pharisees and the Scribes, various legal precepts had become issues for discussion and distortion. Where serious obligations were demanded, clever loopholes allowed an escape route. This was the hypocrisy of the Pharisees, which Jesus constantly hit out against.
To keep the Law, Jesus says, demands a humble and forgiving spirit. Thus one fulfils the Law, not just broadly but also in every little detail, every “jot and tittle,” in its core spirit, as the Gospel says. A few examples from Jesus’s teachings will suffice to show what is meant.
Regarding animosity between brothers, for instance: the spirit of God’s Law requires not just the avoidance of violence, but an attitude which rejects anger and hatred against one’s brother. So much so, that fraternal reconciliation takes precedence over Temple offerings.
Similarly, the spirit of God’s Law requires a change of attitude towards women. Not only is the act of adultery wrong, but even sexual desire for a woman not one’s own is forbidden.
And all acts of revenge are wrong. On the contrary, we are asked to “turn the other cheek”, and “walk the extra mile”, as gestures of accommodation to an enemy.