In the early Church, which was largely Jewish in composition, the attitude of Jesus to the Law was of paramount importance.
In Jesus’s time, the Law had a sacredness and a saving value. For most Jews it was the definitive revelation of God. The main promoters of this point of view were the Scribes and Pharisees. However, as the message of Jesus spread beyond Judaea, even to the pagan countries civilized by Greece, different perspectives developed between the Law and the Gospel. The New Testament contains accounts of all these differing points of view.
Matthew’s Gospel, particularly the Sermon on the Mount, attempts to present Jesus’s attitude to the Law in the context of the early Jewish community .
Jesus begins by stating that his mission was not to repudiate the Law and call it into question, but to fulfil it, to bring it to perfection. What does this perfection consist of? It’s found in a relationship of trust and love with Jesus, whom the Father has sent, not in the material fulfilling of whatever the Law demands.
This is best expressed later in the New Testament, when Paul says that the righteousness given by the Law does not bring salvation, but faith in Jesus does. This is why the Sermon on the Mount challenges the disciples to live by a higher standard than that of the Scribes and Pharisees.
If the Law condemns someone for murder, Jesus goes further still. He wants the very roots of anger and vengeance which lead to murder removed completely. He declares that forgiveness and reconciliation among one’s own is more important than offering sacrifice.
The Law condemns adulterous behaviour. Jesus insists that even the lustful thought and desire are evil, and one must spare no pain in removing them.
And most of all, when the Law teaches one to love one’s neighbour and hate one’s enemy, Jesus demands that his disciple’s love become all inclusive, embracing enemy, sinner and unbeliever alike, just as God does.
So it’s not ritual observance and mechanical obedience which brings the Law to perfection within us, but when there’s a change in our attitude. That’s when our hearts are transformed.