Matthew 9:13 (Hosea 6:6, quoted again in Matthew 12:7)
Matthew’s approach doesn’t pull its punches. His Gospel speaks very directly into his own Jewish faith tradition (see Matthew 23). He criticizes severely the legalism and hypocrisy that have grown like invasive weeds in the vineyard of God’s people. At the same time, the point is clearly made that Jesus did not come to trash or sweep away the faith history of Israel. He came to cleanse, renew, and fulfil it. The cleansing fire of the Spirit of Jesus is for purification to allow and foster healthy new growth in a plant left too long to ramble out of control, with parts dying and diseased.
Imagine Jesus had been born into your own church tradition. In what ways might he have wanted to develop and perfect some of its ways and teaching? (“You have heard it said… but I say to you… ”, Matthew 5:21–48.)
Jesus shows us that the fulfilment of the Law is in unconditional love. Paul expresses this point very succinctly too (Galatians 5:22–25). In your own faith community, can you think of examples where rules or guidelines are needed to safeguard people from slipping into ways that are too liberal or permissive, and examples where legalism or ritual may be threatening the freedom of grace?
Jesus made it clear that he valued and respected the Law – but the true underlying spirit of the Law, not a dry and heartless rendering of it. In what ways do you feel your own life and faith practice would benefit from firmer discipline, and where do you feel some inspiration and revitalization would be welcome?
O God of Israel, how faithfully you have pruned and tended the vineyard that is your people. We open our lives also to your wisdom and care. Where you see unfruitfulness, sickness or withered branches, prune our lives that we may live again. Where you see our spirits hungry and dry and neglected, water us with your grace, feed us on your living Word, nurture us into new life. Train us, good Lord, and feed us, so that we may flourish and prove fruitful, and so bring glory to your name. We ask it for the sake of Jesus, your Son and our Lord; Amen.