It is sometimes said — I think I’ve said it myself in the past — that Jesus extends the scope of the Law in his moral teaching. An early morning train of thought leads me to want to revisit this concept. Jesus does not expand on the Law, in the manner of the Rabbis; he deepens it by finding the moral foundational spirit behind and under the letter.
To contrast the two: the Rabbis, in the interest of “putting a fence around the Torah,” enacted protective measures that helped ensure that the Law would not be broken. For example, though the Law requires that a kid not be boiled in its mother’s milk, the Rabbis, in order to prevent that possibility, ordained that no meat or milk should be prepared or eaten together; this later came to mean separate sets of cooking and serving ware for meat and dairy, and rules about the amount of time that had to pass before an item from the other food group could be consumed.
Jesus, on the other hand, doesn’t deal with such fine points of corollary laws and regulations, but literally cuts to the heart of the matter. In response to the law that says “Do not kill,” Jesus advises, “Do not hate.” In response to the law that says, “Do not commit adultery,” Jesus advises men not to look with lust at another’s wife, committing adultery in the heart.
Ultimately Jesus doesn’t just amplify the Law, he reorients it inwardly, moving it from legality to morality. He declares to be immoral things that are strictly legal (such as hatred or lust), and holds as moral things that are technically illegal (such as breaking the Sabbath to do good).
The irony is that many in our own time take the path of refined and insistent literal legality rather than looking to the heart of a generous and self-giving and spirit-filled morality.
Tobias Stanislas Haller BSG