This statement from Jesus, “I have come not to destroy but to fulfill” is very reassuring. If we consider the climate of “messianic expectancy” at the time of Jesus Christ we will know that there were many who proclaimed themselves as “the messiah.” They actively went among the people seeking to win support. Most of them ended up being crucified along the main road entering Rome. But we hear about these many messiahs from St. Matthew… “For false Christs and false prophets will arise and show great signs and wonders, so as to lead astray, if possible, even the elect.” (Mat 24:24 RSV) and again this same warning is repeated by Mark 13:22.
But only Jesus can truly fulfill all that the Law and Moses and the prophets taught. Jesus fulfills and perfects and accomplishes all things by giving what the Father has taught its definitive interpretation. Jesus, as God incarnate alone has the divine authority and the full reason to do so.
So what does it mean to live in the “fullness” of Christ’s love and ministry? To answer this question I want to reflect on three words: fullness, perfection, and accomplished.
Let’s take a look!
In the Sermon of the Mount Jesus said, “Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy, but to fulfill.” (Mat 5:17 KJV) The word translated “fulfill” is the Greek πληρόω. It means to bring something to completion as to bring something to its natural end. An example is a seed we plant in the ground. When it’s place in a proper environment, cared for as nature requires, and allowed to grow through it’s full life cycle, that seed becomes perfect in it’s final end. In the New Testament we discover that what Jesus is doing, and why He eventually establishes the Church is that He is bringing to consummation the ages. With the agency of the Holy Spirit, Jesus brings each of us to our perfect end!
From His “fullness” Christ pours grace upon us. This pouring forth is done through sacraments and God’s immediate response to any person. St John explains that “…from His [Jesus] fullness have we all received, grace upon grace.” (John 1:16 RSV) This is how God is to transform man. He does so by grace and love. This grace and love is the power of God and the source of new life that does not disappear or grow old but it endures in full strength to eternal life. This Jesus assured the Samaritan woman, “Every person who drinks of this water will thirst again, 14 but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst; the water that I shall give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.” 15 The woman said to Him, “Sir, give me this water, that I may not thirst, nor come here to draw.” (John 4:13 RSV)
Jesus extends His “fullness” to us to internalize through the sacraments of His Church. The effect of grace upon the Samaritan woman is profound and lasting. The effects of sacramental grace upon the true believer are equally profound and lasting!
God is not satisfied with incompleteness or things unfinished. God is all about bringing all things to their natural and supernatural end. His designs shall always achieve their fullness.
When Jesus concludes His teaching on the fullness of the Law He closes with this admonition: “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mat 5:48 RSV)
This call to perfection gives many people real problems so much so that the idea of perfection is diluted to normal human behavior.
But God has His own notion of perfection in mind. The first place God addresses this is to the ancient Jews. He says, “For I, the LORD, am your God. You shall make and keep yourselves holy,because I am holy. You shall not make yourselves unclean…,” (Lev 11:44 NAB). And then we have the stunning words of Jesus, “You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect.” (Mat 5:48 RSV) The Hebrew for “holy” is “qodesh” and it is the equivalent to the Greek “hagios”. They mean that to be holy is to be separated from the world and to be consecrated to God.
In His death on the Cross Jesus consecrates Himself; He makes human nature once again holy in order that we too may be made holy through the Cross. We encounter the Cross in the sacraments of baptism, confession and the Holy Eucharist. The sacrament of baptism makes us holy and the sacraments of confession and Holy Eucharist keep us in holiness during our life’s journey. “Now may our God and Father himself, and our Lord Jesus, direct our way to you; 12 and may the Lord make you increase and abound in love to one another and to all men, as we do to you, 13 so that he may establish your hearts unblamable in holiness before our God and Father, at the coming of our Lord Jesus with all his saints.” (1Th 3:11 RSV)
Jesus prays to the Father, “I do not pray that You take them out of the world, but that You keep them from the evil one. 16 They are not of the world, even as I am not of the world. 17 Sanctify them in the truth; Thy word is truth. 18 As You sent Me into the world, so I have sent them into the world. 19 And for their sake I consecrate Myself, that they also may be consecrated in truth.” (John 17:15 RSV)
It’s amazing to realize that all events of history, down to the tiniest detail, all of it is oriented toward the coming of Jesus Christ and His sacrifice. History is fulfilled by the sacrifice of Christ. Jesus prays to His Father, “I have glorified Thee on the earth; I have finished the work which Thou gave Me to do.” (John 17:4 DRA) In the deepest place of His suffering Jesus says, “It is finished”; and He bowed His head and gave up His spirit. (John 19:30 RSV)
From these three words, fullness, perfection and accomplishment, we discover God at work making all things new. “And He who sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” Also He said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Rev 21:5 RSV). St Paul reminds the Church in Corinth, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has passed away, behold, the new has come. (2Co 5:17 RSV).
God speaks through the prophet Isaiah, “So shall My Word be that goes forth from My mouth; it shall not return to Me empty, but shall do what pleases Me, achieving the end for which I sent it.” (Isa 55:11 NAB)
In closing… This “end” that Isaiah refers to is the fullness and perfection fully achieved in Jesus Christ. This “end” is the Cross itself and all the benefits that flows out from it into man’s living until the consummation of the ages. This is the age of the Church, an age referred to in the New Testament as the “last days.” It is that period of “time” between our Lord’s first and His second coming. It’s that time spoken of by the prophet Joel: “`And in the last days it shall be, God declares, that I will pour out My Spirit upon all flesh, and your sons and your daughters shall prophesy, and your young men shall see visions, and your old men shall dream dreams;” (Act 2:17 RSV)…
This era of the Church is filled with difficulties, with evil plotting against Jesus and His Church. St Paul writes to Timothy, “Please understand this that in the last day’s evil times will come.” (2Ti 3:1 NAS) The true disciple of Christ must live separate from all things that will hurt the soul. We are to seek divine inspiration that nurtures a gospel-life.
We should realize that we live in a privileged time. St Paul tells the Church in Corinth, “Working together with Him [Christ], then, we entreat you not to accept the grace of God in vain. 2 For He says, “At the acceptable time I have listened to you, and helped you on the day of salvation.” Behold, now is the acceptable time; behold, now is the day of salvation.” (2Co 6:1 RSV)
Conversion to the Gospel of Jesus Christ is a radicle change of time. It is a passage of time we walk from the “present world” to the “world to come.” We walk in a world that is growing very old and tired and today it seems even to be hastening towards its ruin. Yet, as we walk we are surrounded by a “new time” ushering in “new era” that opens a new journey that leads us deeper and deeper through a sacramental door towards the consummation of the ages and the ultimate glorious reign of Christ.