This coming Sunday is the 6th Sunday of Ordinary Time in Lectionary Cycle A. The gospel reading is from the discourse popularly known as the Sermon on the Mount. In yesterday’s post we tried to look at a “bigger picture” on this part of the Sermon addressed to the disciples about true fulfillment of the Law as part of attempting to answer what does it truly mean to be the people of God. In today’s post we explore that question with a refresher about the meaning of biblical covenants.
“Fulfillment” in Matthew’s use means that he has looked back into the Hebrew Scriptures (Old Testament) and seen – not predictions – but patterns of the way in which God has related to his people. All of the patterns of history are completed in the person of Jesus – He possesses in himself the fullness of the promises of the covenants. Yes, plural – covenants! Covenantal theologians identify four primary covenants: made through (a) Noah, (b) Abraham, (c) Moses, and (d) David. How do the four covenants point to fulfillment in Jesus?
R.E. Friedman offers a succinct answer when he writes that with “the Noahic covenant promising the stability of the cosmic structure, the Abrahamic covenant promising people and land, the Davidic covenant promising sovereignty, and the Mosaic covenant promising life, security, and prosperity.” These are what unify the biblical story and give a meta context to the other stories in the “law and prophets.” Friedman notes that , if you removed these four passages, you would have an anthology of stories, but no meta-narrative by which to understand them. As it is, we have the promise of God – much of which is unconditional – that our right relationship with Him, provides a wholeness for life by which we can freely enter into a full relationship with God.
It is God building for Himself a people. From family (Adam), clan (Noah), tribe (Abraham), federation of tribes (Moses), a nation (David), the covenants point in line and in pattern to the whole of the world as the people of God in and through the Covenant in Jesus. If one loses sight of this, then one forever asks “what do I have to do” instead of “what am I becoming.”
Image credit: Cosimo Rosselli Sermone della Montagna, 1481, Sistine Chapel, Public Domain