I've had a conversation about why Christians don't follow the Old Testament. I was given the answer that one should only love God and neighbor and in this way all other commandments would be completed. What does this mean? How can a person claim that one does not need to follow earlier prophets when Jesus himself told us that he came to fulfill the revelation given by earlier prophets? Also, Jesus was really following what other prophets had revealed, for example, with regard to prayer, food and so on. What can you say about this?
Your question concerns a central issue of catholic teaching, namely: what lasting relevance has the Old Covenant, and hence, the Old Testament Scriptures for Christian faith and teaching?
In the Gospel according to Matthew, Chapter 19:16, we read that one day a young man came up to Jesus and asked him this question: “Master, what good deed must I do to possess eternal life?” Jesus replied: “If you wish to enter into life, keep the commandments.” In this way, Jesus taught us that the commandments of God point out the way of life to men and women and lead them all towards it. In the old Covenant, Moses gave the people the Ten Commandments of God, namely, the Decalogue. Jesus, the Son of God and fullness of revelation, now gives us these commandments again. He confirms them definitively and presents them to us as the way and condition of salvation. The person who follows the commandments obtains eternal life – which is a sharing in the very life of God himself. This sharing is not fully achieved until after death but in faith it is even now the light of truth and the source of meaning for our lives. Already now we are beginning to share in the fullness of this truth and meaning, thanks to our union with Jesus, in whom we believe and whose teachings we follow.
The fullness of the Law
The young man in the Gospel who came to Jesus, asking what good thing he must do, did so because Jesus himself is the fullness of the Law. He himself has given us his Spirit, which unites us to him and makes us resemble him – helping us to act in accordance with his will.
- The One Commandment
“Anybody who receives my commandments and keeps them
Will be one who loves me;
And anybody who loves me
Will be loved by my Father,
And I shall love him and show myself to him.”
(Gospel of Saint John, 14, 21)
In the books of the Old Testament, there are many commandments and precepts. They tell us what matters in God’s eyes and how we can live a life that is pleasing in his sight.
The teachers and holy men of Israel put this question to Jesus: “Is there one commandment that is more important than all the others, one that includes and sums up all the others?
In other words, they were asking for a simple way to explain what a person should do in order to inherit eternal life with God. The Jewish teachers used to search in the holy books to find certain basic principles of this kind. So it is not surprising that the Jewish teachers in the time of Christ wanted to know what this teacher from Nazareth thought about it. Jesus brought together two phrases from the Old Testament to form a single commandment.
Jesus (says) said:
“You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the greatest and first commandment. The second resembles it: You must love your neighbor as yourself.”
(GOSPEL OF SAINT MATTHEW 22, 37-39)
This commandment, which Jesus presents as the basis for all other commandments, contains a program for the whole of life. For the person who loves God, there is no longer any fear of punishment from almighty God. Such a person can trust God and remain faithful to him – even when he has been crushed to the ground like Job and cannot understand what God is doing. He knows he can count on God’s love even when he has gone astray like the story of the prodigal son in the Gospel of Saint Luke. The man who loves God with all his heart, with all his soul and with his entire mind will inherit eternal life. Strengthened by this love, the person who commits himself to the service of others and sets his face against hatred and mistrust, fear and despair – who commits himself out of love – is the one who truly serves God and his fellow men. In doing so, such a person assumes their true stature as a man or a woman and their interpersonal relations as well. For this is the kind of love that embraces everything – God, one’s neighbor and oneself.
God has loved us first
When we sin, (you) You do not let us fall completely.
When we are down, You help us up again.
When we repent, You come to meet us.
When we doubt, You speak your Word to us.
When our sins crush us, You take us in your arms.
When we believe, You save us from judgment.
When we die, You call us to life.
That is why we can love one another.
- The Ten Commandments
After God had liberated his people from slavery in Egypt and was leading them towards freedom in the Promised Land, he proposed a Covenant with them on which the future of the People of Israel was to depend:
You yourselves have seen what I did with the Egyptians, how I carried you on eagle’s wings and brought you to myself.’ From this you know that now, if you obey my voice and hold fast to my covenant, you of all the nations shall be my very own for all the earth is mine. I will count you a kingdom of priests, a consecrated nation.
The memory retained by Israel of the Covenant that God concluded with his people on Mount Sinai, in the desert, is a sacred tradition. The conditions of this Covenant – the Ten Commandments – were written on two tablets of stone and kept in the Ark of the Covenant. They are a commitment for all time. For in fact, the people of Israel understood well that these commandments, given by God to his own people, are founded on love. He wants all men and women to become like him – to be like God who is love.
“This law that I enjoin on you today is not beyond your strength or beyond your reach. It is not in heaven, so that you need to wonder, ‘Who will go up to heaven for us and bring it down to us?’ Nor is it beyond the seas, so that you need to wonder, ‘Who will cross the sea for us and bring it back to us, so that we may hear it and keep it?’ No, the Word is very near to you, it is in your mouth and in your heart for your observance.”
(DEUTERONOMY 30, 11-14)
The First Commandment
You shall not have strange gods before me
The Second Commandment
You shall not take the name of the Lord your God in vain
The Third Commandment
Remember to keep holy the Sabbath day
The Fourth Commandment
Honour your father and your mother
The Fifth Commandment
You shall not kill
The Sixth Commandment
You shall not commit adultery
The Seventh Commandment
You shall not commit adultery
The Eighth Commandment
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbour
The Ninth Commandment
You shall not covet your neighbour’s wife
The Tenth Commandment
You shall not covet your neighbour’s goods
God’s commandments are equally valid for all people. They bind us to God, protect the rights of each individual and safeguard the peace of the community. Every man can and should be guided by them. For God’s commandments are not just a catalogue of rules and regulations that have been imposed on man from outside. They correspond to our true nature and respect our human dignity.
What God commands, he makes possible by his grace.
(CATECHISM OF THE CATHOLIC CHURCH, § 2082)
Saint Paul writes to the Christians in Rome:
Avoid getting into debt, except the debt of mutual love. If you love your fellow men you have carried out your obligations. All the commandments: You shall not commit adultery, you shall not kill, you shall not steal, you shall not covet, and so on, are summed up in this single command: You must love your neighbour as yourself. Love is that one thing that cannot hurt your neighbour; that is why it is the answer to every one of the commandments.
(SAINT PAUL TO THE ROMANS 13, 8-10)
(Adapted from: I BELIEVE. A Little Catholic Catechism. Church in Need, 2004, pp. 150-159.)