Today's gospel offers a challenge and a paradox, as so many of Jesus' words do. Behold, Jesus makes all things new, and yet...
I have come not to abolish but to complete [the Law and the Prophets]. I tell you solemnly, till heaven and earth disappear, not one dot, not one little stroke, shall disappear from the Law until its purpose is achieved.
In the Old Testament there were several kinds of laws; for not all laws are of the same nature. Some laws, such as the command not to eat certain kinds of meat, were what are called 'positive laws' that had a kind of arbitrary character to them (like, I suppose, driving on the left). The sense of the law lies not in the terms of the law but rather in the deeper reasons behind it.
It is these deeper reasons which are the eternal laws, rooted in the nature of God who is truth, goodness and beauty. We find an echo of these laws in the call that God sends out into the world - the call to recognise the difference between good and evil, the call to hear the gospel, and indeed in our own particular calls or vocation. The law in this sense is not what the modern world thinks of it - an interfering constraint and shackle upon our freedom - but rather the condition of our flourishing; freedom is FOR something beyond ourselves. Moreover, it is God's love that underpins His eternal law since all law directs us towards the good, and the ultimate good is God Himself (which is why He, not we, are the ultimate givers of the law).
Yet why, then, does the law seem to trammel us? To some extent, it is due to our wayward human nature. In some measure, it is because of the laissez faire culture in which we live. Nobody else lives by God's compass points, so we - herd animals that we are - find ourselves struggling to swim against the tide (or run against the herd). Yet, as Georges Bernanos - a devotee of Carmel's spirituality and a great commentator of spiritual childhood - was wont to say: Dead dogs get carried with the current; only live dogs can swim against it.
At the same time, the risk of being overly lax about the law can lead us into being overly zealous. From indulgence we can turn to excessive observance. Nevertheless, the thing that both laxity and rigidity hold in common is a lack of love - and, therefore, wisdom - about our duties. Both laxity and rigidity are complicated and calculating; love is understanding, but simple and resolute. And that love should teach us to be tough on principles but gentle with people; the very opposite of today's tendency to be lax on principles but tough on people.
In the end, we can make no sense of Law and Prophets without seeking above all union with Him. It is not about finding the loopholes. It is about finding the purpose of the law of love and the love behind the law.