Tuesday, January 27, 2009

I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is within my heart.

In today’s First Reading, the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews speaks about the ritual sacrifices prescribed in the Law of Moses, on the Sabbath, and in particular the ten days of sacrifice between Rosh Hashanah (the beginning of the year), and Yom Kippur (the day of atonement). He asks a critical question: If the sacrifices offered in accordance to the law were effective in atoning for the sins of the people, wouldn’t they have ceased, since the worshippers, once cleansed, would have been free from sin? Why do they have to be repeated year after year?

The answer is this: These sacrifices are merely an annual reminder of our sinfulness, since it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away our sins. That is why the prophet wrote:

Sacrifice and offering you did not desire,
but a body, you prepared for me;
burnt offerings and sin offerings
you did not require.
Then I said, "Here I am, I have come—
it is written about me in the scroll.
I desire to do your will, O my God;
your law is within my heart." (Psalm 40:6-8)

If God says, “Sacrifice and offering, burnt offerings and sin offerings, you did not desire or require”, it is because these are offered according to the Law. But when he says, “I desire to do your will, O my God; your law is in my heart”, He is speaking not of the covenant with Abraham and Moses, but of a second covenant, effected by the offering of the Body and Blood of Jesus Christ, once and for all.

In today’s gospel, the mother of Jesus and his brethren arrived at the house where Jesus and his disciples were sharing a meal. They called to him from outside, and someone told him, “Your mother, brothers and sisters are outside asking for you.” He answered with a question: “Who are my mother and my brothers?” Looking around at the disciples seated at the table with him he said, “Here are my mother, and my brothers and sisters. Whoever does God’s will is brother, and sister, and mother to me.”

In today’s gospel, we are reminded that belonging to Jesus’ family, or sharing his ethnicity, or even to the same religious tradition does not make on a disciple, but doing the will of God. That is not, of course, an insult to Mary, who made the birth of the Messiah possible by her consent, “Let it be done to me as you say”, nor to his kinfolk, many of whom are included among his earliest disciples. Being a brother or sister to Jesus is being able to say, as He did at Gethsemane and on the cross, “Thy will be done, not mine.”

The notion that someone would allow himself to be tortured and killed for the purpose of redeeming everyone who has ever lived, is living now, and will live between now and the end of time, is mind-boggling. There is only one reasonable explanation for it: “Greater love than this no one has, but to give his life for a friend.” Yet, we were not the friends of Jesus when he made that sacrifice on Calvary. So, let us strive to be as worthy as we can be to deserve the gift of redemption. We can never make up in our own bodies what is lacking in the sacrifice of Cross. The least we can do – and at the same time, the best – is to give of ourselves as fully as we can, not in atonement, but in thanksgiving, to Him.

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