Wednesday, March 10, 2010

I Have Come Not To Abolish But To Fulfill The Law.

Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent
Reading I
Deuteronomy 4:1, 5-9

Moses spoke to the people and said:
“Now, Israel, hear the statutes and decrees
which I am teaching you to observe,
that you may live, and may enter in
and take possession of the land which the LORD,
the God of your fathers, is giving you.
Therefore, I teach you the statutes and decrees
as the LORD, my God, has commanded me,
that you may observe them
in the land you are entering to occupy.
Observe them carefully,
for thus will you give evidence
of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations,
who will hear of all these statutes and say,
‘This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.’
For what great nation is there
that has gods so close to it
as the LORD, our God, is to us
whenever we call upon him?
Or what great nation has statutes and decrees
that are as just as this whole law
which I am setting before you today?

“However, take care and be earnestly on your guard
not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen,
nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live,
but teach them to your children and to your children’s children.”
Moses reminds the Israelites of the great treasure they have in their laws and customs, a treasure full of “wisdom and understanding”. These laws are life-giving and will bring the people closer to their God. “Indeed what great nation is there that has its gods so near as the Lord our God is to us? What great nation is there that has laws and customs to match this whole Law?” Other Jewish traditions from this period often emphasise the distance between God and man, indicated by the reluctance even to utter the name of God (as we see even in Matthew’s gospel).

Deuteronomy, however, calls attention to the loving intimacy between God and the people among whom he lives. His enduring presence was symbolised by the tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant in the centre of the Israelites’ camp and by the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night which indicated God’s accompanying presence with his people at all times.
It will find its supreme expression, however, in the Incarnation, when the Word of God “became flesh and lived among us” as one of us - a concept many devout Jews would find very hard to accept.

But it is in the Law, too, that God is with his people. Through its observance they express their closeness to him. But Jesus was to make radical modifications to this Law to bring it to even greater heights of sensitivity and accountability.

The greatness of any society can in part be measured, first, in the quality of its legal system and, secondly, in how its laws are administered and observed. This involves close cooperation between law-makers, enforcers of the law, interpreters of the law and observers of the law.

But, above everything else, as Jesus clearly indicates in today’s Gospel, is the law of love which does not abrogate but goes far beyond the Mosaic Law and includes a deep sense of justice, of compassion and unity between people.
+++ +++ +++ +++
Psalm 147
Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.
Glorify the LORD, O Jerusalem;
praise your God, O Zion.
For he has strengthened the bars of your gates;
he has blessed your children within you.
Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.
He sends forth his command to the earth;
swiftly runs his word!
He spreads snow like wool;
frost he strews like ashes.
Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.
He has proclaimed his word to Jacob,
his statutes and his ordinances to Israel.
He has not done thus for any other nation;
his ordinances he has not made known to them.
Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.
+++ +++ +++ +++
Matthew 5:17-19
Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not think that I have come
to abolish the law or the prophets.
I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.
Amen, I say to you,
until heaven and earth pass away,
not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter
will pass from the law,
until all things have taken place.
Therefore, whoever breaks one
of the least of these commandments
and teaches others to do so
will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven.
But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments
will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.”
In Matthew’s gospel especially, Jesus is shown as not being a maverick breakaway from the traditions of the Jews. He was not a heretic or a blasphemer. He was the last in the great line of prophets sent by God to his people. “Last of all God sent his Son.” And so, in today’s passage, he strongly emphasises that it is not his intention to abrogate the Jewish law but rather to develop and complete it. In the verses that immediately follow today’s passage Jesus gives six very clear examples of what he means. He quotes a number of moral situations contained in the Law and shows how he expects his followers not only to observe them but to go much further in understanding their underlying meaning.

The Law is not to be downgraded in any way; rather it is to be transcended to a higher level. Up to the time of Jesus, and this is clearly exemplified in the Pharisees and Scribes as they appear in the gospels, perfect observance of the Law focused on external observance. Jesus will show that true observance must also be in the heart and mind.

Christians, too, can become obsessed with external observance of Church laws and regulations. It can become a source of scrupulosity and fear. This can happen during the Lenten season when we are encouraged to do ‘penitential acts’. We need to remember that these acts do not stand on their own and only have meaning if they deepen our relationship with God. In all things, our ultimate guide must be the law of love. No truly loving act can ever be sinful, although at times it may violate the letter of a law.

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