Laying down the law?

Homily for March 30, Wednesday of the III week of Lent

Click here for the podcast version of this homily.

If we search through the New Testament for what is said about “the law”, we could get mixed messages. For example, St Paul often speaks about it in more or less negative terms, emphasizing, on the contrary, the freedom of Christians as children of God. And yet, in today’s Gospel we have Jesus saying that He did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it, and that not the smallest part of it will pass until “all things have taken place.”

Even the first Christian communities were confused about the role of the law. Some believed that all Christians should observe all of the traditional Jewish practices – the “law” in the wide sense of the term. Others went to the other extreme, discarding even aspects of Jesus’ own moral teaching.

Jesus did not require the apostles to follow the law in the wide sense of the term; He – and the Holy Spirit after Pentecost – helped the Apostles to understand that the laws about things like ritual purity and circumcision no longer applied to Christians. However, the Lord reaffirmed the Ten Commandments more than once in His public ministry. He brought the essentials of the law and the prophets to fulfillment when He taught that they are all summed up in two commandments: to love God with all our heart, soul, strength and mind, and to love our neighbor as Christ loved us. He brings it to its greatest fulfillment when He offers His life for us on the cross.

The Church helps us to live these commandments by explaining their practical applications and ramifications in our daily life with specific precepts and teachings. Sometimes we can feel uncomfortable with these specific applications of God’s law. We can feel as if a lot of rules are being imposed on us, when we should be free to follow our conscience instead. Certainly, we must always follow our conscience, but that conscience should be rightly formed. That is partly what the teaching of the Church is for: to help us to have correct principles to guide our consciences, in order to make the right decisions in difficult situations.

This is the positive view of the law that is offered by the first reading and psalm. Moses explains to the people that God’s law is a gift. God knows what is best for our salvation and long-term happiness; He teaches us His will as a sign of His love and closeness to us. He gives it to us through human instruments. He guided the Israelites through the person of Moses and the other prophets and Old Testament scriptures; He continues to instruct us through Christ’s life and message and the other New Testament writings, and the teachings of the Church. Sometimes specific precepts can be difficult for us to understand or accept. However, as Jesus said, “whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven.


About Matthew Green

I am a translator, origami artist/teacher, and photographer, a blogger, former philosophy professor, and I love to sing. You can see my photos on Flickr and buy prints of some of them on Fine Art America. You can find me on Instagram, Twitter (@mehjg), and in various and sundry other social media sites on the web.
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