God’s gracious law

We have a tendency sometimes to think about laws, especially God’s law as found in the first five books of the Bible as burdensome.  Yet in today’s first reading and gospel reading, we see this is neither the way the Ancient Israelites felt nor the way Jesus felt.  The reading from Deuteronomy 4 is as follows:

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.”

The laws are a reflection of God’s closeness to Israel: “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?”

In the Gospel reading we hear:

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.”

Neither did Jesus see the law as something to be completely done away with, but rather as something to be fulfilled.  In a similar, though not obviously a not entirely analogous way, we live within a church community that has certain teachings that may not entirely make sense to us  (e.g. why we can eat seafood on Friday and not meat during Lent may not make much sense to someone in Louisiana for whom seafood is a delicacy).  Regardless, these disciplines, at least in my mind, reflect God’s nearness to us.

God cares about the ordering of our lives.  For example, on a Friday in Lent, even when we eat seafood rather than meat, this should at least makes us pause when we are making our eating decisions, even if only for a brief moment.  How many times do we go through much our day without pausing to think about God at all?  This may not seem like much, but for some maybe even this small moment can be a step in the right direction, though we certainly don’t want to end there.  We want to cultivate that attitude into our lives all year round.

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About Jeremy

I work at Holy Ghost Catholic Church in Hammond, LA. I teach part-time classes from time to time, through Loyola University in New Orleans, Notre Dame Seminary in New Orleans and St. Joseph's Abbey and Seminary College. I also just finished a doctoral degree in Biblical languages through the University of Stellenbosch in South Africa.
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