The Gospel that we would have heard two Sundays ago, if it had not been replaced by the Feast of the Presentation of the Lord, consisted of the Beatitudes. Each one begins with “Blessed are …” Today’s Responsorial Psalm refrain contains another beatitude: “Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord.”
Sometimes “law” is portrayed as something undesirable. Some laws may be unjust or oppressive. If they are, they probably originate from a ruler or a regime which is unjust or oppressive. However this can never be said of God’s law, since God cannot be unjust or oppressive. Nevertheless God’s law can be interpreted in a way which is unjust or oppressive, and this is why Jesus often comes into conflict with the scribes and Pharisees: it is usually over their interpretation of God’s law. It is in the context of their criticism of him that Jesus says in today’s Gospel, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”
Today’s First Reading puts God’s commandments in their proper context: they are an expression of the wisdom of God, who “understands man’s every deed. No one does he command to act unjustly, to none does he give license to sin.” When Jesus interprets the law with authority, using the words “But I say to you,” he restores the original intent of God’s law: not to restrict human freedom, but to teach human beings the proper use of freedom by pointing out the right way to act for the good of one another. Enshrined in the commandments is the wisdom of our Creator and the values that he has established as inherent in human society. This is borne out by the fact that every human society, whether primitive or modern, has laws that are based on these same values. Fundamentally they are respect for human life, respect for legitimate authority, respect for marriage, the right to property and the need for honesty.
Unfortunately in recent times we have seen secular laws which have eroded respect for human life, the virtue of chastity and now even the very nature of marriage. Each of these consequences seems to me to have developed from the one before and from eliminating the role and will of God in regard to all of them. If human life is not valued as a gift from God and human dignity comes not from being the image of God but is a legal status bestowed by a government, then government, not God, is supreme. Then human sexuality is reduced to any activity between consenting adults and is divorced from any reference to God’s plan and responsible freedom. Then marriage becomes less and less relevant and its growing redefinition will soon render it meaningless. This seems to be the way we are going and it will be disastrous for our society. The words of Saint Paul in today’s Second Reading take on new relevance: “We speak a wisdom to those who are mature, not a wisdom of this age, nor of the rulers of this age who are passing away.”
Understanding the purpose of divine law, we see it as a means to the blessedness that comes from living harmoniously with God and neighbor. Then the final verse of today’s Responsorial Psalm becomes a fitting prayer to begin each day: “Instruct me, O Lord, in the way of your statutes, that I may exactly observe them. Give me discernment, that I may observe your law and keep it with all my heart.”
Pray the Rosary this week for people who suffer from the cold of winter due to a lack of sufficient food, clothing and shelter; for all who are suffering with illness or infirmity; and, as always, pray for peace.
May God bless his people with peace.