DEUTERONOMY 26:16-19; MATTHEW 5:43-48

Divine Mercy

Today's readings on this Saturday that closes the first week of Lent, are both quite familiar to all of us who have read the bible with attentive and alert thoughtfulness.  Both treat of matters that concern the issue of law and the motivation for its observance.  At this liturgy we are subtly invited by each of these readings to reflect on the message they seek to convey to us so that our observances of this Lenten season result in the changes of our most interior self that the inspired words seek to bring about.  Jesus refers to this process of inner restructuring repeatedly in his public ministry.  We find it in such contexts as when he corrects his disciples who show annoyance at the children who flock around the Lord:  "Do not disturb the children or stop them from approaching me for the kingdom of heaven belongs to such as them." (Matthew 19:10)  Saint Mark writes that Jesus went on to add that only those who accept the kingdom of heaven with the simplicity of children will be admitted into it.  In today's Gospel our Lord stresses the need to go beyond the literal compliance with the law by extending benevolence, practiced from love, even to those who are hostile to us.  "I tell you," he says with strong feeling, "love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who persecute you."  The new law revealed by Jesus is not limited to be applied only to our neighbors and close associates; it is universal love in keeping with the nature of God who is Father of all.  Jesus was to exemplify this teaching in his own person especially when, dying on the cross, he prayed for forgiveness of those who had have put to death.  In doing so he made it clear he was acting from love when he found an excuse for their hostility to him:  "Forgive them, Father, for they know not what they do."

The first reading is taken from the Book of Deuteronomy.  In keeping with the very name given this fifth book of the Torah in the Greek of the Septuagint, where the Greek title, Deuteronomy, means "the second Law" we can get the impression that it simply restates the Jewish preoccupation with observance of the law.  Accordingly, we are inclined to pass over it without giving it much attention, if I can judge from my own usual reaction to this familiar theme.  However, as I read it on this occasion, in this first week of Lent, my attention was abruptly arrested by a sentence that gave a fresh significance to this issue of God's word precisely as law. I am led to reflect on its implications for us today.  These are the words I refer to; they are found in chapter 26 of the Deuteronomy just after Moses declared that "This day the Lord your God commands you to observe these statutes and decrees, he then adds:  "Take care then to observe them with all your heart, and with all your soul."  This emphasis on engaging the whole heart, that is the most personal and intimate self, in carrying out God's revealed word gives a fresh meaning to the issue of obedience to law.  It changes what seems at first to require conformity to rules and commands to a most intimate relationship characterized by love and freedom.  Centuries later in treating of this question of law, Saint Bernard made the significant point that God himself lives by law - not through constraint, however, for he lives by the law of love who is the Holy Spirit.

Considering this emphasis on the whole heart as determining the manner in which the law of God is to be carried out and assimilated allows us to appreciate more fully our Lord's insistence on this same approach to the law.  When he was accosted one day by a questioning Pharisee who asked him: "Master, which is the greatest commandment of the law?", Jesus answered him:  " You shall love the Lord your God with your whole heart, with your whole soul and with your whole mind.  This is the first and the greatest commandment." (Mt 22:35-38)

At this Eucharist we commemorate the love that led our Savior not only to forgive all who sinned against him, but also to give himself to each of us in a union of hearts that is a pledge of friendship that is eternal.  This merciful act of love for us is what we celebrate and thank him for at this mass.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger