Deuteronomy 4:1, 5-9; Matthew 5:17-19

Both of today's readings urge us to take care at this season of Lent especially to put into practice the provisions of the Law.   The book of Deuteronomy is made so prominent in our Catholic liturgy for this purpose of reminding us of what Jesus had read and been influenced by from his early years.   In this Gospel text he shows himself a faithful son of Moses who, as our first reading states preached to the people: "hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe that you may live."

Saint Matthew brings out in his account of Jesus's directives to his disciples as he quotes the Lord as saying: "Do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill."   And he goes on to affirm with a deliberate insistence affirming that "not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law till all things have taken place.   These are surely impressively clear and strong affirmations that seem to be in tension with other statements by the Lord that Matthew records.   For in the same Gospel we are told that Jesus gave out the invitation to "come to me all you who are heavily burdened and I will give rest to your souls."   Moreover, in other gospel texts we find Jesus criticized by the Pharisees and Scribes precisely because he did not see that they observes the fine points of the law such as washing their hands after legally defiling them by handling unclean objects.

There was an ongoing development in Hebrew thinking about the law that continued through the centuries.   One indication of this persistent evolution Is the increasing reference to God's mercy.   Concerns with the mercy the Lord shows his people and reliance on His readiness to treat with mercy the people He has chosen is considerably more prominent in Israel's prayer as seen in the Psalms and in later writings.   In Jesus' later attitude to observance of the lesser points of the law he showed a more flexible attitude, stressing kindness and charity not rigid observance.   Saint Paul brought the same line of practice to be on his dealings.   Peter was directed in this same attitude by a divine revelation that put aside certain features of the law, while observing others with dedicated fervor.

In this Lenten season we are reminded that traditional observances of fasting and self denial retain their importance in the search for union with God.   We see these Lenten practices as a sharing in the passion and death of our Lord who fasted and entered solitude the better to prepare in prayer to fulfill the mission the Father gave him.   May we accompany him in his faithful obedience and come to the joy of his Resurrection at the end.

Abbot John Eudes Bamberger