MAY 24, 2005- HOMILY: SIRACH 35: 1-12; MARK10:28-31
T0 KEEP THE LAW IS A GREAT OBLATION AND HE WHO OBSERVES THE COMMANDMENTS SACRIFICES A PEACE OFFERING." In the time of Ben Sirach, the restored temple allowed for the offerings of sacrifices prescribed in the book of Leviticus as a central act of worship. During the lengthy period in which destruction of the sacred building had interrupted these religious offerings the observant Israelites felt deprived of special access to God’s presence and suffered in their self-respect. However, in this passage the author undertakes to provide a spiritual interpretation of the Levitical directives. "T0 KEEP THE LAW IS A GREAT OBLATION" .With his words, Sirach proclaimed that true worship of God does not require that one enter the temple with gifts from the flock or grain from the field. The offering that pleases God is obedience from the heart. Unwittingly, in doing so he was preparing for the kind of ‘worship in spirit and in truth’ that Jesus insisted on. Ben Sirach’s inspired interpretation that recognized the spiritual dimension of the law was to be taken up by the Lord who taught that true religion arises from the heart and engages the whole person, being expressed in the thoughts of the heart as well as in outward acts and in deeds of mercy.
Jesus himself carried further this spiritual re-interpretation of the Law of Moses. The New Testament writers, notably St Paul followed in his footsteps, reading the sacred text in light of the higher significance it holds for those who approach it with faith from the heart. For instance he wrote to the Corinthians that "all our fathers were under the cloud and all passed through the Red Sea and all were baptized in Moses in the cloud and in the sea ... all these things became a figure for us"(1Cor 10:1,2, 6). The author to Hebrews, a faithful disciple of Paul, elevated this approach to Scripture to a principle and applied it broadly. He made it the guiding principle of his long Epistle as he indicates in its opening words."Many times and in various manners God spoke to our fathers through the prophets. In these time he has spoken to us in His Son who he has made heir of all." He then goes on to explain that the true sense of the Law and Prophets is found in Christ Jesus; sacred history itself has a hidden, spiritual meaning that is revealed in the person of Christ Jesus and I his teaching. This inspired word, understood in its reference to Christ, he further declares, is addressed to us, today. "Today, if you hear his voice, harden not your heart." (3:15) For it is to the well- disposed heart, seeking with faith, touched by grace, that the true meaning of Scripture reveals itself.
The early Fathers learned this truth from the Bible and were guided by it in their reading and preaching. They passed it on to succeeding generations so that, until modern times, it dominated the interpretation of the sacred text and its use in the life of prayer. Lectio divina as practiced by monks from the origins of monasticism presupposes this manner of using the Scriptures. Gregory the Great was particularly adept in bringing out of the sacred page, spiritually useful meanings. Perhaps it was due to his conviction that the text has a hidden spiritual sense that enabled him to discover insights and teachings that have only a tenuous tie to the letter of the text. He expressed his point of view memorably in a letter he wrote to a prominent and busy physician. "Learn the heart of God in the word of God so that you might aspire more ardently after divine realities."
The divine realities he refers to are, above all else, the loving knowledge of the Blessed Trinity and eternal life in the presence of the God of glory. Gregory well understood that Scripture indicates to us not only the goal of our striving but also the ways that lead to the attainment of this eternal union with the Lord. By the reading of Scripture and of the holy Fathers together with the Eucharist may we learn by experience the very heart of God. For in this heart are all the treasures of a love that is eternal life in his Son, Jesus our Savior.
Abbot John Eudes Bamberger
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