MARCH 30 2011- WEDNESDAY 3rd WEEK OF LENT: DEUT. 4-1-9 ; MATTHEW 5:17-19

 

I HAVE COME TO FULFILL THE LAW AND THE PROPHETS NOT TO ABOLISH THEM, says the Lord. We know from other passages that preserve our Lord’s teaching and attitudes toward the Law of Moses as it was interpreted in his times, that his way of fulfilling the inspired revelations of Moses and the prophets was at once highly personal and creative. On occasion he did not hesitate to point out that Moses had taught promulgated a practice that represented a compromise with God’s original will. He set out conditions for obtaining a legal divorce. Jesus did not hesitate to abrogate this practice and declared that marriage in keeping with God’s original intent does not allow for divorce. In making this declaration, in addition to abrogating one of the most influential Mosaic statutes, he restored to woman the dignity she had been endowed with at the beginning. For this Law of Moses, he explained, was made as a compromise, under constraint and was tolerated by God “due to the hardness of heart” of the chosen people. Moreover, this accommodation, however, was made at the expense of the wife for only the husband could initiate divorce proceedings. In addition, the courts accepted as cause for divorce such minor complaints as serving burnt food at a meal.  The result was to render the wife’s position quite precarious and had the further effect of lessening her human dignity.  Jesus put an end to such legislation in no uncertain terms: “whoever divorces his wife, except for adultery, and marries another, commits adultery.” (Matthew 19:9)

 

On other occasions, our Lord applied Moses’ legislation with such humanity as to declare that under certain circumstances it did not apply. He stated the principle that is to govern application of the law in connection with Sabbath observance: “The Sabbath is made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2:27). The most far-reaching teaching that the Lord gave in connection with the relation his followers are to have to the Mosaic legislation was given in response to a direct question by the Scribes and Pharisees who sought to trap him into a statement they could use against him. He turned the tables on them with his reply: “The greatest and the first commandment is: ‘You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ The second is like it: ‘You must love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang the whole Law and the Prophets also.” (Matthew 22:26)

 

Saint Bernard took up this same theme a thousand years later and treated it with admirable insight and understanding of our Lord’s attitude and teaching concerning the Law. With his gift of lapidary phrasing he summed up the matter in a few words. “God himself lives by law, the law of love that is the Holy Spirit.” It was  Abbot Isaac of Stella, if I recall rightly, who, following Bernard’s lead, devised a no less striking formulation that developed this teaching further by defining law in terms of a love that at once joins to God and obliges us to carry out his will. His Latin phrasing condenses his thought in the form of a pun:  Lex est amor qui ligat et obligat.”, that is “The Law is love that joins and obligates.”

 

The proper way to please God is so to love him as to carry out his will from the heart, and to do all we can to assist one another to live in the same way. It is this law that we fulfill by coming together today in our common celebration of the Eucharist, thanking God for his glory and goodness in giving us his beloved Son.    


Abbot John Eudes Bamberger

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