Tag Archives: law

Letter to the Galatians

Our first readings this week at Mass are from the Letter to the Galatians, who were pagans St. Paul converted probably on his second missionary journey through Asia Minor. When Paul left, some Jewish Christians arrived and were enticing the new converts to adopt Jewish practices, especially that of circumcision. They also called Paul’s authority into question, saying he wasn’t among the original witnesses to Jesus’ life and resurrection.

Paul responds in this emotional letter written in 54 or 55 AD in which he voices amazement that the Galatians are listening to the newcomers and losing sight of the faith they’ve learned. Paul gives an account of his own call; he defends his authority to preach the gospel and his communion with the other apostles.

But the theme of his letter is belief in Jesus Christ, who was crucified. “Stupid Galatians! Who has bewitched you, before whose eyes Jesus Christ was publicly portrayed as crucified?” ( Gal 3,1) Don’t lose sight of what’s most important, what’s central to your faith–Jesus Christ!

Of course, losing sight of what’s most important isn’t only a characteristic of the Galatians; we do it too. That’s especially true in times like ours today.

Some of the most beautiful expressions of Paul’s personal faith are found in this letter.  He describes his own conversion as a “revelation of Jesus Christ,” a grace by which God “revealed his Son to me.” It wasn’t through a book he read or a blinding light.  Jesus revealed himself to him and that revelation continued. “I have been crucified with Christ,yet I live, no longer I, but Christ lives in me; insofar as I now live in the flesh, I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.” (Gal 2,19-20)

Do  we need to remember too the Lord’s revelation of himself to us today?

Living in Christ means living in his Spirit, Paul continues. The Galatians are enticed by practices of the Jewish law; Paul reminds them of the law Jesus taught. “The whole law is fulfilled in one statement,’ You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’” (Gal 5,14) Bearing one another’s burdens is the way you fulfill the law of Christ, by sharing good things with one another you fulfill his law. Don’t tire of doing good, keep doing it, Paul says to his children in faith. (Gal 6,2;6:9)

Paul doesn’t give the Galatians a book he wrote once about Jesus, he speaks to them from his own faith in Jesus which is living and constantly growing. He’s likely just read the verse from the Old Testament about the curse one bears who hangs on the tree. The Son of God took on that cursed condition of hanging on a tree! What greater love can there be? Paul’s thinking too of the promise Abraham embraced who lived long before the mosaic law existed. That was the promise Abraham saw in faith and that’s the revelation the gentiles see in the Crucified Christ.

The Letter to the Galatians is about essentials that have been forgotten or replaced by something else. Paul recalls the essentials. “I live by faith in the Son of God who has loved me and given himself up for me.”

Keep before your eyes Jesus crucified.

Wednesday, 3rd Week of Lent

Lent 1


Readings
In Matthew’s gospel, chapters 5-7, Jesus speaks to his disciples from a mountain, a place Moses once chose to speak to the Jews, but Jesus speaks God’s revelation to a wider world from a mountain. His words are loyal to the Jewish traditions and laws that Moses taught. He’s not abolishing them. He came “not to abolish them but to fulfill them.”

First, remember them. That’s what the Jewish scriptures tell us to do. “Take care and be earnestly on your guard not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live, but teach them to your children and to your children’s children.”

Lent calls us to remember.

Second, practice them, from the greatest of the commandments to the least. Lent leads us to great thoughts and great visions of faith, but this season reminds us to remember and to do small things as well. “A cup of cold water,” a prisoner, someone sick visited, someone naked clothed, someone hungry fed, “a word to the weary to rouse them.”

The law of God often comes down to small things like these. They’re always at hand, readily available. They’re within our power to do, and the greatest in God’s kingdom are best at doing them.

Lord, may your teaching from the mountain

reach the whole world and bring us peace.

Never let us forget your words,

and help us to live by them.

Never let us forget the small acts of love.

The Law Made Flesh

Fra Angelico: The Crucifixion (detail), ca.1437-46
Source: Wikimedia Commons

10th week in Ordinary Time, Wednesday

1 Kings 18:20-39, Psalm 25, Matthew 5:17-19

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”

In the legalistic society Jesus grew up in, he witnessed the meticulous ways in which people carried out their ritual purifications, food laws, and Sabbath regulations. The heart and soul of these minute rules was love, Jesus pointed out earlier to the wise scribe (Mark 12:28-34). He had no battle to pick about words and letters in the law. Such scholarly disputations were a hindrance to his simple yet inexhaustibly profound message from the Father’s heart: the only-begotten Son of God is the Law made flesh.

All of the sacrifices of the Old Law were nailed to the Cross in Jesus Christ. Unless a grain of wheat falls to the ground and dies, it will not live. Seen in the light of the Trinity, Jesus showed us that the way to authentic personhood and communion is self-emptying. By detaching from ego and its illusory, finite possessions both material and spiritual (“mine”), persons are released into the infinity of the Triune Love (“all mine are thine, and thine are mine”).

Spiritual eyes open slowly and gradually, over centuries and generations, as humanity crawls from babyhood to adulthood as one man. In the dramatic episode of Elijah’s glorious defeat of the prophets of Baal, the lukewarm children of Israel returned to their God. However, zeal and fanaticism led Elijah to kill his opponents. With the heat of Jezebel’s threat on his neck to take his life in return, he fell into depression under a broom tree, begging the Lord to let him die. He was not fully aware of the reason for his slump, but it probably came from his excessive zeal.

No prophet ever died for his enemies but Jesus Christ. All of the arrows, violence, scorn, beatings, and hatred of the scattered children of Adam were hurled upon the Cross. And Jesus said, “I thirst.” He thirsts for our love and unity. He thirsts for our ultimate happiness which can only be obtained by dropping our arrows and emptying our hands. We are one, he told his disciples at the Last Supper. If you hurt one of the least of my brethren, you hurt me, he told Saul (later Paul) on the road to Damascus. 

In the childhood of humankind, the line between good and evil was drawn outside in the world of material extension. “Us” versus “Them,” “friends” versus “enemies,” “I” versus “You.” The line between good and evil, however, is found within the human heart, the true altar of sacrifice. The message of the Beatitudes is conquer yourself. The battle with sin and evil is within. “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” is replaced by, “Love your enemies.”

Stories abound from the desert fathers and mothers about the discovery of God’s universal love for all without discrimination, a realization obtained only after a great interior battle and purification.

Let us pray with the Psalmist, “Teach me your paths, my God, and guide me in your truth” (Psalm 25:4b, 5a). 

-GMC

The Greatest Commandment

Shema Yisrael at the Knesset Menorah in Jerusalem
(Licensed by Rabanus Flavus under CC-BY-SA-3.0)

9th Week in Ordinary Time, Thursday

Mark 12:28-34

Most of the encounters between Jesus and the teachers of the Law in the Gospels were confrontational and combative, but in this passage we meet an unusually thoughtful and spiritually mature son of Israel. 

One of the scribes who had been listening to Jesus asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus replied, “The first is this: Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. There is no other commandment greater than these.”

The first part of Jesus’ response was familiar to every Jew from the cradle—the Shema (Hear!) began every synagogue service and was the pillar of Judaism. Found in Deuteronomy (6:4-9; 11:13-21) and Numbers (15:37-41), over time the command to “bind them” to the hand, between the eyes, and on doorposts and gates was taken literally and evolved into the phylacteries which Jesus condemned (Matthew 23:5). 

The second part came from Leviticus 19:18. All of the minute rules and regulations of Jewish law were summed up in these two precepts—love of God and love of neighbor, or simply, love, for the two are inseparable.

The scribe found a kindred spirit in Jesus and spontaneously responded: “Well said, teacher. You are right in saying, He is One and there is no other than he. And to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

This remarkable scholar probably spent a lot of time meditating on the essence of the Law contained in Prophets like Samuel: “Does the Lord delight in burnt offerings and sacrifices as much as in obedience to the Lord’s command? Obedience is better than sacrifice, to listen, better than the fat of rams” (1 Samuel 15:22). In passages like these, the highest wisdom of Judaism is contained. All external works and sacrifices find their fulfillment in the inner temple of the heart.

The scribe received a tremendous gift that day in hearing from Love Incarnate himself, “You are not far from the Kingdom of God.” 

Jesus’ face, body, hands, voice and entire demeanor radiated wisdom and kindness. People listening to him were captivated: “And no one dared to ask him any more questions.”

-GMC