This reflection is for the 3rd Sunday in Lent,Cycle B, 3/4/2018.
How do you feel about laws? While that probably depends largely on how big of a hurry you are in and whether or not you’ve got flashing red lights behind you, most of us recognize, and rightfully so, that laws are an important and integral part of a safe, peaceful, and prosperous society. Clearly, even the terms “outlaw,” “lawless” and “in law” have some pretty negative connotations! Ha-ha, okay, not the last one!
To appreciate the law, we have to also reflect on what it would be like to have no law at all. What is good? How do we treat people? What do we do when others harm and do violence to others? Many people have a negative opinion of the law because they feel that the law impounds their rights and sets limits on their freedom–and to a degree, that is true. The law exists to set bounds on our freedoms to the degree that our desire impounds or undermines the rights of our neighbor. The law is not binding on those who love their neighbor! But if one’s desire is inordinate; if one desires to advance oneself at the expense of his/her neighbor, then the law is good and sets limits where none exist for lawless people.
The law, then, can be rightly seen as a gift for peaceful and happy living. When the Church talks about the Law, she speaks of it in a few different ways–starting with most vague to most concrete. You can read the C.C.C.1950-1986 and 2030-2051 for reference.
The “Natural Law” is the law of God written on the human heart. Humanity has been created in God’s image and has the law of God imprinted on its heart. If we “look down deep inside” then we know what is good and what is not. We do this all the time when we speak to our kids. We say things like, “Honestly, down deep inside, didn’t you know that what you were doing was wrong?” And if the answer is, “No,” we we say, “Well, you should have known better!” What we are alluding to is the Natural Law. The good is there to be done, and evil shunned, just as plain as day for the one who is willing at all to look. We call this our conscience. Our conscience is God’s moral compass placed within us that teaches us the truth about what to do in concrete circumstances. It is a compass that leads toward life, truth, wholeness, and happiness in this life and in the next.
However, because we we sin, live in a world of sin, and because often times we are raised in a community or family that may have a pattern of living outside the law, many of us may need a little more guidance than “looking deep inside.” Our conscience may be so improperly formed that we need something a little more clearly stated. Here enters the written law, or the Revealed Law. God does not abandon us to vague notions and slippery slopes. He provides the Israelites, once guided by the laws of Egypt, a sure way to remain in His love. He provides the commandments to ensure that they have life to the full. He says that if they would just follow these laws and teach their children to do the same (form their children’s conscience by them), then they will surely have life and be blessed in this life and the next.
The revelation of Jesus Christ in the fullness of time taught the Jewish people of his day a much fuller understanding, application, and realization of the law through the person of Jesus Christ himself. In Jesus we have the fullness and perfection of the law. In Jesus’ life, and especially in the Sermon on the Mount, we see that “The Law” is only the minimum standard and Jesus is not at all a minimalist, but is instead a maximalist! Jesus does not want us looking for the line that we might not cross it, but instead wants us to enter fully into the game of love! Jesus never abolishes the Law of God, but rather completes it. He teaches, “Although you have heard…(minimalism), I say to you…(maximalism). Just one example from the Sermon will suffice. Jesus says, “You have heard that it was said to your ancestors, ‘You shall not kill; and whoever kills will be liable to judgment.’ But I say to you, whoever is angry with his brother will be liable to judgment, and whoever says to his brother, ‘Raqa,’ will be answerable to the Sanhedrin, and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to fiery Gehenna. (MT 5:21-22)
Jesus certainly did not intend to add more complexity to the law so he summed it up nicely and made it quite simple. He said if we would just love God and love our neighbor we would be following every law in the book! It’s simple really (not easy, but simple); love. Period. If we would just follow Jesus Law of Love we would experience joy in this life and the fullness of joy in the next!
Unfortunately, it is often not so easy to know how to love in this life, and Jesus establishes his Church, guided by the Holy Spirit, to help us apply the law of love in every generation with its new challenges. The body of Christ gathered in every generation gifts us with Canon Law or Church Law so that we might have the guidance we need to experience the fullness of joy in our lives, teach our children what is right and good, and help to ensure their joy and happiness too!
It should now be quite clear that we have been given amazing gifts by God–all designed to help us get through this difficult desert. We have his law placed in our heart. The revealed law given first to Moses and brought to completion in Jesus, and then the ongoing practical application and guidance through the ministry of the Church.
These guides are what I like to refer to as the lights on the runway to heaven. God’s desire is that we “land” safely with him. He wants us to have a peaceful life here on earth and to spend eternity with him in the next. He wants us to land safely for our sake and for the sake of those under our care–such as our children, other people’s children, community members, employees, citizens of the state, and persons in the world! The law exists for but one purpose–to help us get to where we want and need to go. How juvenile of us to outwardly spurn the guide that ensures our greatest joy! We’d not only be “shooting ourselves in the foot” if we were to reject the law, we’d also be putting those under our care in jeopardy as well!
This outright rebellion against the good would be tantamount to a pilot coming in for a landing, having the runway lights lit up for him, and then deciding to “do his own thing,” to land on a runway of HIS choice at a time that was right for HIM. Naturally, with so many planes in the sky, so many planes on different runways, and so many dangers to a safe landing, that pilot would lose his license to fly! The pilot’s goal is to arrive safely at his destination. He wants the lights. He needs the guidance. And if he uses them he and his passengers will arrive safely at their destination.
And if we do the same…so will we. Love God. Love your neighbor. Love, period. Use the lights.
God bless, Stephen