Wednesday, March 26, 2014

God’s Law: A Gift of Love

By Colleen O’Sullivan
(Moses said:) “Observe (the statutes and decrees of the Lord) carefully, for thus will you give evidence of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations, who will hear of all these statutes and say, ‘This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.’  For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the Lord, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him?  (Deuteronomy 4:6-7)
Jesus said to his disciples:  “Do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.  I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”  (Matthew 5:17)

O Lord, grant me the grace to live a life filled with love for you and for others, a life emanating from the words you have engraved upon my heart.

Several years ago I went to visit an out-of-state friend.  When Sunday rolled around and I mentioned going to church, she told me in no uncertain terms that she didn’t need anybody telling her what she could or couldn’t do, and she had no intention of sitting in church with a bunch of pompous fools.  I went by myself, thinking all the way about what she said and the vehemence with which she said it.  I asked myself why I was surprised.  After all, we live in an individualistic culture where doing your own thing is highly prized and chafing at any kind of rules or restrictions is commonplace. 

In the Book of Deuteronomy, on the other hand, Moses presents the statutes and decrees of God as a gift to us, one in a series of signs of God’s love.  In Deuteronomy, time and again we see how God is always with us.  He travels with the people of Israel in the Ark of the Covenant.  God is with his children every step of the long journey through the desert as a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night.  And in today’s reading, Moses says that God’s closeness to us in the Law makes us the envy of all other peoples.  God’s Law isn’t meant to make us miserable; it’s designed to help us be close to God and to show us the way to live in loving relationships with our brothers and sisters.

Fast forward to the days of the prophet Jeremiah.  God promises:  “I will plant my law within them and write it upon their hearts; I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”  (Jer. 31:33)  God keeps his word and many generations later sends his Son Jesus into the world.  God is now with us in the flesh.  Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law, and he says we can no longer be satisfied with mere external observance.  He asks us to obey the Law from within, from the hearts upon which it has been written.

As a child, I detested having to memorize the Ten Commandments.  I looked at them as the checklist God used to dole out black marks when we sinned.  As an adult, I see them more as a loving gift.  Some of the commandments are specifically about our relationship with God – don’t make gods of the things of this world and don’t forget to worship the One who called us into being and redeems us from our sins.  They’re meant to draw us ever closer to God.  The rest of them are about our relationships with our brothers and sisters. They’re about loving our neighbors as God loves us.  When we treat each other in a loving manner, many fewer people get hurt, including ourselves.

Spend some time today reflecting on how you view God’s Law.  Is it a gift or a burden?  You may find that your answer is dictated by your image of God.    

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