THE POWERLESSNESS OF THE LAW
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ GALATIANS 3:7-14; LUKE 11:15-26 ]
We know that the Law is good. “Your decrees are wonderful; therefore my soul keeps them. The unfolding of your words gives light; it imparts understanding to the simple.” (Ps 119:129f) The Law helps us to discern what is right and wrong. It guides us to the right path. This is what St Paul also wrote, “If it had not been for the law, I would not have known sin. I would not have known what it is to covet if the law had not said, ‘You shall not covet.'” (Rom 7:7f) The Law is useful as a guide. “Now we know that the law is good, if one uses it legitimately. This means understanding that the law is laid down not for the innocent but for the lawless and disobedient, for the godless and sinful, for the unholy and profane.” (1 Tim 1:8f)
However, just because we know the Law does not mean we can always obey it. St Paul’s experience is also ours. “So I find it to be a law that when I want to do what is good, evil lies close at hand. For I delight in the law of God in my inmost self, but I see in my members another law at war with the law of my mind, making me captive to the law of sin that dwells in my members.” (Rom 7:21-23) Indeed, we all feel as frustrated as St Paul because as he shared, “I do not understand my own actions. For I do not do what I want, but I do the very thing I hate. Now if I do what I do not want, I agree that the law is good. I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” (Rom 7:15,16,19)
Therefore, we feel disheartened and defeated. Deep in our hearts, we all want to do the right thing and walk in truth and love. No one wants to break the law. We all know that if we break the laws, we will also face punishment and penalty. Why then are crimes committed every day by so many people in the world when they know that they will be punished severely? People know the consequences of cheating, killing, raping and molesting. Yet they still commit such offences. The reason is simply because sin, which dwells within us, holds us captive. No matter how much we try to be faithful to the Lord, we will not be able to be faithful to all the laws of God. The psalmist says, “I know my transgressions, and my sin is ever before me. Indeed, I was born guilty, a sinner when my mother conceived me.” (Ps 51:3,5) Like St Paul, we can only cry out, “Wretched man that I am! Who will rescue me from this body of death?” (Rom 7:24)
This is why St Paul remarked that those who seek to find justification through the Law find themselves under a curse. “Those who rely on the keeping of the Law are under a curse, since scripture says: Cursed be everyone who does not persevere in observing everything prescribed in the book of the Law. The Law will not justify anyone in the sight of God, because we are told: the righteous man finds life through faith. The Law is not even based on faith, since we are told: The man who practices these precepts finds life through practising them.” And since none of us can fulfill the precepts perfectly, we are all under condemnation by the Law.
The only way out is through our Lord Jesus Christ. St Paul came to realize that by his own strength, he could not resist sin. With Jesus he could in gratitude and with a victorious cry, say, “Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ our Lord!” (Rom 7:25) Jesus is the strongman spoken of in the gospel. Jesus said, “So long as a strong man fully armed guards his own palace, his goods are undisturbed; but when someone stronger than he is attacks and defeats him, the stronger man takes away all the weapons he relied on and shares out his spoil.” Jesus is that strongman who can overcome the power of Satan.
Jesus said, “But if it is through the finger of God that I cast out devils, then know that the kingdom of God has overtaken you.” The whole life of Jesus was to engage in a spiritual warfare against Satan and his angels. Through His teaching, His life and His examples, He showed Himself to be the Kingdom of God in person. Through His healings, His miraculous power over nature and His works of exorcism, Jesus was establishing the Kingdom of God. Most of all, through His death and resurrection, Jesus manifested the love and mercy of God; and God’s triumph over sin, hatred, evil and death.
If we feel discouraged by our failure to observe the Law, then we must recognize that only faith in Christ can help us to conquer the temptations of the Evil One. St Paul wrote, “Scripture foresaw that God was going to use faith to justify the pagans, and proclaimed the Good News long ago when Abraham was told: In you all the pagans will be blessed. Those therefore who rely on faith receive the same blessing as Abraham, the man of faith.” Faith in Jesus is paramount for us to have faith in God’s mercy and forgiveness. In His death on the cross, Jesus took upon Himself the sins of humanity. “Christ redeemed us from the curse of the Law by being cursed for our sake, since scripture says: Cursed be everyone who is hanged on a tree.” By suffering for us and in our place, Jesus revealed to us the unconditional mercy and love of God. By dying, Jesus revealed to us that life is not just on this earth but a pilgrimage to the fullness of life with God in heaven.
It is through the contemplation of His unconditional love and mercy that we obey the Law, not out of fear but out of gratitude and union with our Lord. We who have received much from Him will be able to give much as well. As the Lord said to Simon the Pharisee, “Therefore, I tell you, her sins, which were many, have been forgiven; hence she has shown great love. But the one to whom little is forgiven, loves little.” (Lk 7:47) We will resist sin, not because we fear punishment but because we want to stand on the side of our Lord against evil, for He made it clear that “He who is not with me is against me; and he who does not gather with me scatters.” It is always easy to do things for Jesus when we are doing them out of love for Him who first loved us. This was what drove St Paul to give up His life for Christ. “For the love of Christ urges us on, because we are convinced that one has died for all; therefore all have died. And he died for all, so that those who live might live no longer for themselves, but for him who died and was raised for them.” (2 Cor 5:14f) St Paul who was a persecutor of our Lord was overwhelmed by His grace and mercy.
Most of all, we can now fulfill the Law because He has given us His Spirit, which is His love poured into our hearts. (Rom 5:5) We do not proclaim the Good News or observe the law by our own strength. Rather, the command of our Lord was that we love one another as He has loved us. (cf Jn 13:34) The death of Jesus was necessary “so that in Christ Jesus the blessing of Abraham might include the pagans, and so that through faith we might receive the promised Spirit.” This is what the Lord said when He assured the people, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished.” (Mt 5:17f)
What if we fail again, since sin dwells in us? Then we must cling on to our faith in the Lord’s mercy and love! We must keep on contemplating on His love and mercy on the cross for our sins. We must make time to examine our conscience and feel sorry for our sins because we have hurt Jesus who loves us much and our fellowmen too. We must turn to Him for forgiveness and mercy every day. We must renew our love for Him daily if we were to find strength to resist temptation. Jesus in the gospel warned us about the man who was delivered of an unclean spirit only to bring in seven other spirits more wicked than before because he failed to be active in growing his faith in the Lord through prayer, meditation on the Word and good works. We too must never be complacent after being justified by Christ in faith. Growing in love for Jesus will enable us to turn away from sin.
Written by The Most Rev William Goh, Roman Catholic Archbishop of Singapore © All Rights Reserved
Best Practices for Using the Daily Scripture Reflections
- Encounter God through the spirit of prayer and the scripture by reflecting and praying the Word of God daily. The purpose is to bring you to prayer and to a deeper union with the Lord on the level of the heart.
- Daily reflections when archived will lead many to accumulate all the reflections of the week and pray in one sitting. This will compromise your capacity to enter deeply into the Word of God, as the tendency is to read for knowledge rather than a prayerful reading of the Word for the purpose of developing a personal and affective relationship with the Lord.
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