FULFILLING THE LAWS PERFECTLY
SCRIPTURE READINGS: [dt 4:1, 5-9; ps 147:12-13, 15-16, 19-20; MT 5:17-19 ]
The modern man is averse to all forms of laws. In the name of freedom and relativism, laws are rejected. He wants absolute freedom to do what he thinks is good for him, regardless of what others think or how others are affected. He is a law unto himself. He accepts no laws except what he believes in. So any attempt to impose a law from without is considered an infringement of human rights. The irony is that such understanding of freedom leads to a state of amorality, chaos, and abuse of the common good of all.
On the other hand, there are those who advocate obedience to the laws. They insist that all laws must be observed meticulously, to the minutest detail. They are legalists and would spend time splitting hairs over the details of how the laws are to be interpreted and applied. The laws must be observed regardless of the situation and the context. They would apply them without taking into consideration the circumstances, the context and the spirit of the laws. When such laws are imposed without respecting the true spirit and rationale of the laws, it leads to slavery and the laws become burdensome. Instead of giving life, the laws become an obstacle to a happy life.
Then we have a third situation, which is the most common approach that many people take, and that is to obey those laws that we agree with and reject those that we think are silly. But we have to be careful in using this principle in reading the bible for St Augustine reminds us that if we were to believe what we like in the bible and reject those that we do not like, then we are not believing in the Word of God but ourselves. Selective reading and acceptance of the laws is no different from those who do not accept the laws at all. If the Bible must agree with us before we accept it as the Word of God, we cannot say that the bible is inerrant and God is the author of the bible. It means that we have made ourselves the judge of the Bible.
For this reason, Jesus in the gospel made it clear when He said, “Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete them.” Jesus could not contradict what God had given to Moses and to the prophets. The teachings of Moses and the prophets remain valid even in our times. Their teachings are not abrogated. That is why Jesus said, “I tell you solemnly, till heaven and earth disappear, not one dot, not one little stroke, shall disappear from the Law until its purpose is achieved.” Jesus came precisely to fulfill the laws by making the laws relevant to the people in His days, through reinterpretation and contextualization.
This is done by rediscovering the spirit of the laws. What is the spirit of the laws? It is summed up in different ways. Jesus said, “In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.” (Mt 7:12) St Paul wrote, “Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments, ‘You shall not commit adultery; You shall not murder; You shall not steal; You shall not covet’; and any other commandment, are summed up in this word, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore, love is the fulfilling of the law.” (Rom 13:8-10) Jesus also warned us, “those who have done good, to the resurrection of life, and those who have done evil, to the resurrection of condemnation.” (Jn 5:29) The laws were given to us through Moses so that we could be guided in walking the way of truth and love.
All the laws are focused on loving God and loving our fellowmen. These are summed by the Lord when He was asked which commandment was the greatest. He said, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and 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.” (Mk 12:29-31) But all these laws must be fulfilled in love. We do not fulfill the laws out of resentment or fear but out of love. That was what St Paul reminded us when he wrote about the gifts of the Holy Spirit. “If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing. If I give away all my possessions, and if I hand over my body so that I may boast, but do not have love, I gain nothing.” (1 Cor 13:1-3)
Hence, the laws are good and they are meant to give us life, to teach us how to love. For the good of the people, God gave the laws to them. Moses said to the people: “And now, Israel, take notice of the laws and customs that I teach you today, and observe them, that you may have life and may enter and take possession of the land that the Lord the God of your fathers is giving you. See, as the Lord my God has commanded me, I teach you the laws and customs that you are to observe in the land you are to enter and make your own.” The laws are not meant to make life difficult for the people or make them slaves but to set them free to love rightly and wisely. This was the privilege of Israel, for as the psalmist says, “He sends out his word to the earth and swiftly runs his command. He showers down snow white as wool, he scatters hoar-frost like ashes. He makes his word known to Jacob, to Israel his laws and decrees. He has not dealt thus with other nations; he has not taught them his decrees.”
Unless we see the wisdom of the laws, we will not be able to embrace them wholeheartedly. This was what made Moses say, “Keep them, observe them, and they will demonstrate the peoples your wisdom and understanding. When they come to know of all these laws they will exclaim, ‘No other people is as wise and prudent as this great nation.’ And indeed, what great nation is there that has its gods so near as the Lord our God is to us whenever we call to him? And what great nation is there that has laws and customs to match this whole Law that I put before you today?” Thus, the task of legislators and teachers of the laws must help the present generation to see the relevance of the laws according to the current context of our times. Some laws are no longer applicable to our days, not that they are wrong but the context and circumstances have changed. So laws must be seen within context by examining the spirit and the principle underlying such laws. Only then can we extrapolate for our use. A judicious reading of the laws is required and not just blind conformity.
But the real Spirit of the laws is to live in the Spirit of God. Only the Spirit of God can guide us and empower us to carry out the laws. St Paul wrote, “The law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set you free from the law of sin and of death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: by sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, and to deal with sin, he condemned sin in the flesh, so that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit set their minds on the things of the Spirit.” (Rom 8:2-5)
Without consciousness of His love and mercy for us, we are powerless to keep the laws even if we know they are good for us. This is the reason why Moses reminded the people of the underlying presupposition for them to keep the law, which is to remember the love and mercy of God for them when He led them out of Egypt, the land of slavery into the Promised Land by His mighty arms. “But take care what you do and be on your guard. Do not forget the things your eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your heart all the days of your life; rather, tell them to your children and your children’s children.” Indeed, we must teach our children not just the laws but the spirit behind the laws and the power to do it. This is what the Lord instructs us to do. “Therefore, the man who keeps them and teaches them will be considered great in the kingdom of heaven.”
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.
- It is more important to pray deeply, not read widely. The current reflections of the day would be more than sufficient for anyone who wants to pray deeply and be led into an intimacy with the Lord.
Note: You may share this reflection with someone. However, please note that reflections are not archived online, nor will they be available via email request.