Wednesday, December 14, 2016

LAW OR LOVE?


Homily for December 15th, 2016. Isaiah 54:1-10.

          We sometimes hear that the Old Testament is the book God’s law, the New Testament the book of his love. There is a basis for this statement. God’s gift to Moses of his law, the Ten Commandments, is central in the Old Testament. It tells the story twice over: once in Exodus (chapter 20), again in Deuteronomy (chapter 5). And Israel’s prophets insisted constantly on the need to obey these laws, given by God.

          Moreover, no one can dispute that the theme of God’s love is central in the New Testament. “God so loved the world,” we read in John’s gospel, “that he gave his only Son, that whoever believes in him may not die, but may have eternal life” (3:16).

If we dig a little deeper, however, we see that the difference between the two parts of the Bible is not so clear as we often assume. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets,” Jesus says in his Sermon on the Mount. “I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them” (Mt: 5:17). And in the Old Testament we find the words which closed our first reading: “Though the mountains leave their place, and the hills be shaken, my love will never leave you, nor my covenant of peace be shaken, says the Lord, who has mercy on you” (Is. 54:10).

The Old Testament, indeed the whole Bible, views God’s commandments not as fences to hem people in, but as signposts pointing to fulfillment and happiness, a gift given to the people whom he chose for his own, and not to other nations. Deuteronomy states this explicitly when it represents God asking his people: “What great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you this day?” (4:8).

When Jesus taught us, in the one prayer he gave us, to pray, “Lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil,” what else was he teaching us but to pray that we might obey God’s laws. In today’s chaotic world we see only too clearly how deeply we suffer when we disobey God’s law: through killing, lying, stealing, and violating the marriage bond. We pray therefore in this Mass that through obedience to God’s commandments we may find those precious gifts which, at the deepest level, come from God alone: happiness, fulfillment, and peace.