you have heard…but I say to you

Feb 13, 2011

You have heard that it was said…

…but I say to you

Christianity :

the way of love fulfills ‘the law’

I think it was George Bernard Shaw who said: ‘Christianity might be a good thing if anyone ever tried it”. We know that Shaw was exaggerating since many people have given their lives as Christians. The saints provide us with remarkable examples of the breadth, beauty and adventure of life in Christ. In a brief glance around our parishes and families we also see many people who have embraced Christianity wholeheartedly, and whose lives bear witness to their faith in Jesus Christ.

But perhaps there is also a good amount of truth in Shaw’s challenge. I often wonder if most Christians (myself included more often that I would like to admit), reduce Christianity to a set of (albeit sound) rules surrounded with good values.

The temptation is for us to reduce our Catholic faith to a set of “isms” including legalism and moralism. We then settle for living by these good rules (which naturally include the Ten Commandments) and think that there is nothing more to it. We fall into the heresy of believing that my adherence to these rules will win me salvation.

This is not only the most prevalent Christian heresy, it is also a tragedy for those who fall into this trap. In such an existence everything becomes a burden and an effort. Life does not feel like life—it is more of an existence, an endurance. We survive and we cope. We begin to believe that this is what life is meant to be. We start to settle for an existence rather than a life. Such a burden is not Catholicism. It is not Christianity.

The people of the Old Testament embraced “THE LAW” when Moses returned from his mountain-top encounter with God, carrying the tablets of stone. These Ten Commandments became the heart of their life. God had spoken. This was the best thing that had happened to them up to this point. These desert-dwellers built a gold case (the Ark of the Covenant) to enshrine this divine communication. When they arrived in Jerusalem (the heart of the promised Land) they built the new Temple around this sacred Tabernacle.

Within a short time they had turned these ten revelations into 618 burdensome precepts. The Pharisees represent this misguided precision. Now “keeping the rules” was more of a focus than the constant and life-giving communication of God. The WORD had been reduced to words.

In Jesus THE WORD of God takes on human flesh. He lives and breathes. He is alive and dwells among us: His hair in the wind, His mouth opening and shutting, His fragile skin…

In this Incarnation, God ensures that we can no longer avoid the reality of a God who is alive and who lives not in a far-off heaven, but among us. In this event, the old covenant is not dismissed or rejected but is fulfilled. Yes, we have heard how it was said…: but now something new is happening.

The Ten Commandments are not reduced in meaning or in value by the event of the incarnation. The rules are no less important. Instead we see more clearly that these words are signs that direct us to and focus us anew on THE WORD who is God, and who dwells among us.

Perhaps it is useful to use an example: We teach our children to behave well and to speak to others respectfully. Sometimes we use discipline to correct them when they are disrespectful or misbehave. We consider this to be important, not because we like rules, but because we love our children. We know that if they show the outward signs of love, they are more likely to meet people who will love and support them. We want our children to have loving friends.

When the teenager does ‘fall in love’, we see a remarkable transformation. Now the ‘rules’ of appropriate behaviour and speech are kept not simply to avoid punishment, but because the heart has been changed. This is what we mean by life. Now life is moral and legal without being legalistic and moralistic. The goal of the rules and discipline has bean reached: there is relationship. There is love.

It is only in intimate awareness of the presence of Jesus with us in every moment, that we are able to find the life we seek.


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