This week’s First Reading comes from the Book of Deuteronomy. The last book of the Torah, the Books of the Law, so revered by the Jewish people, the name means “Second Law”, because it is a reiteration by Moses of the ordinances of God delivered to the second generation of the people released from slavery in Egypt.
Recall that because of their unbelief in God’s ability to deliver them, a journey that should have taken a few months ended up lasting forty years – the duration of an entire generation.
Here, Moses begins by impressing on this second generation the importance of the Law of God, and how with the Law, this people will be held in high regard by the surrounding nations. This is what the children of Israel were meant to be: a signal, a light to the rest of the nations that they – Israel – would draw the rest of the world to God.
We have a tenuous relationship to laws. Our culture sometimes dislikes laws because they are perceived to hamper our freedom. Yet, we recognize the necessity of laws that protect us from harm, mostly harming ourselves and one another. Even our recreation, and those activities we esteem most have rules that infuse a sense of logic and reason. We would not encourage our kids playing baseball to just go out there and play any way they feel like. Chaos would ensue. When I go out to ride horses, in order to preserve safety, there are certain rules that must be followed so that injury and even death are avoided, making for a more enjoyable experience – for both me and the horse.
If we observe the rules for such activities in our lives, so we must observe the Laws of God for the salvation of our immortal souls. And God has laid out Ten Commandments for us that are “not burdensome” because they are in line with right reason.
In our Gospel, Jesus calls out the Pharisees and scribes for attempting to do end-runs around the essential Law of God. They lost sight of their priorities, and used little cultural traditions to circumvent their legitimate responsibilities, such as obeying the Fourth Commandment: Honoring father and mother. In ancient Judaism, there was a widespread practice to set aside monies for the sole honoring of God, called Corban. The Pharisees would use this excuse to get themselves out of providing for their family members in their old age – clearly reprehensible.
Jesus then reminds us that the Christian life is not about externals, or making ourselves look good to those around us – but actually BEING GOOD, on the inside. It is what comes out of a person that defiles him/her morally.
Essentially, the Law of God has not changed. It does not go in or out of style based on the current fads. God’s Law is not nullified simply because our leaders fail to follow them. We need to pray for them – lead the Church by our example of right and wholesome living, according to the precepts of God. Our Psalm this week sums it up nicely: “Those who do justice will live in the presence of the Lord.” Another Psalm shows us that “the Law of the Lord is perfect, reviving the heart. … The precepts of the Lord are right, rejoicing the heart.” (Psalm 19: 7-8)
In age of confusion, let us go back to the basics: Love the Lord by obeying the Commandments without compromise. They will revive our hearts and cause rejoicing – even in the midst of pain.