Wednesday in the Third Week of Lent
Deut. 4:1ff. Belonging to God’s people is a privelege, implying responsibilities, and a wonderful destiny.
Matthew 5:17ff. The spirit of prophetic renewal, that Jesus both taught and lived by, embodies and deepens the best features of Israel’s past. It’s not enough to keep the letter of the law; one must genuinely seek and do the will of God.
Inspirations from Deuteronomy
Deuteronomy reminds us that laws do not exist for their own sake, but rather, they are a way of obeying God. This fifth book of the Bible is not so much a “second law” (as the word “Deut.” means in its Greek origin) but instead a series of fervent homilies or motivational instructions. Deut. frequently returns to the idea of “today” as the moment when Moses receives the law from the Lord and in his name gives it to all the people. See Deut 5:1-5; 26:16-19. The people – indeed ourselves – hear God speak “face to face” (5:4).
Deut. also describes the attitude for responding to God, as He speaks to us. “Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today” (Deut. 6:5-6). We note the repetition here of the key word “today”.
This God speaking his holy will anew to each of us today and loved with all our heart, is closer to us than any other god is to its devotees. The Lord then is closer to us than any other supreme value in life, including life itself. Not only our life but also the land where we live has been given to us by the Lord “that you may live and may enter in and take possession of the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you.”
Jesus turned spontaneously to the book of Deut. for inspiration in his own response to life. It was among his favourites, because of Deut.’s sense of compassion to neighbour and devotion to pleasing God each passing day. Whether in the temptation scene (Matt 4:1-11) or in answering the questions about the first and greatest law (Mark 12:28-34), Jesus replied with the words of this book. Deut. resonates with the core attitude of Jesus; it spoke to his best self more easily than many other books in the Bible. In this light we can appreciate Jesus’ reflection: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them . . . not the smallest part of a letter of the law shall be done away with until it all comes true.”
We, too, want to grow into this attitude of Jesus, modeled upon Deut.. Lent is such a time of spiritual purification, so that the least wish of God becomes an absolute command for us. God in Jesus is that close to us. He speaks today, this moment. He appeals to the love of all our heart. Love such as this, stirred within our heart by God’s immediate presence, happily takes away our liberty as we spontaneously seek this clasp of love. Without deciding between a million and one options we have chosen the very best, and all the world will testify: “This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.”
First Reading: Deut. 4:1, 5-9
So now, Israel, give heed to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. See, just as the Lord my God has charged me, I now teach you statutes and ordinances for you to observe in the land that you are about to enter and occupy. You must observe them diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!” For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him? And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today?
But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children
Gospel: Matthew 5:17-19
“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. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.