Faithfulness to the Law


27 February 2008 Wednesday of he 3rd Week of Lent
Deuteronomy 4, 1,5-9 and Matthew 5, 17-19


For someone who remembers Jesus breaking the law of the Sabbath, one would find Jesus’ words now as confusing. He said, “I have come not to abolish the law but to fulfill. Not a smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.” Is Jesus a turn-coat, a balimbing: on one occasion He breaks the law, and on another He pledges obedience and validity of the Torah. But even today, major Christian churches do not require absolute observance of all 613 precepts of the Old Testament law whether ethical or ceremonial, except the ethical commandments of the Decalogue and the love of God and neighbor. The basic law is the Torah, and the rest are interpretations of the Pharisees. Matthew suggests that Jesus did not break the Torah in principle, but the Pharisaic halaka. We are to be faithful to the Torah but we are directly asked to concentrate on the more important values. St. Paul would rather stick to ethics of values like faith, hope, love and walking in the Spirit, the Decalogue as applicable to Christians; but the ceremonial laws such as washings and purification rituals are not binding for Gentile Christians — like the controversal circumscision. These values will remain permanent even after the physical universe lasts. What Jesus does not change therefore are universal values that remain permanently important in whatever time, place or circumstance. These are the values of love, justice, hope, faith.

The 2nd Plenary Council of the Philippines identified Filipino faith as largely ritualistic and at home with religious images, devotions and statues, novenas and processions, than an intimate and personal relationship with God. These practices like the rosary, processions, novenas, fiesta celebrations have helped keep the faith and developed the religious culture of the country. However, many Filipinos today are not able to give an account of what they believe: they just comply with the practices, but do not know the objective of the practice. When we are so focused on the external and ceremonial laws, and forget the universal values which the practice preserves, we become Pharisaic. And the rituals become shallow and meaningless.

Let us then reflect on our lives and evaluate on our ritualistic and Pharisaic tendencies.

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