Being Legalistic

18 March 2009. Wednesday of the 3rd Week of Lent
Dt. 4, 1-9; Psalm 147; Matthew 5, 17-19

In reference to the Old Testament, the role of Jesus becomes prominent. He said that He was sent to bring out the true meaning of the Law. What was the Law? During the time of Jesus, many Jews understood the Law as the many prescriptions and regulations laid out by the Scribes and Pharisees. These little precepts were the common understanding of the Law, and these were the prescriptions that Jesus (and Paul) condemned.

But the Jews knew that there were different meanings when they mentioned the Law. It could mean the a) Ten Commandments, b) the Pentateuch which were the first five books of Scriptures, and thus regarded as the most important among all other writings, c) the Law and Prophets, meaning the entire Scripture, and finally d) the Scribal laws. The Ten commandments were broad principles for moral living. However, the Jews thought that these principles were not enough, so the scribes interpreted the Law and applied them to every single aspect in their lives. Eventually, they got so engrossed with these little laws to the point of losing the very essence of the Law itself. Jesus said, that He had come to fulfill the Law, meaning He was to be the authoritative teacher of the Law, and thus to express what the law and the prophets wished to convey. And with the true interpretation of the Law, He has come to bring to light the profound meaning of the Old Testament, and thus to fulfill them.

What was the essence of the Law? Jesus summarized it when He simply put it: Love God and love your neighbor as yourself. In other words, the Law was about putting God at the center of our lives. Today, we seek and know His will, and thus dedicate our whole lives in fulfilling it. St. Ignatius said in the Principle and Foundation (Spiritual Exercises) that we are made to praise, reverence and serve God. We do this by basically respecting God, His name and His sacred day. We respect people such as our parents, life, property, truth, another’s good name, and ourselves. On all of these, all laws are based.

Unfortunately, the scribes and Pharisees lost their focus when they followed the thousand little rules mandated by the Scribal Law, and forget the very essence of these rules. They became legalistic than charitable. They thought their petty rules were eternal, than the basic principles of love for God, neighbor and oneself.

We can be very legalistic like the Pharisees and scribes when we follow many of our practices blindly. PCP II affirmed that our faith has been based on many of these pious practices, but we lack in the basic understanding about why we are still practicing them. We could be like the Pharisees when we do not know — or even bother to know — the reason why we observe certain faith traditions.

Let me put it bluntly: We do fast and abstain from meat as part of our Lenten observance. That is good. But do you know the why and what for? We do practice the Visita Iglesia, which I also do. Is the reason for the Visita Iglesia, just tradition, something you have to do on Holy Thursday? Or is it something else, perhaps a devotion to the Eucharist, since the Solemnity of the Institution of the Eucharist is celebrated on that day? PCP II tells us that we need a faith that is formed and informed. When the evangelicals like the Born Again Christians challenge you by asking why we do this and we do that, are you able to defend our practices with real facts and reason? Or do we just dismiss them, because we actually do not know?

The Season of Lent is a season to reflect on how grounded our faith is. Are we becoming Pharisaic (meaning legalistic), people lost among the trees in the forest?

Published by Jboy Gonzales SJ

TV/Digital host: Kape't Pandasal. Vlog: YT On the Line. Environment, Youth Formation. Music. Leadership. Always dancing to a different drum.

One thought on “Being Legalistic

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