God’s Merciful Nearness in Forming Us for Greatness through the Law of Love, Third Wednesday of Lent, March 2, 2016

Fr. Roger J. Landry
Chapel of the Das Werk Sisters, Immaculate Conception Parish, Manhattan
Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent
March 2, 2016
Deut 4:1.5-9, Ps 147, Mt 5:17-19

 

To listen to an audio recording of today’s homily, please click below: 

 

The following points were attempted in the homily: 

  • In this Year of Mercy, we ponder each day in some way or another the way God showers us with his merciful love. In the Gospel, we see that Jesus’ heart was moved with pity for the crowds, he was “sick to his stomach” (splanchnizomai) several times and in response to that he fed, he forgave, he healed, he told them to pray for harvesters and then called the very ones praying to be harvesters, and he taught. St. Mark tells us, “When Jesus disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, for they were like sheep without a shepherd; and he began to teach them many things” (Mk 6:34). In his mercy, God teaches us, and Jesus came to astonish and amaze us with his teaching, he came to give us his sermons, his parables, his example. He came to to proclaim the Gospel, to give witness to the truth, and to enflesh that truth in such a way that he could say to us, “Follow me!”
  • Moreover, in this second phase of Lent, from the third Sunday through the fifth Friday, we ponder the meaning of baptism, to help the “elect” prepare for this great Sacrament and help all the baptized grow to full maturity in response to baptismal graces. And we remember what happened to us on the day of our baptism. The priest, bishop or deacon blessed our ears and said, “The Lord Jesus made the deaf hear and the dumb speak. May he soon touch your ears to receive his Word and your lips to proclaim his faith to the praise and glory of God the Father.” God gave us ears fundamentally to hear his Truth and lips fundamentally to proclaim it to others to God’s praise and glory. This phase of Lent is meant to help us to prepare elect, and help the baptized, to learn how to “live the truth in love” (Eph 4:15).
  • Lastly, one of the most important of Lenten practices is almsgiving, which is not so much the giving of material goods but giving God and ourselves together with him. And among the most important ways we do that is through the spiritual works of mercy by which we pay forward the gift of truth we’ve received, by “instructing the ignorant,” admonishing the sinner,” and “counseling the doubtful.”
  • That three-fold introduction is a prelude to the importance of what God teaches us about the gift of his teaching in today’s readings. In the first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy, Moses exclaims about the care God has given us in his teaching: “For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the Lord, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him? Or what great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law that I am setting before you today?” God has drawn close to us precisely in his statutes and decrees, which train us in the nitty gritty of life how to love God and others and provide the means for us to remain in a communion of life and love with him and others. Rather than the god of deists who creates and world and then abandons it, the God of Israel showed himself to be a God concerned about bringing the Israelites into communion in every part of their daily life. And that’s what he did, providing guidance through his teaching. The Responsorial Psalm continues the joy at the privilege of God’s law: “He has proclaimed his word to Jacob, his statutes and his ordinances to Israel. He has not done thus for any other nation; his ordinances he has not made known to them.” Many times we’re tempted to look at the law of the Lord as a burden, but God wants us to look at it as an incredible blessing. It’s a sign of God’s love, God’s nearness, God’s mercy, God’s predilection that he has opened for us the owner’s manual for ourselves, the world he created and the way we’re supposed to connect with Him. It’s a great blessing to receive this gift. That’s why it’s essential for us to live in that gift and pass it on to others. Moses commands, “Take care and be earnestly on your guard not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live, but teach them to your children and to your children’s children.” When we pass on the teaching to the next generations, we are giving them the privilege, with us, to draw close to God, to experience his merciful teaching and to be blessed in manifold ways through it. If we fail to do so, we’re distancing ourselves from that communion with God, from his mercy, and dragging others with us.
  • Jesus spoke about how he was fulfilling this blessing of God through his teaching in the Gospel. He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” He would fulfill the law in two ways. First, by allowing the seeds planted in the Old Covenant to flourish in the New. St. Paul would say that many parts of the Mosaic law were pedagogical starting points, not end points. Jesus would come to fulfill them. He would contrast himself to what Moses taught not by contradicting it but by taking it deeper. Whereas Moses taught the limitation of violence, “An eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth,” Jesus brought it to fulfillment when he called us to love our enemies, pray for our persecutors, to do good to those who hate us, to forgive 70 times 7 times. Whereas Moses taught us not to commit adultery in the flesh, Jesus fulfilled it by teaching us not to commit adultery in the heart either. Whereas Moses taught us not to kill, Jesus fulfilled it by teaching us not to hate, not to insult, not to murder people in our thoughts and words. In today’s Gospel, Jesus says, “Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.” None of it would pass away, but all of it would be fulfilled. That brings us to the second way Jesus brings it to completion, by linking the whole law to its purpose. Later in St. Matthew’s Gospel, Jesus would say, in response to a lawyer’s question about the greatest commandment of all 613 in the Mosaic Law, “You shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and the first commandment. The second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Then he added: “The whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments.” Everything is meant to help us to love God and love others, something that those who look at the law as a burden don’t grasp.
  • Since Jesus’ kingdom is a kingdom of love, that’s why he would add: “Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.” The greatest in the kingdom loves and teaches others to love. The least is one who doesn’t and sets a scandalous example for others. And we know that God’s love for us is, and our love for others must always be, merciful.
  • But as great as the gift of the Lord’s word is, something that we share in common with our Jewish elder siblings, there’s an even greater blessing we have: the Word became flesh. Jesus fulfilled the law not just by perfecting the commandments. Jesus fulfilled God’s word by enfleshing it. God himself entered into the world, precisely so that he could teach us by example how to fulfill the law by following him in fulfilling it. And this incarnation continues in the Eucharist. This is a truth that Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote about in a beautiful book of Eucharistic essays called God Is Near Us. He said, “‘What great nation is there that has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is to us, whenever we call upon him? This passage from the Old Testament has found its ultimate depth of meaning in the eucharistic presence of the Lord. But its earlier meaning is not thereby abolished, but merely purified and exalted. … In the chapter of the book of Deuteronomy from which this passage is taken, the marvelous closeness of God is seen above all in the law he has given to Israel through Moses. Through the law he makes himself permanently available, as it were, for the questions of his people. Through the law he can always be spoken with by Israel; she can call on him, and he answers. Through the law he offers Israel the opportunity to build a social and political order that breaks new ground. Through the law he makes Israel wise and shows her the way a man should live, so as to live aright. In the law Israel experiences the close presence of God; he has, as it were, drawn back the veil from the riddles of human life and replied to the obscure questionings of men of all ages: Where do we come from? Where are we going? What must we do? … For man, the will of God is not a foreign force of exterior origin, but the actual orientation of his own being. Thus the revelation of God’s will is the revelation of what our own being truly wishes-it is a gift. So we should learn anew to be grateful that in the word of God the will of God and the meaning of our own existence have been communicated to us. God’s presence in the word and his presence in the Eucharist belong together, inseparably. The eucharistic Lord is himself the living Word. Only if we are living in the sphere of God’s Word can we properly comprehend and properly receive the gift of the Eucharist.”
  • We Christians should be able to say, “What people has a God so near it as the Lord is to us in the holy Eucharist?” That we would be able to say with wonder and gratitude to be able to have the Lord with us, for example, in Eucharistic adoration, that we could come to spend time with him and have him, as Cardinal Ratzinger says, reveal the meaning of our existence to us, that we’re that loved. But our wonder and gratitude should go even further. We’re not only able to draw near to God who through the incarnation has come close to us. We can actually receive him on the inside. We can enter into Holy Communion with him. St. John Vianney used to say that if we had been given a thousand wishes by God we should never had asked him to take on our nature, share our life totally, die on the Cross for us, rise from the dead, and give us his own body and blood to consume, but what we would never have dreamed request, he in his loving mercy has in fact done. Not only should we never forget that gift, but we should seek to live always in conformity with it and teach others to do the same!

These were the readings for today’s Mass: 

Reading 1
DT 4:1, 5-9

Moses spoke to the people and said:
“Now, Israel, hear the statutes and decrees
which I am teaching you to observe,
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.
Therefore, I teach you the statutes and decrees
as the LORD, my God, has commanded me,
that you may observe them in the land you are entering to occupy.
Observe them carefully,
for thus will you give evidence
of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations,
who will hear of all these statutes and say,
‘This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.’
For what great nation is there
that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us
whenever we call upon him?
Or what great nation has statutes and decrees
that are as just as this whole law
which I am setting before you today?
“However, take care and be earnestly on your guard
not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen,
nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live,
but teach them to your children and to your children’s children.”

Responsorial Psalm
PS 147:12-13, 15-16, 19-20

R. (12a) Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.
Glorify the LORD, O Jerusalem;
praise your God, O Zion.
For he has strengthened the bars of your gates;
he has blessed your children within you.
R. Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.
He sends forth his command to the earth;
swiftly runs his word!
He spreads snow like wool;
frost he strews like ashes.
R. Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.
He has proclaimed his word to Jacob,
his statutes and his ordinances to Israel.
He has not done thus for any other nation;
his ordinances he has not made known to them.
R. Praise the Lord, Jerusalem.

Gospel
MT 5:17-19

Jesus said to his disciples:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.
I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.
Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away,
not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter
will pass from the law,
until all things have taken place.
Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments
and teaches others to do so
will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven.
But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments
will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven.”
Yod