The Gift of the Law
Ninth Sunday of the Year. Fr Martin Ganeri suggests that the New Law of Christ is our only refuge from the storms of life.
There are times in our lives when we can feel utterly overwhelmed by the difficulties that beset us. There are times when we can feel that we have lost control and that life has become chaotic. There are times when we can feel bewildered about how our lives have turned out and uncertain about how we might make any sense or progress in them.
The readings for this Sunday urge us to listen to God’s teaching and to do it, whether it be revealed in the Old Law given to the Jewish people, or revealed in the New Law given through Jesus Christ. It is in God’s Law that we find the way out of the chaos and bewilderment that threaten to overwhelm us.
We are often a bit put off by the idea of law of any sort. We can all too easily see law as something that is imposed on us from the outside by an external authority. Viewed this way law limits what we otherwise want to do. It curtails our freedom. Law threatens us with the fear of punishment to make us conform. Law demands obedience, whether we agree with it or not.
A different picture of law is given in the Bible. In the first reading from Deuteronomy the Law of the Covenant is said to be either a blessing or a curse, a blessing if obeyed, a curse if disobeyed. Now, the emphasis on obedience and the threat of the dire consequences might well cause us to think that the Law God gives is pretty much like the popular image of law we have just considered. But the primary emphasis here is on the blessing that the Law brings.
God is the loving Father who may warn his children of what will happen if they do not do what he asks, but who primarily wants them to do what is for their own benefit. The Law tells us the right way to live. The Law reveals the will of God for human beings. It allows us to chart a way through the chaos and bewilderment that beset us. As the Psalmist sings,
Let thy hand be ready to help me,
for I have chosen your precepts.
I long for thy salvation, O Lord,
and thy law is my delight.
Let me live, that I may praise thee,
and let thy ordinances help me (Ps 119: 173-175).
In the Gospel, Jesus calls on us to do the ‘will of the Father.’ In other words we are called on to follow the Law of the Father. And Jesus likens the person who follows the will of the Father to a man who builds his house upon a rock, which can remain standing when the storm sweeps over it. On the other hand, a person who does not do the will of the Father is like a man who builds his house upon the sand, which collapses in a heap when the storm comes.
The storm is a good symbol for the life we so often experience, life marked by chaos and bewilderment. The will of the Father is the help we have to withstand these forces. It enables us to stand firm and for the ‘houses’ that are ourselves to remain safe and sound. The Law of the Father is the only thing we have to keep us from collapsing in a heap faced by the difficulties of life.
In the second reading from the letter of Paul to the Romans the Law seems to be set in contrast with the way of faith. Rather than obeying the Law we are told that we are justified by faith, though which we come to share in the saving grace of Jesus Christ. But the grace of Jesus is not freedom from law, but the New Law working within us. The grace of Jesus is the gift of the Holy Spirit making the ‘will of the Father’ a living reality with us, the firm foundation on which we can stand and withstand all that life throws against us.
To appreciate the value of law of any sort we have to have some experience of chaos. To welcome law we have to have a sense of what bewilderment feels like. When we do, we find the Law of God our delight rather than a burden, the source of rescue and security. To do the ‘will of the Father,’ to do the Law of the Father, is to have the life of the Holy Spirit within us, implanting — not imposing — the New Law in our hearts, a rock in the storm of this life on which to build the houses of our lives and the promise of an eternal home in the Kingdom of Heaven.