Sunday, 27 January 2013

Today's Readings - The Law of Love

Third Sunday of Ordinary Time / Third Sunday after Epiphany – 27 January 2013

Book of Nehemiah 8:2-6, 8-10
Psalms 19:8-10,15
1 Corinthians 12:12-30
Luke 1:1-4, 4:14-21

The readings for today struck me in a most unusual way. At first I did not see the connection; at first I did not see the relevance to today’s world (particularly if these readings are all taken together). Actually, I was drawn up short by the apparent irony in these selections.

In Nehemiah we hear how the people had just come back from the Babylonian Captivity and how they listened to Ezra read the LAW from morning to mid-afternoon. I thought there might be a theme with the audience. After all, Nehemiah tells us all the men, all the women, and all the children old enough to understand were there. That should tell us something, I thought. No discrimination when it comes to listening to the law.

But WHY were they listening to the LAW? The Pharisees must have loved this passage. People were crying with joy over having to listen to hours of reading of the LAW.

My confusion continued as I saw that the Psalm centered about the Law of the Lord being perfect. I am so used to hearing the “Thou shalt nots” from the Old Testament that I had trouble focusing on what the Law of the Lord might be.

The reading from First Corinthians is a discourse on the Body of Christ and on how each person is a part of that Body of Christ and each person is important to the functioning of the whole body. How does that ever relate to people crying about hearing the LAW?

In the gospel, we find Jesus teaching in the temple. Jesus firmly proclaims that the passage he quoted from Isaiah was fulfilled – in him. He came to bring glad tidings, liberty, sight, freedom, and so forth. How does that ever relate to people crying about hearing the LAW?

Suddenly I could see a relationship. Look at it with me for a moment. It all fits so beautifully!

Nehemiah’s people were indeed crying for joy because they were back from captivity and they could hear the essence of their faith system. The Jewish LAW set these people apart from their neighbors. That is why they had their dietary restrictions, why they had certain codes, why they had certain prayer requirements, and why they had countless other obligations. It was their IDENTITY.

But, the LAW of Judaism was imperfect from a Christian perspective. Jesus came to FULFILL the LAW. He did not negate it; he fulfilled it. He got to the essence of the law and that is what he taught.

The Psalm tells us that the Law of the Lord is perfect. Indeed it is perfect in every way! The people about whom Nehemiah was writing did not know their LAW was imperfect. They were just grateful to have their identity. It seems that the Psalm is almost prophetic because the LAW as Jesus taught it was indeed perfect – even if the Jewish law was imperfect. Perhaps imperfect is not the best term. Perhaps we should say that the LAW of the Old Testament was incomplete because Jesus had not yet come to complete it or to pull it all completely together.

In a way, the reading from First Corinthians is juxtaposed with the gospel. In First Corinthians we see how each person has a role in the Body of Christ. But we don’t quite know yet what that means.

Picture Jesus in the gospel; he must have had a commanding presence because people certainly paid attention to him. He walked into the Temple (which was his right as a Jew) and he asked for a scroll. Now envision him reading that passage from the scroll and then with piercing eyes telling everyone present that that passage had been fulfilled. Can you hear his monologue? Perhaps he was waiting for a response but there was none. If you were in the crowd there, would you have wondered what Jesus meant?

Does the passage from Isaiah seem strange? Glad tidings, liberty, sight, freedom, and so forth? That doesn’t sound like the LAW as described in Nehemiah. That doesn’t sound like that perfect law of the Psalm. Ah, but wait! We need Jesus to fulfill the LAW – to make the LAW perfect.

The ancients loved their incomplete LAW and that was good. The ancients recognized that the LAW of the Lord was perfect and they rejoiced in that. But the ancient LAW was not perfect in the way we think today.

All of the good things that Jesus promised as a fulfillment of the prophesy were actually a fulfillment of the ultimate LAW of God – the ultimate LAW that Jesus gave us. That LAW is the LAW of LOVE. That fulfillment is not the list of “Thou shalt nots.” That LAW that was fulfilled – with freedom and glad tidings and sight and a myriad of other good things – was the LAW that Jesus came to fulfill, the LAW of LOVE.

The ancients had this LAW of LOVE but Jesus summarized it. Next week’s gospel is the great love passage from First Corinthians. It all fits in perfectly. And how many times did Jesus say he had come to fulfill the law? And how many times did Jesus say that the LAW of LOVE was the summary of the LAW and that therein we would find all of the LAW and the prophets. It is truly all there.

Now, let’s skip back to the reading from Nehemiah. ALL the people – men, women, and children old enough to understand – were ecstatic over hearing the LAW (albeit the imperfect or incomplete LAW). That must mean that the whole LAW applies to everyone old enough to understand. In other words, all are equal with this LAW of LOVE and there is no discrimination with this LAW of LOVE.

How does this Body of Christ fit into this scheme? Well, if we do what we are called to do, we are immersed in love. We give love, we radiate love. We are – or we become – that part of the Body of Christ that we are supposed to be. We fulfill that mandate that is given to us. And, in the process, we experience that freedom and that tremendous sight that Jesus has promised.

What is the Body of Christ besides a communion of believers, each of whom has a task and each of whom has been granted the absolute liberty and glad tidings found in the fulfillment of Jesus’ LAW of LOVE, which was, in essence, the completion of the LAW given to our ancestors and read to the people by Ezra in the Book of Nehemiah? That was true then; and it is true now. And this is our faith system – the LAW of LOVE.

-- Roberta

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