Father David's Reflection for Third Wednesday of Lent
The Responsorial Psalm invites us to focus on how good and life-giving God's teachings are, so that we will appreciate him: "Praise the Lord, Jerusalem" (Psalm 147). Praise will lead us to appreciation.
Deuteronomy 4: 1-9 focuses, not on the requirements of God's law, or on the difficulty of obeying them (both things we tend to focus on), but on how wise and life-giving they are. "Now, Israel, hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe, that you may live." If we live by God's teachings we will "give evidence of our wisdom and intelligence to all the nations." Even non-believers will recognize that "this is truly a wise and intelligent people."
In Matthew 5: 17-19 Jesus tells us he is taking us beyond the wisdom of the laws God taught the Jews. He is not contradicting or abolishing the earlier teachings of God; he is just going beyond them: "Do not think I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill."
Jesus' teachings and his "new commandment" to "love one another as I have loved you" take us beyond the Ten Commandments, and can appear to be "foolishness" to minds unenlightened by Christian faith. But with the help of God's word and God's spirit we can come to appreciate even the wisdom of these (see 1Corinthians 1:18-25; 2:6-16; 3:18-29; John 13:34).
This presupposes, however, that we are disciples who want to reflect on God's commands and understand them; not just "followers" who blindly obey without appreciation. Our goal is not just to do what God says, but to be united with God in mind and heart. He doesn't just want us to obey his laws, but to under- stand and embrace the principles, God's own attitudes and values, that inspired them. The goal is always to know God and to love him more by appreciating the truth and goodness of his being.
There are those in every religion who just want "the answers." They want clear and simple doctrines, clear and simple rules, and uniform adherence and conformity from all. They do not ask questions. They are not open to interpretation or adaptation of the rules to circumstances, and they discourage theological investigation. This is the spirit of the Pharisees and "teachers of the law." Jesus says of them, "They tie up heavy burdens, hard to bear, and lay them on the shoulders of others" (Matthew 23:4; Luke 11:46). But disciples want to know God.
Initiative: Be a disciple. Ask why God commands what he does. Try to understand the "breadth and length and height and depth" of his teaching and of Church laws.