Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!

FEBRUARY 16, 2020 SIXTH SUNDAY IN ORDINARY TIME (Lec. 76) 

1)         Sirach 15:15-20

2)         1 Corinthians 2:6-10

3)         Matthew 5:17-37or 5:20-22a, 27-28, 33-34a, 37

Gospel related: CCC 226, 577, 581, 592, 678, 1034, 1424, 1456, 1967, 2053, 2054, 2141, 2153, 2257, 2262, 2302, 2330, 2336, 2338, 2380, 2382, 2463, 2466, 2513, 2528, 2608, 2792, 2841, 2845

FOCUS:   Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord! This refrain from today’s Psalm 119, part of a group of psalms known as “wisdom poems,” or “wisdom psalms,” is a beatitude that incorporates the explicit message of the other three Scriptures today.

Psalm 119 is not directed to God, but pours from the psalmist in a kind of joyful recitation of truth – in statements of wisdom borne through the history and experiences of the Israelite people. It reflects not a discrete situation of an individual, but a corporate one: this psalm is for all people, past, present and future. It is also in the form of an instruction rather than a typical prayer, and expresses a love of divine law, here defined as “all that had been revealed by God and handed on by the prophets” (Notes on the psalm from New Jerusalem Bible).  In fact, it has been said that the psalmist does not just talk about doing the law, butloving the law.

Having this slightly broader picture of the psalm helps us understand today’s refrain as a way of summarizing one aspect of the good news of the Gospel – Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!

In the first reading, Sirach instructs the people of Israel to trust in God and keep his commandments – for they will be saved by doing so. Before man are life and death, good and evil, Sirach says, whichever he chooses shall be given him. Our salvation, and life itself, are certainly blessings from God. Choosing to follow the ways of the Lord leads to these blessings.

Saint Paul speaks not of law, per se, but of the wisdom of God: predetermined before the ages for our glory. That is, he speaks of God’s plan for our salvation, known always to God himself but revealed to us only in Jesus Christ and through the Spirit. Jesus, of course, is that plan dwelling among us. He is wisdom incarnate, and the embodiment of the good, placed before us, of which Sirach speaks. He is the fulfillment of the divine law that God revealed to our ancestors, and that the prophets handed on.

Jesus, in the Gospel today, says to his disciples, I have come not to abolish [the law] but to fulfill [it]. In his subsequent expounding upon the existing laws and behaviors using the “You have heard it said, but I say,” structure, he is not placing more restrictions on his followers, but adding to their freedom.

As the fullness of the law, he is the source – love – from which all other laws and behaviors derive any force or meaning. Therefore, for example, in love do we refrain, not just from killing, but from any behavior toward another that beats down, injures or destroys. By following the law, and by imitating him, we are more and more free to both continue in such habits, and to receive the blessings that come with it. For as Jesus says, whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the kingdom of heaven.

Thinking about “law” as a topic often sets people on edge – perhaps because our modern context is one of prohibition and punishment. But that is not God’s law, which is given for our flourishing and for our glory. So as we prepare ourselves to receive Jesus, we give thanks for the divine law, and the freedom it gives us. This is what God has prepared for those who love him. Indeed, Blessed are they who follow the law of the Lord!

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