God is love, and His Law is ultimately an expression of His love for us. The readings we reflect on today teach a proper understanding of the Law that God has given us and it’s relationship to our hearts. Let us look at how the readings teach us this.
Deut 4.1-2, 6-8
James 1.17-18, 21-22, 27
Mark 7.1-8, 14-15, 21-23
The first thing that stands out to me is that God’s Law is about protection and security. We receive a promise in Scripture from the text of today’s first reading, “…hear the statutes and decrees that I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live and may enter and take possession of the land that the Lord… is giving you.”
We see that obeying the Law is the basis of life and a doorway to further blessings. Many today see God’s Law as rules meant to inhibit our lives, like prison walls, limiting our freedom to “do as we please.” But really they are defending walls.
I enjoy history, especially the architecture and magnificence of ancient cities. One of the most defining characteristics of these cities were their walls, not built to imprison its citizens but rather to protect from the enemy. Within the walls there was security and the promise of protection, while outside lurked danger. It is like this with God’s laws; for those who keep them they are a great source of comfort and protection and contain the promise of victory.
I have heard it explained another way once before; the law of the Lord is like the walls around a playground. This is not just any playground, picture this flat grassy spot with swings and slides atop a tall island in the sea, sheer cliffs on all sides. With a sturdy wall around the cliff’s edge on all sides the children can fling themselves about into every frantic game without a worry or care, or even an awareness of the danger on the other side of the wall. But knock this wall down, leaving the peril of the cliff edge, and they won’t fall over but rather huddle in the center of the island afraid of how close they could get to the danger that surrounds them. God’s law is not there to take away our fun, but that we might truly find life and happiness.
Of course the devil is a liar and tells us that we will be happier if we sin, that we are being hemmed in and limited by God’s law. But instead of making us free sin enslaves and traps us. We probably don’t have to look very far in our lives to see where our wounds and our brokenness lie, more than likely coming from our own insistence in journeying outside God’s loving and protecting commandments.
The second thing that stands out in today’s readings is that God’s Law requires presence, requires our hearts. There is a great need for God’s law to be in our hearts for it is where “we live”. It is the place where we discern, ponder, and ultimately decide.
“Here me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile… From within their hearts come evil…” So doesn’t this make sense that the heart is where God and His law need to be. This is where the heat of the battle is.
One of my favorite pieces of technology is the answering machine. I can never miss a call from someone , even when I am not home. However I have discovered that there is a flaw to this technology; an answering machine is very impersonal and many people will not even leave a message, which is understandable. When we call someone we expect to be greeted by them on the other end of the phone line, so we can feel put off when we realize that it is just a recorded message on a machine. In this case, a person’s voice is present while the actual person is absent.
We can compare this with how we are present to God, and to others, in our daily lives. This can be seen quite clearly in the Gospel passage from Mark: “This people honours me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” And the passage goes on to say, “…in vain do they worship.”
We can be physically present in Church, we can be physically present to our spouse’s, to our families, to our siblings, to our friends, to a stranger, but if our heart is not present all is in vain.
From these words of Scripture we see the importance, that the law of the Lord must find its home in our hearts. Our awareness of God’s law can only shift to finding a deep home in our hearts through prayer and meditation; through the careful, persistent, and thoughtful reading of God’s revealed truth, coupled with gratitude and love of God.
How different our lives are lived when we are truly present with our whole hearts; take a word of forgiveness, for example. If it does not come from the heart, of what use is it? I will not set the offender free. Nor will it result in a true reconciliation between the parties. Or take a word of welcome, for another example; I may open the door of my house to a person with kind words, but unless I make room for them in my heart they will be a stranger to me. Our actions have purpose and meaning when we know who and what we are living for.
God has given us His law that we might live in His protection, from our hearts, and it is ultimately our choice as to whom and what we will love more; God and His law, or this world and it’s way of sin and compromise.
It is no mistake that the summary of God’s law is simply, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and your neighbor as your very self,” for it is only love that unlocks the door of the heart.
In the end, the law comes from Love, the God of love, who is love. And thus it is love that unlocks the law, love that makes us realize that the law is a gift, a gift of God’s love, a gift that will protect us and guide us, a gift that will heal and transform our hearts and our lives.
*Main ideas and concepts, as well as quotes, taken from Monsignor Charles Pope’s Article: The love of the law and the law of love.
*Ideas and text also taken from: New Sunday & Holy Day Liturgies by Flor McCarthy (pg 284)