Tuesday of the 28th Week of Ordinary Time
October 13, 2020
Today’s Prayer:May Your Holy Spirit open my spiritual eyes to see what is really important for my life and the life of my neighbors. Amen.
True obedience to the laws of God is true faith — not because obedience wins us God’s approval and gets us into heaven, but because faith is the presence of Christ within us and he is the fulfillment of the Law.
Today’s first reading reminds us that faith expresses itself through love. Since God is love and every law of his is based on love, obedience without love is legalism, i.e., lawfulness without faith. And this, St. Paul says, is an attempt to justify ourselves; it’s a fall from grace. Why? Because it separates us from Christ who already justified us through his death on the cross.
In the Gospel reading, Jesus defines the core problem of legalistic obedience: It fails to change us on the inside. The Pharisee’s attitude was quite condescending toward Jesus, which reveals that his obedience to the rules and regulations of religious life had not moved his heart with love. He was more concerned about rituals than about people.
Moral laws, Church rules, and ritual norms are good and necessary. They are all based on the Law of Love. Their purpose is to bring us into a stronger, closer relationship with the Author of Love and with the whole Church that embodies this Love. Disobedience is either rebellion against love or ignorance of the loving reasons for obedience, and someone somewhere somehow gets hurt.
However, when we love obedience more than we love people, the law itself becomes our god. To imitate Christ, we must care enough about others to put aside legalism whenever it interferes with their salvation or their basic needs. The Church calls for this in Canon Law!
Please note: Moral laws are unchangeable, because it’s always unloving to disobey them. But rules and norms and policies do change as the problems that they address change. If we’re afraid that changes and adaptations are disobedience, we have to examine them through the lens of moral law, and if the change is based on love and we still don’t approve, we are only understanding them legalistically, not faithfully.
Legalism makes us desperate. Try as we might, we cannot earn our way into heaven through obedience, because we will never be perfect enough. In trying to make ourselves right with God, we become more rigid, we distrust changes in the Church, and we’re unable to see where and how the Church does allow for adaptations.
Faith means obeying even before we understand why we should obey, always asking the Holy Spirit to give us understanding. To fulfill the law faithfully, we must keep our eyes on Jesus, for he showed us by his example how to be truly obedient.