SCRIPTURE READINGS: [ Rom 3:21-30
; Ps 130:1-6
; Lk 11:47-54
What is the purpose of the Law? The original intention of the Law and the prophets was to help the people to live the justice of God. The justice of God is revealed through the Law. From the Law, we come to understand what is right or wrong, true or false. The laws given by Moses were meant to help the people to live a just and compassionate life in harmony with the rest of the people by grounding their obedience first and foremost in God alone. “Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God is one Lord; and you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might.” (Dt 6:4-7) And Jesus, citing from Leviticus, joins the love of neighbor to the love of God, “You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” (Lev 19:18) These are the two greatest commandments that sum up the Law and the prophets. Indeed, the Ten Commandments could be simply divided into two segments, the first three laws command us to love God and the last seven laws command us to love our neighbours.
What was the work of the Prophets? They were sent by God to remind the people to be faithful to the laws given by Moses. God gave the people a set of laws so that they could live as the Covenanted People of God. But the people, including the leaders, political and religious, did not observe the laws. They continually turned away from the Lord, worshipped idols and foreign gods, adopted pagan culture and behavior and, most of all, engaged in immoral activities like child sacrifice, prostitution and cheating. So the prophets were messengers of God to call the people back to fidelity to the Law. They warned the people of the consequences of their sins. Their message was always on the love of God, His wrath against sins, the call to repentance for salvation, and the punishment of God for those who chose to follow their evil and wicked ways.
Yet, the truth is that in spite of the Law and the Prophets, the people did not change although they knew the justice, that is, the truth of God. They remained unrepentant in spite of the prophecies of destruction by the prophets. They were deaf to the message of the prophets. Instead of being moved to repentance, they were enraged and angry at the apparent negative message of the prophets. They wanted to have things their way, and if the prophets did not support them, they were condemned and some were killed.
In other words, knowledge of the truth through the Law and the prophets alone does not mean that people will observe the Law. Indeed, knowledge of the Law only tells us what is good or bad. It helps us to be aware of the truth of God. But man remains a sinner and is powerless to overcome his sinful tendency and his folly. He continues to sin again and again, and to go against the Law. St Paul spoke about this inner conflict in us, “I can will what is right, but I cannot do it. For I do not do the good I want, but the evil I do not want is what I do.” (Rom 7:18bf) This, according to the diagnosis of St Paul, is because of sin dwelling in us. “Now if I do what I do not want, it is no longer I that do it, but sin which dwells within me.” (Rom 7:20)
Hence, St Paul writes, “God’s justice that was made known through the Law and the Prophets has now been revealed outside the Law.” Since the Law and the Prophets, although good, could not change the hearts of man. God chose to justify us through grace and not through the Law. This is to say that God makes us worthy by forgiving us our sins and liberating us from the power of sin through the mercy shown in Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. “It is the same justice of God that comes through faith to everyone, Jew and pagan alike, who believes in Jesus Christ. Both Jew and pagan sinned and forfeited God’s glory, and both are justified through the free gift of his grace by being redeemed in Christ Jesus who was appointed by God to sacrifice his life so as to win reconciliation through faith. In this way God makes his justice known; first, for the past, when sins went unpunished because he held his hand, then, for the present age, by showing positively that he is just, and that he justifies everyone who believes in Jesus.”
How is this grace given to us? Through Christ’s death and resurrection. In His death, we see the mercy and love of God in person. If anyone doubts the love and mercy of God, he only needs to contemplate on the face of the Crucified Christ. His death on the cross reveals to us the depth of God’s mercy. We can no longer accuse God of not knowing our suffering, our fears and our anxieties. Jesus emptied Himself to become not just a man but a slave unto death. He suffered the injustices, the pain of an innocent suffering, betrayal, rejection, humiliation, abandonment and the darkness of sin and pain. No one can appreciate the pain and tragedy of sin more than Jesus because He took upon our sins in His body and suffered the punishment of sin even though he was sinless.
In His resurrection, we see the power of God’s love triumph over death brought about by sin. By rising from the dead, Jesus showed that sin and death is the not the last word. Love is stronger than death. Once the fear of death is conquered, then the sting of sin is removed for as St Paul says, “Death is swallowed up in victory. ‘O death, where is thy victory? O death, where is thy sting?’ The sting of death is sin, and the power of sin is the law. But thanks be to God, who gives us the victory through our Lord Jesus Christ.” (1 Cor 15:55-57)
But more than just conquering death through His resurrection, the Lord bestows upon us the same Spirit that raised Him from the dead. We are now made His adopted sons and daughters. “For all who are led by the Spirit of God are sons of God. For you did not receive the spirit of slavery to fall back into fear, but you have received the spirit of sonship.” (Rom 8:14f) Indeed, it is the Spirit of God living in us that empowers us to live according to the Spirit of Christ. “But you are not in the flesh, you are in the Spirit, if the Spirit of God really dwells in you. Any one who does not have the Spirit of Christ does not belong to him. But if Christ is in you, although your bodies are dead because of sin, your spirits are alive because of righteousness.” (Rom 8:9f) Hence, St Paul concludes, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has set me free from the law of sin and death. For God has done what the law, weakened by the flesh, could not do: sending his own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh and for sin,he condemned sin in the flesh, in order that the just requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us, who walk not according to the flesh but according to the Spirit.” (Rom 8:1-5)
Unless, we come to faith in Jesus, we will prevent ourselves from entering the Kingdom of God and others who follow us. This was what the Lord said of the religious leaders. He scolded them bluntly, “Alas for you who build the tombs of the prophets, the men your ancestors killed! In this way you both witness what your ancestors did and approve it; they did the killing, you do the building. Alas for you lawyers who have taken away the key of knowledge! You have not gone in yourselves, and have prevented others going in who wanted to.” In truth, they could not observe the Law perfectly and they were hypocritical in their behavior. Instead of welcoming the prophets of God as in John the Baptist and our Lord, they killed them. Thus, by not entering through Jesus, they also prevent others from going in.
Consequently, what is required of us is to have faith in Jesus as the Christ, the Son of God. “So what becomes of our boasts? There is no room for them. What sort of law excludes them? The sort of law that tells us what to do? On the contrary, it is the law of faith, since, as we see it, a man is justified by faith and not by doing something the Law tells him to do.” We cannot overcome sin by our own merits but through the merits Christ gained for us. His death and resurrection won for us our victory over sin and death and brought about the bestowal of the Holy Spirit, the power of God at work in us, helping us to overcome sin and live the life of the Spirit.