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Bible Reflections View Comments

The Laws that Give Life
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, February 16, 2014
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Jesus has hard words for us in the Gospel. Part of his Sermon on the Mount, this passage is where he seems to be letting the vast crowd following him know that while he brings a message of life—and eternal life—it’s not without a price.

Most of us have heard the Sermon on the Mount often enough that we can quote from it smoothly and naturally— or at least recognize quotes from it. Living its precepts might not come quite as easily. So it might be good to look at the reading from Sirach that the Church has chosen to pair with this Gospel.

The wise teacher tells his listeners, “If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God. you too shall live.” We don’t often think of the ten commandments as something we choose to follow or not. Just as they are famously stated for the most part in a “You shall not” formula, we think most often in terms of breaking them—intentionally or unintentionally.

The reading from Sirach reminds us that in nearly everything we do, we have a choice. Whether we take action or not, we make a choice. And, in fact, as a friend often reminds me when I’m struggling with a course of action, “Not to decide is to decide.”

We think of the ten commandments, the law of Moses, the Torah, as an impossibly high standard. But when we break it down, we discover that it’s simply essential to life in community. The impossibility comes through our desire to follow our own whims instead of God’s will. We imagine that somehow we would be happier without any laws, without any rules.

We have heard the many passages in the Gospels when Jesus spars with the scribes and the Pharisees over human additions to the law of Moses, rules and regulations that seem both petty and impossible to follow exactly. It must have been tempting for Jesus’s first followers to make the leap to complete lawlessness. We know from Paul’s letters that some of the early Christians did indeed fall into this trap. If only the things of the spirit mattered, then they could indulge their bodily desires all they wanted.

Jesus tells the people, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” The reason people found it difficult to follow the law, and the reason the scribes and Pharisees felt compelled to add extra rules to make sure that people didn’t break the big rules, was because they weren’t seeing to the heart of the law: the covenant relationship with God.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is trying to lead people to a deeper understanding of the central commandments of their faith. He hopes to show them that it’s not a question of doing the bare minimum to stay on God’s good side. Rather, as Christians we are called enter so deeply into our relationship with God that we will treat all people with the care and respect due to them as our brothers and sisters in Christ. If we do that, following the commandments will simply be second nature.

Like Moses and the prophets, Jesus shows us that keeping God’s law is not a matter of following the rules as much as it is a matter of life and death. How can we help but choose life?


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Scholastica: Twins often share the same interests and ideas with an equal intensity. Therefore, it is no surprise that Scholastica and her twin brother, Benedict (July 11), established religious communities within a few miles from each other. 
<p>Born in 480 of wealthy parents, Scholastica and Benedict were brought up together until he left central Italy for Rome to continue his studies. </p><p>Little is known of Scholastica’s early life. She founded a religious community for women near Monte Cassino at Plombariola, five miles from where her brother governed a monastery. </p><p>The twins visited each other once a year in a farmhouse because Scholastica was not permitted inside the monastery. They spent these times discussing spiritual matters. </p><p>According to the <i>Dialogues of St. Gregory the Great</i>, the brother and sister spent their last day together in prayer and conversation. Scholastica sensed her death was close at hand and she begged Benedict to stay with her until the next day. </p><p>He refused her request because he did not want to spend a night outside the monastery, thus breaking his own Rule. Scholastica asked God to let her brother remain and a severe thunderstorm broke out, preventing Benedict and his monks from returning to the abbey. </p><p>Benedict cried out, “God forgive you, Sister. What have you done?” Scholastica replied, “I asked a favor of you and you refused. I asked it of God and he granted it.” </p><p>Brother and sister parted the next morning after their long discussion. Three days later, Benedict was praying in his monastery and saw the soul of his sister rising heavenward in the form of a white dove. Benedict then announced the death of his sister to the monks and later buried her in the tomb he had prepared for himself.</p> American Catholic Blog In all the sacraments, Christ gives to us the transforming power of his love, which we call “grace.” But in the Eucharist, and only in the Eucharist, Jesus gives us even more. He gives us his entire self—Body and Blood, Soul and Divinity. Of course, the proper response to a gift of this magnitude is gratitude.

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