At first glance, today’s readings portray a Jesus who’s a bit difficult to recognize. Here one reads of a Jesus laying down the law in no uncertain terms. In sending out pairs of what today we might call advance men, he prescribes a whole list of explicit do’s and don’ts -- what to bring and what to wear, where to eat and sleep, what to say and when to be quiet. He even instructs them how to act if they are shunned, including a warning of dire consequences. Isn’t this same Jesus of patient compassion who loved to tweak the noses of the Jews’ religious leaders for their rigid enforcement of the law to the neglect of the true faith, justice and love that comes from the heart?
Whatever Jesus’ intent, the fact remains that the laws of God do exist. The Jews of the Old Testament certainly had them; the first reading describes Ezra the scribe reading for hours to the people from the book of the law of Moses. And Jesus didn’t abolish law, only the way it was being followed. The existence of laws, however, with all their prescriptions and penalties is sometimes hard for us to accept and respect. The context of our society with its emphasis on individual freedom and its de-emphasis of personal responsibility prompts us to chafe at the imposition of laws which seem to be restrictions of our hallowed liberty and even an intrusion of government into our lives.
On further reflection, I realized that my mistake was in equating man’s law with God’s law. I forgot again what so much of recent liturgies sought to remind me, that God’s ways are not our ways. However we view the political direction of the city, state or nation -- and the laws it produces -- those are not God’s laws. God’s laws do not burden nor restrict; they lighten and liberate. They free me of my angers and anxieties. They loosen my excessive attachments to property, possessions and sometimes even persons. They lighten my load by throwing off my pride, my envy, my resentments. And, above all, they beckon me to love my neighbor as myself. In the end, I am truly free, free to be like the Israelites who, on hearing God’s law went out “to celebrate with great joy, for they understood the words that had been expounded to them.”
By Richard Super