Fr Rodney Kissinger, S.J.
“The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath.” (Mark 2: 27) Man was created before the law was proclaimed. And the law was proclaimed as a means to help man attain the end for which he was created.
Jesus was very faithful in the observance of the Sabbath law. He not only attended the synagogue on the Sabbath, he also participated in the liturgy by reading and preaching. He said he came not to destroy the law but to fulfill it. He said that love was the fulfillment of the law, love of God and love of neighbor. He identified the neighbor as the one in need. Here in the synagogue was a man in need, a man with a withered hand. Jesus told the man, “Stretch out your hand. He stretched it out and his hand was restored. The Pharisees went out and immediately took counsel with the Herodians against him to put him to death.” (Mark 3:5-6)
The Pharisees were legalists. They observed the law to the letter. Yet no one was excoriated by Jesus as much as they were. “You Pharisees, you hypocrites, you frauds, you strain out a gnat and swallow a camel; you whitened sepulchers.” It is easy to believe that we are righteous and pleasing to God simply because we obey a number of laws. It is an attempt to control God by his own words. We think that God has given us a certain number of laws and if we observe these laws God cannot touch us. First we want to be God. Then when we realize we are not God, we try to control God. This is even better than being God because then we do not have the responsibility of being God.
Legalism, the deification of the law, is a danger we all have to be careful to avoid. The essence of Christianity is not law but love, love is the fulfillment of the law. It is possible to observe the law and not have love in your heart. On the other hand, we also have to avoid license, which is the contempt for law. We need a balance between legalism and license, between the deification of the law and contempt for the law. We should have a deep respect for the law. But we must realize that the law was made for man, not man for the law. The law is only a means and not the end. The end is God. And God is love and love is the fulfillment of the law.
In any community there is an inverse proportion between the intensity of love and the number of laws: the greater the love, the fewer the laws. The ever increasing number of Federal, State, County and City laws is a sad commentary on our country today.
Our courts are
cluttered with a back log of law suits. We have become a litigious society
in which lawyers are the high priests. People refrain from doing good
for fear of being sued. Many doctors are taking down their shingles because
the mal practice premiums are too high. Many traumatic hospitals are closing
their emergency room for fear of being sued. What a sad commentary on
our great country. What we need today is not more laws, but more love,
Christian love which includes justice. Love God and love your neighbor
and you will always do what is just and right.
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