Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent

- Matt Kowalski, '11

Many people note the stark contrast between God in the Old Testament and God in the New Testament. The former imposes strict commandments upon His people, offering little forgiveness or mercy. Individuals either follow the law to the letter or forsake themselves to hell. On the other hand, Jesus in the New Testament brings the idea that God is love, and no matter how many sins one commits, God will continue to love. He brings forgiveness to the world, offering a second chance to sinners. Despite these differences, in today’s Gospel, Jesus unifies these two snapshots of God, saying “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.”

To me, this statement seemed strange and ridiculous at first. Did Jesus not break Jewish law on multiple occasions and when confronted by the rabbi, scoff at the outlandish nature of their traditions? How could this same man assert he came to fulfill these same laws? The answer to this confusion lies in the meaning of the law Jesus refers to in this Gospel. He refers not to the many statutes laid down by the Jewish elders but to the source of the statutes, the Ten Commandments.

In making this declaration, Jesus reasserts the importance of the Commandments. Although we often forget about these rules in the New Testament tale, Jesus wants to remind everyone to stay faithful to this Old Testament law, for “not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter
will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.” In thinking about God and Jesus, the Commandments never come to mind. I often fall into the trap of forgetting about these important guidelines to life, instead thinking of Jesus and his message. But the Commandments will remain important and alive as long as humans are around.

Yet, Jesus also tells us that he came to “fulfill” the law. This confuses me as well. How can Jesus fulfill law without changing any of it? And why would Jesus need to fulfill the law? Are the commandments somehow not good enough? The answer to this lies in Jesus’ reference to the “prophets.” Many of the Old Testament prophets spoke of a new king that God would send to his people, and here Jesus again affirms his connection with the Old Testament God by implicitly stating that he is the Son of God, the man prophesized of for centuries.

Twice Jesus connects himself with the Old Testament, reminding us not to forget our religious roots. Although Jesus breaks away from the extraneous traditions of the Jews, he does no want us to forget all of our history. That is why we continue to use and benefit from the Old Testament; it is intimately related to our faith.

Today, the Gospel challenges us to look away from the Gospel, if only for a time. It is a fallacy of mine and others to look only to the New Testament for spiritual direction. Jesus wants his followers to know and follow the Commandments and the wisdom of the prophets. And in doing so, one can become closer to Jesus, for he came to “fulfill” the commandments. In this Lenten season, hopefully we can respond to Jesus’ call to accept the God of both the Old and New Testament. Then one can come to a better understanding of God, becoming more capable of living the Catholic lifestyle.

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