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Think of any law or rule you’re under. How about the speed limit on the highway? Jesus says in Matthew 5:17-19 that he did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it with the Law of Love. Okay, yes, he was talking about religious law, not the highways I drive on. But we’ll better understand what he meant if we think about any law that constrains us in our modern day-to-day life.
The key word here is “constrain” — laws limit us. By necessity, for our own good and the good of the community, laws tell us how far we can go before we get into trouble, how much we can do before we infringe on the rights of others, how fast we can go before an officer pulls us over and gives us a speeding ticket.
If I were the police and I saw God zooming down the highway at twice the speed limit, I wouldn’t arrest him, would you? God can do whatever he wants and I’ll let him get away with it. But Jesus makes it clear that he does not disregard the law. What he does do is fulfill the law. He enters into it and raises it to a higher standard.
Even when he broke the rules, for example by “working” on the Sabbath, he was raising the laws to the highest level of application: the Law of Love.
Who is it that I’m loving by obeying traffic laws? Myself — I’m giving myself the gift of no speeding ticket! Oh, but that’s the smallest part of the law. To fulfill the intentions of the law, I’m loving everyone else on the road by caring that I don’t crash into them. Even if there were no speed limits, I’d drive slow enough to make sure that they all survive my journey.
In Christ, there is no need for the law because love fulfills the law’s best intentions. In Christ, we don’t need the Church to make a law forbidding us to miss Mass, because our love for God and for the Body of Christ (the Church community) draws us to Mass. In Christ, we don’t need to have a rule telling us to fast (like abstaining from meat on Fridays or giving up sweets during Lent), because love motivates us to make sacrifices.
Think of any law that the Church tells us to obey; if we don’t want to obey it, it’s because we don’t understand how it’s founded on and fulfills the Law of Love. We need to dig into it deeper and ask the Holy Spirit to help us understand where the love is.
This is why Vatican Council II took away many of the restrictions that had been set by earlier Councils. The bishops were not saying that it’s okay now to miss Mass or to skip the Friday fasts. Rather, we’ve been invited to mature beyond our childish, blind obedience of the rules, which is based on the avoidance of punishment. We’ve been entrusted with the faith of a grown-up follower of Jesus, which means fulfilling the law by obeying it because we want to love.
Thus we become the visible Christ for our world. We no longer need the law in order to be good. In fact, we do more than what the law prescribes. Because we love, we embrace the rules and exceed their limits.
© 2010 by Terry A. Modica
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