March 18, 2020
by Ronald Fussell
Creighton University's Educational Leadership
click here for photo and information about the writer

Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent
Lectionary: 239

Deuteronomy 4:1, 5-9
Psalms 147:12-13, 15-16, 19-20
Matthew 5:17-19

Praying Lent Home

Praying in the Time of the Virus

Whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the Kingdom of Heaven. – Matthew 5:19

As a Catholic who is a teacher by training, and not an accomplished theologian, I find one of the most inspirational qualities of the Gospels of our faith to be their simplicity.  What I mean is that as the master teacher, Jesus does what we all strive to do as teachers, which is to make complex and abstract concepts more accessible and understandable for the students.  And as a student of the faith, today’s Gospel passage truly resonated with me.  In it, Jesus reveals his purpose during his Sermon on the mount – that he is not here to abolish, but to fulfill the law or the prophets (Matthew 5:17).

Today, Jesus seems to be confirming the essence of the various laws and commandments of the Old Testament.  But, the laws of the Old Testament are numerous, technical, and often confusing (at least to me).  I recall, as a student in a Catholic high school in New Hampshire still growing in my faith, reading through the Old Testament and questioning many of these laws.  Even now, I am not sure that I fully understand them.  Indeed, the books of the Old Testament can be difficult to understand without an adequate, scholarly understanding of how to interpret ancient scripture.

However, as I reflected on this passage, I was drawn to another passage where Jesus is asked by the Pharisees – scholars of the law – about what commandment is greatest.  Jesus replied to them, you shall love the Lord, your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind and that you shall love your neighbor as yourself.  Then, Jesus makes an important connection to what we read in today’s passage, that the whole law and the prophets depend on these two commandments (Matthew 22:36-40).

How do you express your faith?  One expression of faith might be the orthodoxy with which you keep the laws and commandments.  Surely, I have encountered many who strive for greater fidelity to these laws of our faith.  For some, a measure of one’s Catholicity might be the extent to which these laws are followed.  But, focusing on the laws and commandments alone without also focusing on Jesus’s guidance to “love your neighbor as yourself” leads to a hollow faith that deprives us of the relationships that are so crucial to who we are as Christians.  More important, it is all too easy to weaponize our laws and commandments to further marginalize others who are most in need of Christ’s enduring love.

So, in this Lenten season, my hope is that today’s Gospel passage confirms not only the importance of our laws and commandments, but also those most important commandments – to love the Lord our God, and to love others as we love ourselves.  I pray that you and I will continue to be challenged during this season of renewal to examine how we apply the laws of our faith in service to others with great love, even when it is most difficult, so that we may build up His Kingdom here on Earth.


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