Sunday, September 30, 2012
26th Sunday in Ordinary Time
Sometimes we may wonder what rejoicing over the Lord’s Law or precepts are all about. We hear the Psalmist do just this today. When we think of a law today we immediately think of rules, obligations or duties that we might not initially think are happy things.
Specifically I wondered this week about the word precept, so I did a little digging. It turns out that precept or precepts is used in the Bible thirty-seven times. Twenty-one of these—over half—come in one chapter of the Bible: Psalm 119. Because of this fact it is worth examining this Psalm more closely.
We have been reading from Psalm 119 during daily Mass this week and it is the paramount hymn of praise for God’s Law. The neat fact about this Psalm is that it uses eight to ten synonyms for law and precept. Some we may expect—command, order, edict. Yet others we might not expect—way and path. These are precisely the important ones for us to consider as we fill out our understanding of God’s Law and why the Psalmist and others in Sacred Scripture can rejoice in it. The Law is more than an obligation but a guidebook or map for life.
As Christians we can fully appreciate this Law because Jesus came to fulfill it. We must remember that He Himself said He did not come to abolish the law but to fulfill it. A great example of this is in the Ten Commandments that still hold true today.
Yet we also know the Law in itself is not sufficient. Rejoicing in the Law alone would be like celebrating in the rules of a sport rather than the sport itself. Yet all athletes know the rules of a sport are to order a game for competition to take place. In a sense, the Israelites before Christ were like the referees in a sport that knew the Law well and made sure to enforce it. As Christians we are called to excel, not in knowing the Law, or the rules of life to a T, but to excel at life itself. God’s Law, then, sets the stage for us to live well.
As we understand that Jesus fulfilled the Law, we can most fully join in the praise of the Psalmist—“the precepts of the Lord give joy to my heart.”