The Church’s first scripture for today’s Mass is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Deuteronomy. “Deuteronomy” means “the second book of the law” and this means that the text presents important insights in regards to the Law of Moses.
The Law of Moses is a code of conduct for the Israelites. Live up to the expectations of the code and you are a true Israelite. Fail to comply with the code and your identity as an Israelite could be called into question. The code is comprehensive in its scope and concerns the totality of Israelite life and experience- how the people will worship, how they will be governed, how they will regulate their economic affairs, even what they will eat and wear.
Today’s excerpt from the Book of Deuteronomy is both an invitation and a warning. The invitation is that through the code of conduct (the Law) the God of Israel invites his people into a unique relationship- the code will be the means by which the people demonstrate, not just their cultural or civic identity, but their relationship with God. The warning is implicit in the invitation- an Israelites relationship with God is not a matter of mind of emotions, but of the objective fact of the Law of Moses. The Law will be a ruthless test of an Israelite’s sincerity and will be the means by which the people will be judged.
The Law of Moses is at its heart about the demands of justice- stealing is forbidden, as is fraud, as is bribery, and is slander and gossip, as is lying, as is blasphemy, as is vengeance, as is sorcery, as is murder. All these things defy God’s justice and resisting God’s justice brings about terrifying consequences.
The demands of justice articulated by the Law of Moses remain in full force for the Church. Remember, the Church is the New Israel and those baptized in Christ are the New Israelites.
The great biblical insight is that despite any appearance to the contrary, the Lord God orders his creation in accord with justice and if set ourselves against this justice, the result will be misery. We might evade that misery for a time, but in the end, God’s justice prevails.
Yet, God’s justice is not the only power that charges through his creation. The Gospel reveals that love is even more foundational that justice, and in fact, it is love that is the perfection of God’s justice.
Thus, for the Christian, the fulfillment of the demands of justice is never sufficient. God in Christ demands more of us, and what he demands is love- and by love is not meant some product of our emotionally driven needs, but what is called charity. Charity is not simply a donation to your favorite cause. Charity is willing what is good for another, and willing that good, even if that good is not appreciated, deserved or reciprocated.
God in Christ introduces his people to a new code of conduct, a New Law, and this Law is charity. This Law is meant to define the totality of the Church’s unique way of life.
Thus, it is meant to become entirely ordinary that the Christian should forgive their enemies, pray for those who persecute us, and give to those in need even if we receive little or nothing in return. In doing these things the Christian wills what is good for others. In doing these things the Christian practices charity. The world might think this all to be extraordinary, but for the Christian, this is meant to be our way of life.
This way of life is demanding and risky. It sets Christians apart in ways that make Christians seem strange, even troublesome. Christians become vulnerable as a result of the charity that they preach and seek to practice. This way of life may not engender earthly rewards, and it may in fact, cost the Christian much in terms of those things that the world esteems and values. The charity of a Christian is not intended to make the Christian successful, but to make the Christian a saint.
And being a saint is what the Gospel is all about- sanctity is the true measure of our lives.
In the end, all worldly accomplishments will pass away and it will be only charity that will endure, and it will be in relation to our fulfillment of the demands of charity, of love, that each of us will be judged.