We modern day Americans think of “law” as regulations imposed by the state based on a legal constitution. The law has nothing to do with religion, which is entirely a matter of private conscience.
But in ancient Israel there was no such distinction. People believed that the law came from God. Obeying the law is what made them a nation and civilized their society.
In our first reading, we get a very small snippet of this Jewish law. One of the great triumphs of the human spirit is the Jewish law that originates at the very beginning of recorded human history.
In the gospel, we continue reading through Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus reflects on this great tradition of Jewish law. He takes the law a step further by internalizing it. The law involves not just external conformity and legal compliance. According to Jesus, it applies to what his deepest within us, our motivations and real intentions. Ultimately, Jesus will argue for the law based not on obedience alone, but on love.
In the middle reading, Paul turns from his own identification, which has occupied him so far in the letter, to remind his listeners who they are, their true nature. Imagine someone in Paul’s audience living in a world that denigrates the dignity of the average citizen. Such a person lives in a city with fine buildings that serve as temples to the pagan gods, gods that have no regard for people and need to be constantly placated to avoid their wrath. But all of a sudden, he hears the pronouncement from Paul’s lips: “You are a temple of God.” How life transforming such a description of the human person those words can be if we can accept such a profound truth.
—Walter Modrys SJ
This week’s readings can be found on the US Conference of Catholic Bishops’ website.