The Love of the Law and the Law of Love – A Homily for the 22nd Sunday of the Year

The LawToday’s readings teach a proper understanding of the Law and its relationship to our hearts. The readings go a long way toward addressing the false dichotomy that many set up between love and law, as though the two were opposed; they are not. For if we love God, we want what He wants and love what He loves. And the Law goes a long way toward describing what God wants and loves. Indeed, the Law is letting love have its way.

God is Love and His Law (no matter how averse we are to “rules”) is ultimately an expression of His love. In all of the readings today God asks (even as He commands it) that we let love have its way. Let’s look at four teachings on the relationship of Law to God, who is Love.

I. The PROTECTION of the Law – Note that the text from today’s first reading frames the Law, and the obedient hearing of it, in terms of a promise of God, seeing the Law as a doorway to the loving blessings and promises of God. The text says, Moses said to the people: “Now, Israel, hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe, that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land which the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you.”

So the Law comes with a promise. It is the basis of life and the doorway to the further blessings of the land. Many today see God’s Law as prison walls, as a limitation on our freedom to “do as we please.” But the walls are not prison walls; they are defending walls.

Every ancient city had walls, not to imprison its citizens, but to protect them from the enemy. Within the walls there was security and the promise of protection. Outside the walls lurked danger; there were no promises of safety.

It is like this with God’s Laws. For those who keep them, they are a great source of protection and also contain the promise of ultimate victory. But outside this protective wall there is every danger and no promise of victory.

In his famous book Orthodoxy, G.K. Chesterton wrote,

Catholic doctrine and discipline may be walls; but they are the walls of a playground … We might fancy some children playing on the flat grassy top of some tall island in the sea. So long as there was a wall round the cliff’s edge they could fling themselves into every frantic game and make the place the noisiest of nurseries. But the walls were knocked down, leaving the naked peril of the precipice. They did not fall over; but when their friends returned to them they were all huddled in terror in the center of the island; and their song had ceased. [1]

God didn’t give the Law to take away our fun, but that we might find life and happiness. The devil, of course, is a liar; he tells us that we’ll be happier if we sin, that God is limiting our freedom by hemming us in with His Law. But sin does not make us free. Jesus says, Truly, truly, I say to you, every one who commits sin is a slave to sin (John 8:34). Indeed, how much suffering and pain would vanish if we all just kept the commandments? Most of our wounds are self-inflicted, by insisting on journeying outside the walls of God’s loving and protecting commandments.

Moses reminds us that our decision for or against the Law brings either blessing or curse:

See, I set before you today life and prosperity, death and destruction. For I command you today to love the LORD your God, to walk in his ways, and to keep his commands, decrees and laws; then you will live and increase, and the LORD your God will bless you in the land you are entering to possess. But if your heart turns away and you are not obedient, and if you are drawn away to bow down to other gods and worship them, I declare to you this day that you will certainly be destroyed. You will not live long in the land you are crossing the Jordan to enter and possess. This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob (Deut 30:15-20).

II. The PRECISION of the Law – Regarding the Law of God, Moses says, In your observance of the commandments of the LORD, your God, which I enjoin upon you, you shall not add to what I command you nor subtract from it.

Here we might the Law to be like a set of directions to a destination. If you give me directions to get to your house, I am probably not going to get there if I only follow half of the directions. The compliance must be complete to bring me to the right place. And so we are directed the follow the Law of God wholly. Scripture says elsewhere,

  • Instruct me O Lord, in the way of your statutes, that I may exactly observe them (Ps 119:33).
  • I intend in my heart to fulfill your statutes always to the letter. I have no love for half-hearted men, my love is for your law (Ps 119:112-113).
  • For whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it (James 2:10).

Here we must see God as a healer who is not exacting and precise for His sake, but for ours. Imagine a man who goes to a doctor with two broken legs and the doctor says, “We’re gonna aim for 50% here. I’ll set one leg but leave the other one broken. But don’t worry about the broken leg; that’s why God gave you two!” We would surely hold such a doctor in contempt. God, who is our healer, points to full health, not crippled or partial health.

When Jesus says, You, therefore, must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matt 5:48), He is indicating the kind of healing He offers. And St. Paul adds, [God who] began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus (Phil 1:6).

Thus the precision of the Law is taught to indicate the healing power of God’s law with grace.

III. The PRIORITY of the Law – In today’s gospel, Jesus rebukes the Scribes and Pharisees saying, “[You] teach as doctrines human precepts. You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”

Now, as then, many set aside the priority of God’s Law in favor of human thinking. Politics has become a pernicious influence in this regard. Many Catholics of both parties are more passionate about their political views than about God’s teachings as revealed through Scripture and Church teaching. And if there is a conflict between what God teaches and the political party view, guess which gives way and which gets unexamined allegiance?

Be it questions of abortion, immigration, or same-sex “marriage,” all too easily Catholics will turn a deaf ear to what God teaches, never rebuking their own party when correction is needed, and even cheering as their political leaders champion positions contrary to God’s Law. Too many Catholics place political priorities and popularity, human traditions and agenda, over God’s Law.

The Lord Jesus goes on to say, Well did Isaiah prophesy about you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me; in vain do they worship me. He says elsewhere, [you] make void the word of God through your tradition which you hand on. And many such things you do (Mk 7:13).

Be very careful; the pernicious effects of partisan political thinking, worldviews, and mere cultural preferences have caused too many Catholics to cease to be the leaven, the prophetic voice they are supposed to be in this world. All of the political parties, most worldviews, and many cultural trends need purification. A Catholic must be a Catholic before he is a Democrat, a Republican, or a Libertarian; before he is a fan of a Hollywood star or musician; before he touts the latest trend or raves about the most recent bestselling book. None of these things usually stand blameless before God, and the unquestioning, unqualified, and silent allegiance from Catholics and other Christians toward such worldly things is a huge problem today. We are too easily compromised and have often elevated human teachings and movements above God’s Law.

To all of this, the Lord gives rebuke and reminds us that His Law must the standard by which every other thing is judged. A Christian should see everything by the Light of God’s Law, exposing error and evil, approving goodness and truth wherever they are found. Nothing has priority over what God teaches.

In the end it is a question of what and whom we love more: God and His Law, or this world and its ways of sin and compromise.

IV. The PLACE of the Law – The Lord goes on to indicate that our fundamental problem can be that the Law of God is not in our heart. He warns that the heart, since it is the locus of human decision and action, must be the place of His Law for us. The Lord says, Hear me, all of you, and understand. Nothing that enters one from outside can defile that person; but the things that come out from within are what defile. From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.

Hence there is the need to have God’s law in our heart. It is not enough to have a cursory and intellectual awareness of God’s Law. The Law must drop the 15 inches from the intellect to the heart.

And what is the human heart? While there ambiguities in the biblical text distinguishing mind and heart, this much is clear: the heart is the deepest part of the human person, the place where we are alone with our thoughts and deliberations. The heart is the place where we discern, ponder, and ultimately decide. The heart is “where we live.” It is in this deepest part of ourselves that the Law of God must find a home.

Jesus makes it clear that it is from the deep heart of the individual that come forth the behaviors that determine our character and our destiny. It is here that the Law of God must find a home. And it will only find a deep home here through prayer and meditation; through the careful, persistent, and thoughtful reading of God’s revealed truth, coupled with gratitude and love of God.

It is no mistake that the summary of God’s Law is simply, “Love the Lord the your God with all your heart and your neighbor as your very self.” For it is only love that unlocks the door of our heart. And in loving God we begin to love what and whom He loves. To love God is to love His Law. Scripture says,

  • My soul is consumed with longing for your laws at all times (Ps 119:20).
  • Your statutes are my delight; they are my counselors (Ps 119:24 24).
  • The law from your mouth is more precious to me than thousands of pieces of silver and gold (Ps 119:72).
  • For I love your commands more than gold, however fine (Ps 119:127).
  • I open my mouth and sigh, longing for your commands (Ps 119:131).

Yes, in the end, the Law comes from Love, the God of Love, who is Love. And thus it is love that unlocks the Law, love that makes us realize that the Law is a gift of God’s love. He gives us His law in order to protect us, precisely guide us, and heal us. Thus He asks us to make His Law a wholehearted priority.

Love the Law and come to experience the Love that the Law is.

This song says,

We need to hear from you
We need a word from you
If we don’t hear from you
What will we do?
Wanting you more each day
Show us your perfect way
There is no other way
That we can live

Destruction is now is now in view
Seems the world has forgotten all about you
Children are crying and people are dying
They’re lost without you, so lost without you
But you said if we seek
Lord if we seek your face
And turn from our wicked, our wicked ways
You promised to heal our land
Father you can!

6 Replies to “The Love of the Law and the Law of Love – A Homily for the 22nd Sunday of the Year”

  1. Bless is the man who trust in GOD. Cursed is the man who trusts in man. Yes, if we trust GOD, we will follow HIS Laws which are for us that we may not go wayward. For forty years, I tried every which way seeking peace and happiness which made me all the more reckless and restless. On my fortieth year, GOD woke me up from the stupor of self indulgence and stubbornness and made me realize that all those years HE was all along whispering, cajoling, guiding and patiently pointing me towards the right direction of loving HIM and serving others that they too may love HIM and
    serve HIM. Praise be to GOD. HE didn’t abandone me despite of my arrogance and stupidly. Thank YOU, LORD and thank you Monsi Pope for this article. It made me revisit my mistakes and their lessons in my life. YOUR Laws let me love YOU more.

  2. Being a head person I enjoy all of your commentaries on the Sunday readings. Being a head person, a lover of the written word, it is a real treat. However, one can only go so far in their Catholic development by just feeding just their brain. Inevitably, after so many years of studying apologetics and the rest of it, one’s heart has to be moved and action employed to confront the sinful behavior patterns that invariably develop after 7 decades of living in a secular Western culture. This is where I am at now and thank you for your continuing guidance.

  3. Being a head person I enjoy all of your commentaries on the Sunday readings. Being a head person, a lover of the written word, it is a real treat. However, one can only go so far in their Catholic development by just feeding just their brain. Inevitably, after so many years of studying apologetics and the rest of it, one’s heart has to be moved and action employed to confront the sinful behavior patterns that invariably develop after 7 decades of living in a secular Western culture. This is where I am at now and thank you for your continuing guidance.

  4. +JMJ………… Thank you, once again, Msgr. Pope, for such an enlightening homily… for indeed the word of God is a lamp unto our feet. Yet, as in ancient Israel, many false prophets have arisen in our land. Many Catholics have become like sheep without a shepherd. I look to you, and thankfully my own parish priests, to shepherd us, explaining God’s word and will for us. Unfortunately, so many Catholics have been blinded by the glitter of this world and they no longer look to the Church for guidance. It is true that we must pray for them, but what practical steps, within our parishes and families, can we take to reach those who have eyes and ears only for this world?

  5. Delightful homily!!! Wish we (my hubby and I) could be members at your parish, but I am happy to read your homily here. You make total sense out of truth and reason. Thank You!!!

  6. Yes, from fear to love, it’s the paradigm change we must embrace. Only his mercy and grace can afford us his Holy Spirit who promises us the understanding, council and wisdom to know these vital truth. Thank you Msgr.Pope for being his pencil to us.

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