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    Fr. Joseph Jenkins

  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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Fulfillment of the Law

At this point in my narrative, I would like to tell a story– a story about two boys. They started out like most young children. They loved playing ball. They liked cartoons, especially those filled with lots of super-heroes and villains. Ice-cream was their favorite food, for both main course and dessert. They both had that most peculiar attraction all boys seem to have toward dirt and bruises. And, both wanted a dog. The first boy, Arnold, came from a house which the second boy, Zachary, could only experience in his wildest dreams. Arnold was given everything. He got away with all kinds of poor behavior. His room looked like a bomb hit it. Arnold ate only what he wanted and when he wanted. He had toys piled up in the garage and outside– toys with which he easily tired. He wanted a dog and his parents bought him several purebreds, but he mistreated one of them and it had to be put to sleep. He was a brat. He would cry and yell if he did not get what he wanted, and he would get it. As he got older, he would stay out late, hit all the parties, and even got messed up with a pretty tough crowd. His parents thought, well he’s just a boy having fun. To say he was spoiled would have been an understatement. It is a little sad really. When he grew up into a man, things did not get much better. He stayed a self-centered child. Unfortunately, his parents could not live forever, and when they died, he found himself alone, unable to cope or to be happy in the world. He could not satisfy his desires, and they were unbridled– lawless. He was unhappy.

The second boy, Zachary, wanted a lot of things too, but from day one his parents set down the law. If he spoke out of turn or showed any kind of disobedience or disrespect, he was punished, maybe even spanked. His mother was a stickler on cleanliness and so he had to always make his bed and keep his room clean. He had a curfew time and could only play or watch TV after his homework. He did not have everything he wanted; and his father made sure he knew that some of the things he wanted, he would have to earn. Not being merely preoccupied by things, he had time to read and create worlds inside of himself. He even liked to pray, although sometimes his prayers were more in line with petition than anything else, especially in reference to a dog. Goodness! How much he wanted one! But his mother was allergic, so he never did, that is until he was a man. He resented some of the things his parents had made him do, but he was not quite so empty as Arnold. Indeed, some of the rules he experienced as a child helped to make him into a more responsible adult. He would delay gratification, seek the truth of things, and organize his life. When his parents were dying, he helped them cope. He did not have to lean on them any longer; he could stand on his own two feet and help others to do the same. I won’t say his parents were perfect. Sometimes they might have been too harsh.

The story of these two boys represents two extremes– one of law and one of lawlessness. Now, it is sometimes difficult to keep these poles in tension; however, we need to try. We need both freedom and law. Indeed, law itself can promote freedom. It prevents one from abusing the rights of another, reminding us of our responsibilities to one another and to God.

Zachary, like Israel of old was given a code of conduct, the law. This made him responsible. However, the law sometimes seemed too strict. This also happened in the life of Israel; the little laws attached to the commandments multiplied so incredibly that only a Pharisee it seemed could keep the whole of it. People felt condemned before they even tried to be faithful. Jesus came to fulfill the law, not to destroy it. He came to rid his people of the oppressive weight which had grown up around the law of God.

The parents of Zachary might have done well to hear this, too. He knew that his parents set down rules because they loved him– that is what made it possible for him to follow them. But, sometimes there might have been too many expectations. We all have to be careful that the rules we expect ourselves and others to live by are neither too cumbersome nor too weak. Israel would not have held together as a nation had it not been for the law. And neither would a lot of families today survive without rules and reasonable expectations. So too the Church, in the laws she sets to govern her members, must always be just and fair. The same goes for governments.

Look at Sirach 15:15-20. We find the verse, “If you choose you can keep the commandments; it is loyalty to do his will.” God does not ask of us the impossible. Sin is not inevitable in our lives. Filled with the Spirit which makes us New Christs, we can indeed follow the Father in his will for us. He will give us the strength to follow his commands. It may happen that we will not be perfectly open at first, and thus will stumble from time to time, but we need not fear if we love Jesus– in Christ is our victory.

In Matthew 5:17-37, Jesus tears away the outer trappings of the law of God to reach its heart. He recalls the commandments and extends them. Thou shall not kill. But anyone angry with his brother or sister may be judged as a murderer. Thou shall worship the Lord thy God. But anyone who is unreconciled to another is told to stay away from the altar. Why? Because such a person is unreconciled with God, too. Thou shall not commit adultery. But, as if this might not be hard enough for some, he reminds us of adultery in the heart, hidden to all but ourselves and God. The Gospel of Matthew attaches an assortment of other sayings. None of them are easy. Jesus prohibits divorce and remarriage. He reminds them to be a people of truth in keeping their oaths and not a people of lies. He tells them to be clear and decisive in their discipleship.

All these things were not hammered down upon us because God likes to see us suffer. It is just that there is no other way. The commands of God, both in revelation and in our nature, are to wean us away from weakness, sin, selfishness, and the evil one. God, like a good parent, offers us guidance as to how we can be truly happy and fulfilled. That does not mean it will always be easy. It won’t always be hard either. And for some, let us face it, it will be more difficult than for others. We have to believe in God’s wisdom and that of his Church even when we in ourselves are struggling or uncertain.

Jesus came not so much to destroy the law as to fulfill it. When St. Paul speaks of the eradication of the law, he speaks as one already conscious of being redeemed by Christ– of being a recipient of the law fulfilled. As for St. John, the experience of love is the sole motivation for fulfilling any law or commandment– divine or ecclesial. We know the divine laws; hopefully, we also know the precepts of the Church– such things as Sunday attendance at Mass, marriage inside the Church, going to confession, supporting the Church, etc. But the motivation for all these things should be not so much the law, which is given out of love to guide us, but on account of our own love for God and one another.

That kind of belief and trust in God today is being challenged from many quarters. And I am not so sure that it is an entirely bad thing. If we can be faithful servants while in the midst of the storm, how easy we should find it when the weather calms.

I would like to return to my story of the two young men, Arnold and Zachary. Who are we most like, Arnold who needed more discipline in his life, or Zachary, who maybe, though he was happy, needed a little more freedom? I think Christ offers the way here. We need to see law in a positive light, as a sign of love, as a means to true freedom. If Christ could be obedient to the Father, even unto embracing the Cross– how could obedience fail to be anything but a blessing and joy for us? Like the Psalmist, we can also share in his cry of joy: “Happy are they whose way is blameless, who walk in the law of the Lord. Happy are they who observe his decrees, who seek him with all their heart” (Psalm 119:1-3).

For more such reflections, contact me about getting my book, CHRISTIAN REFLECTIONS.