Laws and Love
"Buckle up your seat belts.
It’s the Law.” That sign that we have all seen throughout our country
expresses the common American mentality regarding laws. That mentality
is: “You must do this or that or not do this or that because the authorities
say so. If you violate the law you will be punished.” To some degree
or other, we all share in this mentality. For example, if we see that the
speed limit is posted at 55 mph, we all, myself included, drive at 60 mph
because we are reasonably certain that we won’t get a ticket at that
speed. So often the determination of our actions are based on whether or
not we will be punished, not on what is right or wrong. Many times, though,
we take a higher look at the law and determine or actions accordingly.
The law might be to drive at 25 mph in your neighborhood, but because you
know that there are children playing who could run into the street at any
time, you drive at 10-15 mph, bound not by the law but by your concern
for the children of the area.
Hopefully, when we were children
we all listened to and obeyed our parents for an even higher motivation
than fear of punishment, or the good of society. Hopefully, we all obeyed
our parents out of love. We experienced the continual sacrificial love
our parents had for us and realized that even if we disagreed with one
of their rules, these rules were an expression of their love and concern
for us and for our own good. Maybe we didn’t like it if when other teenagers
were allowed to stay out until one or two while we had to be home at eleven,
but we knew that our parents rules were set out of love and we responded
because that was out way of reciprocating love, showing our love for them.
Now the first reading for
this Sunday from the Book of Deuteronomy speaks about the laws that God
gave to the people of Israel in terms of his love for them. The Israelites
did not view these laws as impositions from above that had to be followed
to avoid punishment. They saw the law as a personal expression of God’s
love for them. So we heard, “What great nation is there that has its
gods so near as the Lord Our God is to us when we call on him?” The people
of Israel had a personal relationship with God. They knew that he cared
for them. His laws were an expression of his love. They kept the law to
return his love.
“All good things come from
heaven above,” James tells us in today’s second reading. God continually
chooses each of us to be his child. He loves us first. We have to respond
to his love. We have to, James says, submit to his word, follow his law
as our way of loving God. James reminds us, “Just listening to the Word
of God within us is not enough.” We have to respond by putting his word
We have, all of us, the capacity
for a personal relationship with Jesus and through Jesus with God the Father
in union with the eternal life force, the Holy Spirit. We have a personal
Savior in Jesus Christ. He is near to us. He is with us every moment of
our lives. However, it is not enough for us to acknowledge his presence,
we have to respond to his love by reciprocating, by loving him back. Christian
morality is not a matter of performing actions to avoid punishment. Christian
morality is a matter of loving God by doing his will.
The motivation for our actions
as Christians must be hearts full of love. That’s what Jesus is pointing
out in the Gospel reading. Performing actions without love is just paying
God lip service. What matters is the motivation of our actions. What matters
is what is inside of us. Sin springs from hatred and selfishness within
a person and takes its expression in the terrible actions enumerated at
the end of the Gospel reading, fornication, murder, theft, adultery, etc.
Virtue springs from hearts full of the love of God and responds with charity,
kindness, and upright decent behavior.
James says that pure unspoiled
religion is this: simply to come to the aid of orphans and widows and to
keep ourselves uncontaminated by the world. The word religion means being
tied to God. We are religious, bound to God, if we care for those who need
out help, widows orphans, the sick, distressed, all challenged in any way,
the poor, those with terrible diseases etc. We care for those who need
out help out of love for God who created them and loves them. And we keep
our hearts uncontaminated by the evils of the world, selfishness, pride,
the concept that whatever we do is OK regardless of its effects on others.
Our God, our Loving Father,
is not up there somewhere dumping laws upon us and waiting to catch us
erring. Our God, our Loving Father, is right here, personally within each
of us. Because he wants us to have a personal relationship with him, he
calls us to respond to his love. But we have to make this response. Sometimes
people say that they have a personal relationship with God, but they continue
to sin. They think that God is too loving to punish them no matter what
they do. They don’t realize that when we don’t respond to God’s love,
we destroy our capacity to love him. Our religion is unauthentic, corrupt,
nothing more than lip service when we say we have a relationship with God
yet have hearts corrupted by selfishness, hatred and sin.
My friends, you and
I are called by Jesus to love him. We are never alone. We have a personal
relationship with a loving Father. But we must care for his presence. We
must nurture his presence by responding to his love or we will shut his
love out of our lives no matter how much we claim that he is our Lord.
Today we pray that we might live the ways of the Lord out of our deep love
for our Jesus Our Savior.