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Bible Reflections View Comments

The Laws that Give Life
By Diane M. Houdek
Source: Bringing Home the Word
Published: Sunday, February 16, 2014
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Jesus has hard words for us in the Gospel. Part of his Sermon on the Mount, this passage is where he seems to be letting the vast crowd following him know that while he brings a message of life—and eternal life—it’s not without a price.

Most of us have heard the Sermon on the Mount often enough that we can quote from it smoothly and naturally— or at least recognize quotes from it. Living its precepts might not come quite as easily. So it might be good to look at the reading from Sirach that the Church has chosen to pair with this Gospel.

The wise teacher tells his listeners, “If you choose you can keep the commandments, they will save you; if you trust in God. you too shall live.” We don’t often think of the ten commandments as something we choose to follow or not. Just as they are famously stated for the most part in a “You shall not” formula, we think most often in terms of breaking them—intentionally or unintentionally.

The reading from Sirach reminds us that in nearly everything we do, we have a choice. Whether we take action or not, we make a choice. And, in fact, as a friend often reminds me when I’m struggling with a course of action, “Not to decide is to decide.”

We think of the ten commandments, the law of Moses, the Torah, as an impossibly high standard. But when we break it down, we discover that it’s simply essential to life in community. The impossibility comes through our desire to follow our own whims instead of God’s will. We imagine that somehow we would be happier without any laws, without any rules.

We have heard the many passages in the Gospels when Jesus spars with the scribes and the Pharisees over human additions to the law of Moses, rules and regulations that seem both petty and impossible to follow exactly. It must have been tempting for Jesus’s first followers to make the leap to complete lawlessness. We know from Paul’s letters that some of the early Christians did indeed fall into this trap. If only the things of the spirit mattered, then they could indulge their bodily desires all they wanted.

Jesus tells the people, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” The reason people found it difficult to follow the law, and the reason the scribes and Pharisees felt compelled to add extra rules to make sure that people didn’t break the big rules, was because they weren’t seeing to the heart of the law: the covenant relationship with God.

In his Sermon on the Mount, Jesus is trying to lead people to a deeper understanding of the central commandments of their faith. He hopes to show them that it’s not a question of doing the bare minimum to stay on God’s good side. Rather, as Christians we are called enter so deeply into our relationship with God that we will treat all people with the care and respect due to them as our brothers and sisters in Christ. If we do that, following the commandments will simply be second nature.

Like Moses and the prophets, Jesus shows us that keeping God’s law is not a matter of following the rules as much as it is a matter of life and death. How can we help but choose life?


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Andrew Dung-Lac and Companions: Andrew Dung-Lac was one of 117 people martyred in Vietnam between 1820 and 1862. Members of this group were beatified on four different occasions between 1900 and 1951. All were canonized by St. John Paul II. 
<p>Christianity came to Vietnam (then three separate kingdoms) through the Portuguese. Jesuits opened the first permanent mission at Da Nang in 1615. They ministered to Japanese Catholics who had been driven from Japan. </p><p>The king of one of the kingdoms banned all foreign missionaries and tried to make all Vietnamese deny their faith by trampling on a crucifix. Like the priest-holes in Ireland during English persecution, many hiding places were offered in homes of the faithful. </p><p>Severe persecutions were again launched three times in the 19th century. During the six decades after 1820, between 100,000 and 300,000 Catholics were killed or subjected to great hardship. Foreign missionaries martyred in the first wave included priests of the Paris Mission Society, and Spanish Dominican priests and tertiaries. </p><p>Persecution broke out again in 1847 when the emperor suspected foreign missionaries and Vietnamese Christians of sympathizing with a rebellion led by of one of his sons. </p><p>The last of the martyrs were 17 laypersons, one of them a 9-year-old, executed in 1862. That year a treaty with France guaranteed religious freedom to Catholics, but it did not stop all persecution. </p><p>By 1954 there were over a million and a half Catholics—about seven percent of the population—in the north. Buddhists represented about 60 percent. Persistent persecution forced some 670,000 Catholics to abandon lands, homes and possessions and flee to the south. In 1964, there were still 833,000 Catholics in the north, but many were in prison. In the south, Catholics were enjoying the first decade of religious freedom in centuries, their numbers swelled by refugees. </p><p>During the Vietnamese war, Catholics again suffered in the north, and again moved to the south in great numbers. Now the whole country is under Communist rule.</p> American Catholic Blog To replace our sins with virtues may seem like a daunting task, but fortunately we can follow the example of the saints who have 
successfully defeated these sins in their lifetimes. They provide us with a way forward so that we, too, can live holy, virtuous lives.

 
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