Beyond the Law

Dozens of times in the Gospels, Jesus "amazes" his listeners. Here are a few of my favorites:

  • They were amazed, saying "What sort of man is this, whom even the winds and the sea obey?" -Matthew 8:27
  • They were on the way, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus went ahead of them. They were amazed, and those who followed were afraid. Taking the Twelve aside again, he began to tell them what was going to happen to him. -Mark 10:32
  • And all who were with him were amazed at the catch.  -Luke 5:9

Does Jesus amaze us?

Is he so shockingly unique that we, his followers, are sometimes a little afraid of him?

Or perhaps Jesus of Nazareth is just a little too familiar. Thanks be to God, we have countless opportunities to read the Bible and hear about Jesus. But that familiarity shouldn't tempt us to think Jesus is tame, or even predictable.

A posse of Pharisees and Herodians learned that, to their public disgrace. You know the story: these clever men approached Jesus about paying taxes, thinking they could trap him into saying something heretical or traitorous.

They came and said to him, “Teacher, we know that you are a truthful man and that you are not concerned with anyone’s opinion. You do not regard a person’s status but teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. Is it lawful to pay the census tax to Caesar or not? Should we pay or should we not pay?” -Matthew 12:14
Gold Aurei of the Twelve Caesars. Gift of C. Ruxton Love Jr., 1967.

Gold Aurei of the Twelve Caesars. Gift of C. Ruxton Love Jr., 1967.

Jesus was onto their little ruse, of course, so he asked for a coin to study.

They brought one to him and he said to them, “Whose image and inscription is this?” They replied to him, “Caesar’s.” So Jesus said to them, “Repay to Caesar what belongs to Caesar and to God what belongs to God.” They were utterly amazed at him. -Matthew 12:16-17

These savvy, sophisticated men were "utterly amazed." Jesus' logic accounts for everything: both the necessity of law and the supreme good of worship.

St. Paul emphasizes Jesus' teaching when he writes to the Romans:

Pay to all their dues, taxes to whom taxes are due, toll to whom toll is due, respect to whom respect is due, honor to whom honor is due. Owe nothing to anyone, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.  -Romans 13:7-8

Love fulfills the law. 

What a marvelous lesson to contemplate, and to teach to our children! Rules are important, but even better than slavish devotion to the law is LOVE.

Pope Francis' official announcement of the Jubilee Year of Mercy is the Bull of Indiction Misericordiae Vultus. In this truly beautiful document, he highlights our Christian duty to go beyond the law.

For his part, Jesus speaks several times of the importance of faith over and above the observance of the law. It is in this sense that we must understand his words when, reclining at table with Matthew and other tax collectors and sinners, he says to the Pharisees raising objections to him, “Go and learn the meaning of ‘I desire mercy not sacrifice’. I have come not to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mt 9:13). Faced with a vision of justice as the mere observance of the law that judges people simply by dividing them into two groups – the just and sinners – Jesus is bent on revealing the great gift of mercy that searches out sinners and offers them pardon and salvation. One can see why, on the basis of such a liberating vision of mercy as a source of new life, Jesus was rejected by the Pharisees and the other teachers of the law. In an attempt to remain faithful to the law, they merely placed burdens on the shoulders of others and undermined the Father’s mercy. The appeal to a faithful observance of the law must not prevent attention from being given to matters that touch upon the dignity of the person.

The appeal Jesus makes to the text from the book of the prophet Hosea – “I desire love and not sacrifice” (6:6) – is important in this regard. Jesus affirms that, from that time onward, the rule of life for his disciples must place mercy at the centre, as Jesus himself demonstrated by sharing meals with sinners. Mercy, once again, is revealed as a fundamental aspect of Jesus’ mission. This is truly challenging to his hearers, who would draw the line at a formal respect for the law. Jesus, on the other hand, goes beyond the law; the company he keeps with those the law considers sinners makes us realize the depth of his mercy.

Jesus calls us to generous, attentive, self-effacing love. Christians live "beyond the law" not like vigilantes or tyrants, but as lovers. The law "Thou shall not kill" almost doesn't make sense to lovers who have not the least temptation to harm their neighbors.

The trick is loving much and loving well.

And the only way to acquire more love is to ask for it. That's where prayer comes in, begging God to make us better lovers. This kind of prayer pleases God--who IS love (1 John 4:8)--especially when we ask for help to love those who make loving so difficult.

Pope Francis' universal prayer intention this month is "Politics: That political responsibility may be lived at all levels as a high form of charity." The Apostleship of Prayer children's ministry provides a reflection and activity to help children and the adults who care for them consider the relationship between love and the law.

Spend some time in the summer sun with our reflection and activity (pasted below), and let us know how it goes. Thank you for praying with us!