Sunday, February 16, 2014

A Little Something Extra...Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time

The Wonders of the Law

Our Responsorial Psalm today comes from Psalm 119, which is the longest of the psalms, with a whopping 176 verses. The psalm proclaims the glory and wonders of God's law, and the psalmist begs God to teach him the law and help him observe it faithfully, fully, and lovingly. The psalmist recognizes that the law is a great gift from God, something that is to be treasured and revered, something that can bring great happiness.

We don't normally think of law as having these characteristics. For most Americans, law is often an annoyance or a necessary evil, something that keeps order but is usually undesirable and in the way. Even the moral law, which we know to be good and true and beautiful, can seem like a checklist of does and don'ts that we have to follow...or else. 

This psalm invites us to reexamine our ideas about law. The psalmist is speaking about the law of the Old Testament, which Jesus fulfilled and brought to a higher level (see today's Gospel, Matthew 5:17-37). Today, God gives Christians His law of love, and He expects us to keep it. Rather than being a burden, this law is a wonderful gift.

Let's take a look at what today's psalm has to say.

Blessed are they whose way is blameless,
who walk in the law of the LORD.
Blessed are they who observe His decrees,
who seek Him with all their heart. 

The law of the Lord is a sure path. Those who walk on that path are blessed and happy. Those who keep God's decrees and seek Him with their whole heart are also blessed and happy. So the law brings happiness because it puts people in a right relationship with God. It draws them closer to Him. It places them on the path that He has set for them. God knows us better than we know ourselves. He surely knows what is best for us, and He has expressed it in His law, His moral code. Our job is to follow that law and grasp the happiness God offers.

You have commanded that Your precepts
be diligently kept.
Oh, that I might be firm in the ways
of keeping Your statutes! 

The psalmist now addresses God directly. He remembers that God has commanded His people to diligently keep the law, but he seems to realize that he cannot do this without God's help. He pleads, therefore, that he might be firm in his commitment. We, too, must ask God for the grace we need to follow the law, to make good moral choices, and to act in the way God wants us to act. He is more than ready to give us all the help we need.

Be good to Your servant, that I may live
and keep Your words.
Open my eyes, that I may consider
the wonders of Your law. 

The psalmist continues by begging again for God's grace. He asks God to be good to him. The Hebrew word here is actually quite a bit stronger, something like “deal bountifully with.” The psalmist wants God to shower him with goodness. Why? So that he may live and keep God's words or law. Notice how life and law are connected here. For the psalmist, real living seems to mean keeping the law. He also begs God to open his eyes so that he can see the wonders of the law. Sometimes this is difficult, especially when our human nature rebels and we start to think that the law is rather a pain because it doesn't let us do what we want. The psalmist asks God for the proper perspective so that he can recognize the law as the amazing gift that it really is.

Instruct me, O LORD, in the way of Your statutes,
that I may exactly observe them.
Give me discernment, that I may observe Your law
and keep it with all my heart.

The psalmist realizes that he needs God to teach him the way of the law. Only then will he be able to exactly observe God's statutes. Pay special attention to the word “exactly.” The psalmist doesn't want to fudge his way through life, obeying only the parts of God's law that he likes or that fit into his lifestyle. He wants to keep the law exactly, in all its parts, as it is according to God's will. The psalmist further asks for discernment. He wants to see all the way to the depths of the law. He wants to consider its intricacy and beauty. Notice, too, that the psalmist makes a distinction between observing the law and keeping it with his whole heart. He does not want his obedience to be merely an external checklist of things he must do or must not do. For him, the law is something that reaches into his deepest being, to his very center. His obedience must come from his heart, touched by God's love and opening out to embrace God's law. 

Take a few moments today to reflect on your attitude toward God's law, and pray this psalm throughout the week that you might better appreciate this great gift that God lavishes on His people

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