Interpreting the Law

How must we interpret this law of God?  How, if not by love? The love that stamps the precepts of right-living on the mind and bids us put them into practice. Listen to Truth speaking of this law: “This is my commandment, that you love one another.”  Listen to Paul:  “The whole law,” he declares, “is summed up in love”; and again: “Help one another in your troubles, and you will fulfill the law of Christ.” the law of Christ–does anything other than love more fittingly describe it?  Truly we are keeping this law when, out of love, we go to the help of a brother or sister in trouble.

But we are told that this law is manifold.  Why?  Because love’s lively concern for others is reflected in all the virtues.  It begins with two commands, but soon embraces many more.  Paul gives a good summary of its various aspects.  “Love is patient,” he says, “and kind; it is never jealous or conceited; its conduct is blameless; it is not ambitious, not selfish, not quick to take offense; it harbors no evil thoughts, does not gloat over other people’s sins, but is gladdened by an upright life.” Moral Reflections on Job by Gregory the Great.

I ran across this passage earlier this week in the Readings for the Daily Office from the Early Church. St. Gregory makes a number of powerful observations that help us understand Holy Scripture.  Principally, he enjoins us to read the Torah (the Law) through the lens of love.  Jesus taught that all of the law and all of the prophets hung on the commandments to love God and love our neighbors. Matt. 22:40.

In Jesus’ day (just as in ours), some argued that the scriptures should be read as an exclusionary document.  Thus, many (lepers, those with physical infirmities, women, and outsiders) were excluded from the Temple.  Jesus asked the Pharisees, “What have you done to help them inside?” Through acts of love and mercy, Jesus brought many back within the circle of faith.  The Pharisees used the scriptures as a club to beat people away from the gates of the church.  Jesus, interpreting the scriptures through the template of love, showed us how to welcome God’s children back home.

We see this same tension played out in the book of Job.  Job endures calamity upon catastrophe without blaming God for what’s happened to him.  His three “friends” (Eliphaz, Bildad, and Zophar) arrive to convince him that God always punishes evil and rewards good, so somehow, Job must’ve sinned. Job’s friends do have a superficial understanding of the scriptures; they just don’t understand much about love, or God for that matter.  (A very good friend of mine observes that Job’s friends did everything right: until they open their mouths.)

Those who follow Christ know that all scripture, the Old Testament and the New, must be read with eyes of love. If we love God and His children, we cannot leave those in need behind.  And once we recognize that love provides the Rosetta Stone by which we interpret all the teachings of Scripture, we find ourselves compelled to love more broadly and more deeply.  We find ourselves breathing in a climate of grace, and we begin to  learn the language of blessing.

God watch over thee and me,

James R. Dennis, O.P.

© 2012 James R. Dennis

13 responses to “Interpreting the Law

  1. so beautifully taught and so beautifully written, thank you

  2. I agree, Brother. Beautifully written.

  3. I always gain some gift from your writings, my brother, but never more than today. I know we are called to love all…in my head. Sadly it has not always managed to find its way to my heart yet. And then today’s writing: “Those who follow Christ know that all scripture, the Old Testament and the New, must be read with eyes of love. If we love God and His children, we cannot leave those in need behind. And once we recognize that love provides the Rosetta Stone by which we interpret all the teachings of Scripture, we find ourselves compelled to love more broadly and more deeply. We find ourselves breathing in a climate of grace, and we begin to learn the language of blessing.” It says we should not leave those in need behind; we should not leave behind those who are outside the bounds of our personal forgiveness; or any of the other things I, at least, can find myself rationalizing. It says NO ONE should be left behind. Please God, open my eyes to see where I have done that very thing and then show me how and where to go back and take their hands to welcome them in.

    • Dear Barbara,

      I’m so glad you found something in the piece to use. I think you’re exactly right: In the Gospel, nobody gets left behind. On several occasions, Jesus said exactly that. I join you in your prayer that God open our eyes to those we’ve omitted, those we’ve marginalized.

      Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a poor sinner.

      Br. James

  4. Thank you so much for this post Brother James. You never fail to impart wisdom to your readers. Love conquers all. God blesses.

  5. What a blessing you’ve given us with this one, Bro. James. Kind of puts all the parts in their appropriate place. Blessings good friend.

  6. Pingback: Interpreting the Law by James R. Dennis | Resting in His Grace

  7. Oh yes! More to chew on for another day.
    Thanks and blessings,
    Carole

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