REJOICING IN GOD’S LAW – Third Sunday in Lent, Year B

March 3, 2024

Revised Common Lectionary
Exodus 20:1-17
Psalm 19
1 Corinthians 1:18-25
John 2:13-22

Lectionary for Mass (RC)
Exodus 20:1-3 (4-6) 7-8 (9-11) 12-17
Psalm 19:8, 9, 10, 11 (Jn 6:68c)
1 Corinthians 1:22-25
John 2:13-25

At the end of each day, my husband and I often sit down to watch television before heading to bed. Lately we’ve been viewing episodes of a 1970s police drama called Adam 12. The show was clearly written, at least in part, in response to widespread mistrust of law enforcement after the social upheaval of the 1960s. The two main characters, Officers Malloy and Reed, are often met with hostility and suspicion, but they cheerfully go about their duties in the belief that the law is a positive force for society.

Today’s reading from the book of Exodus presents the Ten Commandments that God gave Moses. These words were an integral part of the covenant that God made with the people at Sinai after they had been delivered from slavery in Egypt. The commandments were engraved on stone tablets and then kept in the Ark of the Covenant, a physical sign of God’s continuing presence. This Law, however, is quite different from the kind of law enforced by Officers Malloy and Reed—and invites a very different kind of response.

When Jews speak of the “Law,” they are referring not to a list of commandments, but to the entire Torah, encompassing the first five books of the Bible. The Law, the Torah, is the story of God’s faithful and merciful love for an often-unfaithful nation. To live by God’s Law is not simply a matter of keeping a set of rules but rather of living into this love story. The “Law” is far less about rule keeping than it is about living in right relationship with God and others.

Psalm 19, which follows today’s reading from Exodus, speaks of the Law not as a burden, but rather a gift from God. The law of the Lord is “perfect,” “sure,” “right,” “clear,” “pure,” and “true.” Today’s Psalm is a joyful celebration of God’s law, which renews our life, makes wise the simple, brings joy to the heart, enlightens the eyes, and endures forever (see Ps 19:7-10). This Law is not merely a set of rules but a way of orienting one’s life by aligning one’s actions with God’s dream for the world.

When Jesus was asked to identify the greatest of all the commandments, he famously named two: love of God and love of neighbor—a brilliant summation of the commandments we hear in today’s reading from Exodus. The teaching of Jesus is completely consistent with the Law that Moses received. The first few commandments spell out ways in which Israel is to love God: no foreign gods, no idols, faithful observance of the Sabbath. The remaining precepts concern love of neighbor: honoring parents, no killing, no adultery, no stealing, no lying, no coveting. In the Sinai covenant, the Holy not only claims this people as God’s own but also shows them the way to life.

Jesus had a complicated relationship with the Law. Many religious leaders viewed him as a violator; for example, by healing on the Sabbath. Yet he himself proclaimed, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill” (Mt 5:17). Jesus sharply criticized those who were mired in the smallest points of the Law and advocated strict observance yet failed to turn their hearts to God or truly to care for others. He taught that true fidelity to the Sinai covenant is determined not by checklists but by wholehearted devotion to God and God’s ways.

God’s covenant with Moses and the people of Israel is irrevocable, but in Christ God has made a new covenant that embraces the entire human family. We become sharers in that covenant through baptism into the dying and rising of Jesus. As the community of believers makes the Lenten journey with candidates for baptism and as we all prepare to renew the promises of our own baptism, we are invited to reflect on how to live out that covenant each day—by joyfully embracing the law of love, keeping God at the center of our lives and treating others with dignity and respect.

A Hymn for Today: “God’s glory fills the heavens”

This metrical paraphrase of Psalm 19 by Carl P. Daw, Jr., FHS, follows the structure of the Biblical psalm. Its three stanzas give praise for God’s gifts of creation and Torah (Law), followed by our response to these blessings. When paired with Haydn’s tune from The Creation, it is imbued with the exuberance that people can experience when they see the hand of God in all created things, a goodness that is also revealed in the gift of Torah. Listen here.

God’s glory fills the heavens with hymns;
the domed sky bears the Maker’s mark;
new praises sound from day to day
and echo through the knowing dark.
Without a word their songs roll on;
into all lands their voices run.
And with a champion’s strength and grace
from farthest heaven comes forth the sun.

God’s perfect law revives the soul;
its precepts make the simple wise;
its just commands rejoice the heart;
its truth gives light unto the eyes.
Forever shall this law endure:
unblemished, righteous, true, complete.
No gold was ever found so fine,
no honey in the comb more sweet.

God’s servant may I ever be:
this world my joy, that word my guide.
O cleanse me, Lord, from secret sin:
deliver me from selfish pride.
Accept my thoughts and words and deeds:
let them find favor in your sight.
For you alone can make me whole,
O Lord, my refuge and my might.

Text: Carl P. Daw, Jr., b. 1944. © 1989, Hope Publishing Company. Used by permission under OneLicense #A-729857.

Image Credit: Ten Commandments, illustrative wood relief carving, from a Catholic church in Paszym, Poland

“Word and Song: A Lectionary Reflection” is written by the Executive Director of The Hymn Society, Rev. Dr. Mike McMahon. For his full bio, click here and scroll down to the “staff” section.

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