Rules Aren’t Oppressive, They Make You Free; Jesus Completes God's Kingdom Program, Which is Lived Here and Now (Lenten Scriptural Commentary #22)
by Erik Ritland
"If God revealed Himself to a group of people, as the Jewish people claimed, wouldn’t He guide them how to live? If He did, isn’t it beneficial to pay attention to it, to heed it? Wouldn’t following God’s law be the most liberating thing you could do? Wouldn’t it make you truly free?"
Fully Alive’s Lenten Scriptural Commentary helps Christians get more out of Lent by taking God’s word seriously.
Mostly avoiding personal stories and anecdotes, our commentary dives deeply into the scripture readings for each day and applies them to the broader context of Lent. We use the daily Mass readings from the Catholic lectionary.
If possible, read each passage slowly, taking in each word. If you find that you’ve hurried through a reading, read it over a few more times. Let the words reverberate in your heart. After you’ve let it sink in, read our Lenten Scriptural Commentary.
Wednesday of the Third Week of Lent
God chooses Israel, and His care and intimacy with them is shown by how He guides them to live. Jesus doesn’t abolish what God revealed to Moses, He fulfills it, brings it to its conclusion.
Readings: Dt 4:1, 5-9/Mt 5:17-19
Click here to read the complete text from the USCCB website
Moses spoke to the people and said:
"Now, Israel, hear the statutes and decrees
which I am teaching you to observe,
that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land
which the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you.
Therefore, I teach you the statutes and decrees
as the LORD, my God, has commanded me,
that you may observe them in the land you are entering to occupy.
Observe them carefully,
for thus will you give evidence
of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations,
who will hear of all these statutes and say,
'This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.'
For what great nation is there
that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us
whenever we call upon him?
Or what great nation has statutes and decrees
that are as just as this whole law
which I am setting before you today?
(cf. Dt 4:1, 5-9)
“Hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe, that you may live...”
Rules often get a bum rap. As rebellious, individualistic Americans, we tend to want to break the rules, to push back against them.
Sometimes rules are unfair and need to be challenged, but for the most part, they are the glue that keeps life together.
As Bishop Robert Barron often says, imagine how sports would work without any rules. The only way any game can be played well and fairly is if we follow the rules. The same goes for a healthy work environment, a healthy home, and healthy social environments.
There are certain degrees of malleability depending on the circumstance, but without rules, there would be chaos. We need rules perhaps more than anything else to survive well.
If God revealed Himself to a group of people, as the Jewish people claimed, wouldn’t He guide them how to live? If He did, isn’t it beneficial to pay attention to it, to heed it?
Wouldn’t following God’s law be the most liberating thing you could do? Wouldn’t it make you truly free?
Jesus said to his disciples:
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets.
I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.
Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away,
not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter
will pass from the law,
until all things have taken place.
(cf. Mt 5: 17-19)
Yesterday, I mentioned New Testament scholar N.T. Wright, and how he rightly emphasizes that Jesus ushered in God’s Kingdom with His life, death, and resurrection. His Kingdom is now, not just something in the future. These words of Jesus only make sense in that context.
Jesus’ Kingdom is not abolishing what God revealed in the Old Testament, but fulfilling it. Since Jesus is God in the flesh, God fully revealed to us, His teachings bring to fruition what was hinted at in the old law. The entire Sermon on the Mount, which this passage is taken from, is the foundation of His Kingdom paradigm, of what His Kingdom looks like.
Jesus’ teachings complete what began at Sinai. His life, death, and resurrection complete God’s work with humanity that began with Adam. We are now called to live as members of Christ’s Kingdom, which is God’s Kingdom, which is on earth in the here and now.
Erik Ritland is a writer and musician. The founder of Fully Alive Christian Media, he also created The Minnesota Sport Ramble and is a writer and copy editor for Music in Minnesota. He was Lead Staff Writer for Minnesota culture blogs Curious North and Hometown Hustle. Reach him via email.
Erik Ritland received his MA in Theology in 2017. He's the founder and content manager of Fully Alive Christian Media and Rambling On, copy editor and writer for Music in Minnesota, and an acclaimed songwriter.