TRADITIO LEGIS

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Detail from an early Christian sarcophagus in the Vatican Museum showing the “traditio legis”, Christ handing on the New Law to Saint Peter

A few days ago I wrote about an experience I received after having coffee one morning with a friend.  My friend and I had engaged in a veritable feast of Christian Midrash[1] expurgating[2] and exegeting[3] to our hearts content burrowing our way through the twists and turns of the tunnels of high theology.  But what struck me to the heart that day was not the fine theological discourses of our conversations but rather the simple sight of young children riding on a train and singing the venerable old song “Yes, Jesus loves me”.  It literally called to mind the scripture in which Jesus tells his disciples to “suffer the little children to come unto me for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven.”  Only by becoming a loving, trusting child and accepting God’s love do we enter the kingdom. Yes, I realized that day Jesus loves me no matter how sinful and wretched I may be and no matter how much, or how little, of the law I know.  As Saint Paul notes in his epistle to the Church of Rome – what is hard is not determining if God loves us but bringing ourselves to realize that he does and allowing ourselves to love him back.  This is hard because we are fallen and broken and to react with fear, suspicion and hate is much more natural and intuitive than to recognize the love in others and ourselves. God will not force us to love him but he will forever seek to have us do so and welcome us with loving open arms when we do. If there ws ever a “rule” we should always seek to follow it is to literally move ourselves to love God by whatever means necessary. This is hard, but it something which we  must do with God’s help.  We must see everything in our life through God’s love for us and then we will begin to truly love one another and that is the essence of loving God.

As a lawyer I know how easy it is to become caught up in the “technicalities of the law” and to “love the law” all the while forgetting to love what the law is trying to accomplish.  May we always be moved to seek out the love of  God when we try and apply the rules in our own attempts at Midrash.

Of final note:  Father David points to something which I have found, of late, to have truly revolutionized my entire understanding and approach to scripture and that is the intimate connection between Moses, the law giver, and Jesus, the law fulfiller, who as shown in the art work above hands down the law to Saint Peter as a symbol of its repose in Holy Church this being known as the “Traditio Legis”. [4]

The Daily Devotion of June 16, 2016 published by the Living Church Foundation:

A Reading from Saint Paul’s Epistle to the Romans 2:12-24

All who have sinned apart from the law will also perish apart from the law, and all who have sinned under the law will be judged by the law. 13For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified. 14When Gentiles, who do not possess the law, do instinctively what the law requires, these, though not having the law, are a law to themselves. 15They show that what the law requires is written on their hearts, to which their own conscience also bears witness; and their conflicting thoughts will accuse or perhaps excuse them 16on the day when, according to my gospel, God, through Jesus Christ, will judge the secret thoughts of all.17But if you call yourself a Jew and rely on the law and boast of your relation to God 18and know his will and determine what is best because you are instructed in the law, 19and if you are sure that you are a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness, 20a corrector of the foolish, a teacher of children, having in the law the embodiment of knowledge and truth, 21you, then, that teach others, will you not teach yourself? While you preach against stealing, do you steal? 22You that forbid adultery, do you commit adultery? You that abhor idols, do you rob temples? 23You that boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law? 24For, as it is written, “The name of God is blasphemed among the Gentiles because of you.”

Doing the Law

Daily Devotional • June 16

By the Rev. David Baumann

After having pulled no punches in describing the wicked and ungodly, Paul moves his focus to what it means to know and follow God. He’s already acknowledged the difference between Jews and Gentiles several times — Jews are first to have the gospel preached to them and are the first to be judged if they fail to please God.

Now, Paul contrasts those who “have the law” and those who don’t have it — the law being God’s revelation to the Jews. He moves to a profound insight into what is pleasing to God by asserting that it is those who “do the law” who are justified, whether they are aware of the law (Jews) or not (Gentiles). Paul goes on to affirm that the law is “the embodiment of knowledge and truth,” and those who, because of it, “know his will” have a responsibility to be “a guide to the blind, a light to those who are in darkness,” and so forth.

Knowing the law is not enough: “You that boast in the law, do you dishonor God by breaking the law?” Well, the answer for us is “yes” — a humble, sorrowful, but truthful yes. Hopefully not always, not habitually, certainly not hypocritically, but because we are human and fallen. Redeemed we may be, but we’re not without sin. And isn’t that where Paul is leading us in this letter?

Notes:

[1] Midrash is a method of interpreting biblical stories that goes beyond simple distillation of religious, legal, or moral teachings. It fills in gaps left in the biblical narrative regarding events and personalities that are only hinted at.

[2] From the word exegesis meaning : To remove erroneous, vulgar, obscene, or otherwise objectionable material from (a book, for example) before … In this case shifting through the sands to find the meat of the message and not being distracted by meaningless surplusage.

[3] From the word exegesis meaning:  “a critical explanation or interpretation of a text, especially of scripture.”

[4] Christ gives the Law – “The Law of the Gospel fulfills the commandments of the Law. The Lord’s Sermon on the Mount, far from abolishing or devaluing the moral prescriptions of the Old Law, releases their hidden potential and has new demands arise from them: it reveals their entire divine and human truth. It does not add new external precepts, but proceeds to reform the heart, the root of human acts, where man chooses between the pure and the impure, where faith, hope, and charity are formed and with them the other virtues. The Gospel thus brings the Law to its fullness through imitation of the perfection of the heavenly Father, through forgiveness of enemies and prayer for persecutors, in emulation of the divine generosity” – Catechism of the Catholic Church, §1968.

 

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