BEFORE THE CROSS | God’s Law is fulfilled when we act on Jesus’ teachings

Before the Cross - Archbishop Robert J. Carlson's Column

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We have a rare treat this week: we read from Psalm 119.

Why is that such a big deal? Because we don't get to do it often, and because of the nature of Psalm 119. It is — by far — the longest Psalm: 176 verses divided into 22 sections, one for each letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Each section is 8 verses long, and begins with the same Hebrew letter. Each verse contains a word that somehow designates God's Law.

Father Laurence Kriegshauser — a Benedictine monk who teaches at Kenrick-Glennon Seminary and has written a book on the Psalms — states this about Psalm 119: "The psalmist circles around his theme, with the Law always in the center, gradually revealing a profound network of relationships with the Law and with God through the Law. ... The psalmist moves freely between lament and praise, past and future, longing and fulfillment, young and old, just and wicked, turning away and turning toward, positive and negative, love and hate, gradually revealing a rich tapestry of the myriad relationships between man and God."

Why should that matter to us?

First, because the perfect speaker of Psalm 119 is Christ. He perfectly drew every aspect of His life into relationship with the Father through the law. In that sense, Psalm 119 foreshadows Christ's life, and His life fulfills Psalm 119. In the Gospel on Wednesday, when Jesus says that He has come not to abolish but to fulfill the law, His relation to Psalm 119 helps us understand what He means.

Second, because the intended speaker of Psalm 119 isn't Christ alone but us, too. Psalm 119 challenges us to make a comprehensive review of our lives: A to Z; past, present and future; in good times and in bad — do we fulfill the law the way Jesus did?

Of course not. If we read Psalm 119 only in terms of our attempt to follow Jesus by our own efforts, the only just verdict is that we've failed. But if we also read Psalm 119 as an expression of Jesus' desire to live His obedience in us, and our desire to live in Him by grace, then our lives become a work in progress rather than a failure and Psalm 119 becomes a road map.

This week, we read from the Sermon on the Mount. Jesus goes up the mountain, like Moses. His intention is to bring the old law to fulfillment. Six times He says: "You have heard that it was said ... but I say to you." Each time He challenges us to live the law more deeply.

But why does He stop at six? The perfect biblical number is seven. Shouldn't He have given seven such reflections if He meant to bring the law to fulfillment?

If He thought the law could be perfected solely by His instruction, yes. But He knew that the law would only be perfected when we took His teaching and put it into practice. So he stopped at six. The seventh and perfect instruction is when we live what He taught.

May Christ live Psalm 119 in each of our lives! 

Recommended Reading: "Praying the Psalms in Christ," Father Laurence

Kriegshauser, OSB, University of Notre Dame Press, 2009. 

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