Today’s reading from the Book of Deuteronomy challenges us to look beyond the law. This may seem to be a contradiction inasmuch as the name of the book is taken from the Greek for law.
When the lawyers of that famous television program “Law and Order” sit down to discuss the law in a hearing or at a meeting of opposing attorneys, the phrase “black letter law” is sometimes used in their conversations. This phrase refers to the fact that the law is written in black ink on white paper. The law tends to be specific and limited by the language that is used. God’s law is not “black letter law.” God’s law asks us to look beyond the words to the intention of the law giver. Today, the sacred author uses one of the laws to speak of one’s attitude. He cites the law of circumcision and insists on circumcision of their hearts rather than physical circumcision.
The physical circumcision of all male Israelites identifies them as God’s chosen people. However, those who have failed to circumcise their hearts have completely missed the intention of the law giver. They are to be justice and merciful to the widow and the orphan, and they are to befriend, clothe and feed the aliens in their midst. God’s justice is defined by mercy and compassion. The heart of the Law is Love, both love of God and love of neighbor.
To make this point, God has deliberately chosen the smallest race. When they were forced to go to Egypt, there were only seventy of them. God chooses the weak and make them strong, chooses the smallest and makes them the greatest, chooses the poor and enriches them. God does this to make a point. As the reading further says, “Think! The heavens, even the highest heavens, belong to the LORD, your God, as well as the earth and everything on it. Yet in his love for your ancestors the LORD was so attached to them as to choose you, their descendants, in preference to all other peoples, as indeed he has now done.” It is God’s doing, not ours. It is God’s action, not ours. It is God’s choice, not ours that matters.
As we come to the altar today, we do so aware of the fact that we have been chosen. We did not choose God; God chose us. A grateful heart that shares God’s mercy and compassion is the only way to respond to such a gift.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator