Jude, perhaps the relative of Jesus and James (not James the apostle!), writes some words of exhortation in today’s first reading. He calls on his hearers to build themselves up in the faith, and show that by extending mercy and correction to sinners. All of this is a development, of course, of the Law, in the spirit of the Gospel. In today’s Gospel, Jesus tangles with the keepers of the Law again, those chief priests, scribes and elders who were more zealous for the Law’s minutiae than for actually keeping its spirit. It’s a problem that developed over time for the Jews: those who kept the law, they felt, are chosen and blessed by God and are indeed God’s chosen people. So much of the Old Testament is devoted to the Law: the giving of it, the interpretation of it, singing the praises of it, and well, the breaking of it. If the Scriptures show us anything, they show us how our ancestors in faith were people who fell short of keeping the law – wonderful as it was – time and time again.
But did that lack of faithfulness remove from them the great promises of God? No, of course not. God intervened in history often to bring his people back and to help them to realize that the Law was for their benefit and helped them to become a holy nation, a people set apart. God in justice could certainly have turned his back on them, but in his mercy, God didn’t.
Instead, in the fullness of time, God sent his only Son to be our Redeemer. He paid the price we so richly deserved for our lack of faithfulness. His death not only paid the price but also freed God’s people from the bonds of the Law if they would but believe in Jesus Christ. That’s why Jesus chose not to quarrel with the chief priests, the elders and the scribes in today’s Gospel reading. He knew that keeping the Law was something that could only be accomplished by God’s mercy, and they refused to acknowledge that. So they would never come to believe in the Gospel he was preaching.
But we do. And we are invited to renew our love for God’s Law. Yes, we have been delivered from it, but that Law is still the joy of our hearts. Because following God’s ways leads us to his truth, and his truth leads us to his salvation. That is why we can rejoice with the Psalmist today by saying, My soul is thirsting for you, O Lord my God.