Friday of the 5th Week of Pascha. Grace and Truth Supersede the Law
For the law was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ. John 1:17 (From the Gospel at the Divine Liturgy on Pascha)
Christ is Risen!
I remember from my college days that I was a really good test-taker. I had this system that I called “read, retain, regurgitate, release.” I would read the information, retain it in my brain, regurgitate it for the exam, and then it was released from my brain as the words were written by my pen. There were many times that I felt I held the information in my brain only long enough to take the test. If I took the exam three hours later, I might have failed it.
Now that I’m much older and have more life experience, I realize that while I was a good test-taker, I wasn’t necessarily a good learner. I “learned” many times for the test and not for the love or desire to learn them. Now, well on the other side of college, I wish that I had been more focused on learning and retaining rather than just focused on the grade. (As an aside, this is not an indictment of our educational system, or my alma mater, so please do not read it that way).
It seems that the children of Israel had the same problem when it came to learning how to be God’s people. God, through Moses, gave the Law to His people, a “syllabus” if you will on how to live. The Law had so many fine points, 613 of them to be exact, that no one could learn and live by all of them. Jesus would tell His followers in John 8:32, “You will know the truth, and the truth shall set you free.” The Law, while certainly not false, did not set the people free. If anything, it imprisoned them. No one could remember, let alone keep, the 613 commandments.
Christ came in order to give us freedom. He brought grace and truth. He brought grace because grace fills what is lacking. He brought truth, because through Him, we are set free. The Law was focused on checking boxes-do this, don’t do this. The Law was focused on the individual checking his own boxes. Grace and truth are focused on love, and love is not an individual thing. Love involves others. Love is taking from oneself and projecting onto someone else. Loving someone involves sharing time, offering help, offering forgiveness, offering patience, taking things that we have and offering them to someone else.
The Law was an important and necessary precursor to the grace and truth of Jesus Christ. Without the Law, there would have been no order. Without order, there would be chaos. Where there is chaos there is fear. Where there is fear there cannot be love (1 John 4:18). The purpose of order is not merely to have order, but to set the stage so that grace and truth could shine forth. The purpose of order is to cast out fear so that love can abide.
The purpose of law in modern society is to provide order and not promote chaos. The law says that I cannot harm my neighbor, or steal from my neighbor, or take over my neighbor’s house or trespass at his table. The law doesn’t tell me to love my neighbor. It only tells me not to hurt my neighbor. If I hurt my neighbor, I will be punished. There is no reward for loving my neighbor. However, many times when we are not hurting our neighbor, our motivation is self-serving. It is because we don’t want to get in trouble.
With the Law as a foundation, Christ came to supersede the Law, to take us from a level of “goodness” to a level of “godliness.” The motivation to do or not to do things, in the eyes of God, is no longer based on a fear of punishment, but a motivation to love one another.
College should foster a desire not only to test well, but also to learn. I should have, in hindsight, focused on being a better student (learning) than just being a great test taker. The focus of the Church and of the Christian message is not memorization of Bible verses and prayers. It is not avoidance of punishment and hell. The focus of the Christian message is on love for God, and love for one another. It is not on the avoidance of hell, but on the attainment of heaven. It is also not on the individual and his achievement, because our achievement as individuals is tied around our achievement as communities, and how much and how well we encourage love in our community. The law indeed makes communities safer, and makes for a good community. The grace and truth that came through Jesus Christ are what makes for a Godly community. There are differences between worshipping order and worshipping Christ. There is a crucial difference between a “good” life on earth and thriving in eternal life after our life on earth is over.
Jesus says in Matthew 5:17, “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them.” Saint Paul writes in Romans 13:10 “Love does no wrong to a neighbor; therefore love is the fulfilling of the law. “In Galatians 5: 14, he writes, “For the whole law is fulfilled in one word, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” As Christians, we follow the laws of our country, but in order to find Christ, we need to make sure that we are not only obedient to the law of man, but that we learn to love the grace and truth of Christ.
The feast according to the Law at its midpoint, O Christ our God, as the Creator and Master of everything, You said to all those who were present there, “Come that you might draw from Me the water of immortality.” Hence with faith we cry to You as we prostrate before You. Your tender mercies grant to us, we pray. You are the fountain and source of our life, O Lord. (Kontakion, Feast of Mid-Pentecost, Trans. by Fr. Seraphim Dedes)
Don’t be content with being good today. Be Godly today!
~Father Stavros N. Akrotirianakis, THE ROAD BACK TO CHRIST: REFLECTIONS on LENT, HOLY WEEK and the RESURRECTION