Ave Maria! “God gave it
to Abraham by promise. Why then was the Law?”
“God gave it to Abraham by promise. Why then was the Law?”
One of the difficult things to understand in Saint Paul's writings is the apparent conflict between the Law of Moses and new dispensation of Jesus Christ. Sometimes, Saint Paul seems to be speaking as though the old law was a source of sin and something utterly to be discarded by Christians; but then we also hear our Lord speaking words like “I have come not to abolish the Law but to fulfill it.” or “Not one jot or one tittle may be omitted from the Law.” (“Jots” and “tittles” are the Hebrew equivalents of the dot on the letter “I” or the cross on a “T.”)
In order to resolve this seeming conflict, we must reflect on the purposes that the Law of Moses served before the coming of Jesus Christ. In fact the Law of the Old Testament served three major purposes:
So then, the first purpose of the Law will never pass away. There will always be a need for men to know what is good and what is evil; to do what is good and to avoid what is evil.
But, clearly, those rituals of the Old Law that were simply externals, to mark the Jews as Jews, are no longer necessary since the coming of Christ; things like circumcision, or not shaving one's beard, or refraining from certain foods. They are no longer needed because they served only to set God's people apart from the other nations—whereas the Kingdom of Christ transcends national or racial boundaries. And, likewise, those prescriptions of the Old Law that prepared people for the coming of Christ are no longer necessary, because Christ has come. (Indeed, practicing them would be to deny that the Savior has come to His people.)
And, while it is still an obvious necessity for us to pray and fast and abstain and do good works in order to mitigate the punishment due to our sins, we no longer seek forgiveness and the increase of grace in vague and impersonal rituals of the community. Our Lord has given us the Sacraments, so that we can increase in holiness in a one on one, personal relationship with our God.
Just as He sent each of the lepers in today's Gospel to present themselves to the priests to certify their cure, He sends us to their Christian counterparts to have our sins forgiven and to be nourished by His body and blood in Confession and Holy Communion. He sends us to His priests for the forgiveness of original sin in Baptism, to receive the Holy Ghost in Confirmation, and to be prepared for our end with Extreme Unction.
The New Law, then, is one in greater measure, of personal holiness. Rather than encountering God as a people, we meet Him face to face in His Sacraments and in the priesthood of His New Law.
In brief we can say that the essential features of the Law of God are not taken away, and not even really changed; but rather that are fulfilled in the coming of Christ, in His Sacrifice on the Cross, and grace of His Sacraments.
One thing is left to be mentioned. Just as these ten lepers—whose leprosy simply represents the sinful state of mankind—were sent to the priests for forgiveness and grace, so we too are sent. And we are sent often to receive the graces of Confession and Holy Communion. So let us take pains to receive both of these Sacraments frequently.
And it goes without saying that we must be like the one, rather than the other nine. Lest we seem ungrateful for all the good things He has done for us, let us never forget to return and give thanks to our Lord Jesus Christ.