Wednesday of Week 3 of Lent – First Reading

Commentary on Deuteronomy 4:1,5-9

Moses reminds the Israelites of the great treasure they have in their laws and customs, a treasure full of “wisdom and discernment”. These laws are life-giving and will bring the people closer to their God:

For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him? And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today?

Other Jewish traditions from this period often emphasise the distance between God and man, indicated by the reluctance even to utter the name of God (as we see even in Matthew’s Gospel).

However, Deuteronomy calls attention to the loving intimacy between God and the people among whom he lives. His enduring presence was symbolised by the tabernacle and the Ark of the Covenant in the centre of the Israelites’ camp, and by the pillar of cloud by day and the pillar of fire by night, which indicated God’s accompanying presence with his people at all times.

It will find its supreme expression, however, in the Incarnation, when the Word of God “became flesh and lived among us” as one of us – a concept many devout Jews would find very hard to accept.

But it is in the Law, too, that God is with his people. Through its observance, they express their closeness to him. But Jesus was to make radical modifications to this Law to bring it to even greater heights of sensitivity and accountability.

The greatness of any society can in part be measured, first, in the quality of its legal system and, second, in how its laws are administered and observed. This involves close cooperation between law-makers, enforcers of the law, interpreters of the law and observers of the law.

But, above everything else, as Jesus clearly indicates in today’s Gospel, is the law of love which does not abrogate, but goes far beyond the Mosaic Law and includes a deep sense of justice, of compassion and unity between people.

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