‘For this law that I enjoin on you today is not beyond your strength or beyond your reach. No, the Word is very near to you, it is in your mouth and in your heart for your observance.” These words, spoken by Moses as his ministry neared its end, are a meditation on the love of God revealed in Israel’s law. The Book of Deuteronomy described Moses as one to whom the Lord spoke face to face, as to a friend.
Israel’s Law, therefore, revealed as it was in this deeply personal encounter between Moses and his Lord, could never be understood as an imposition. The Law was God’s saving will, the path to life and holiness. The Law was God’s self giving and presence among his people. “The precepts of the Lord are right. They gladden the heart, give light to the eyes. They are more to be desired than gold, and sweeter are they than honey, than honey from the comb.”
The Psalmist’s exultation of the law echoed the testament of Moses, rejoicing in a God hidden neither in the heavens above nor beyond the vastness of the sea: a God whose saving will is the very fibre of our being, on our lips and in our hearts. Christ, the Word made flesh and God’s presence amongst us, would be revealed as the fulfilment of this Law.
The beauty and wonder of this conception of God’s Law challenges contemporary attitudes. A sinful world makes of itself the law that governs what is right and good. The humility that searches the will of God in prayer comes to know God as a friend, delighting to walk in his ways. Let us contemplate God’s will, revealed in the scriptures and the Church, as a communion of life and heart.
In the exchange between Jesus and the lawyer, Luke’s Gospel summarised the Law of Moses in the commandment to love God and neighbour. Challenged by Jesus, the lawyer recited the texts that formed the foundation of Israel’s law: “You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind, and your neighbour as yourself.”
These words describe something more than a duty to be performed. They surrender all that we are to the will of God and love of neighbour. They imply no compromise in God’s love for us, nor in the generosity of our response.
Inevitably sinful human nature seeks to compromise this all embracing summons to generosity. Hence the lawyer’s anxious query: “And who is my neighbour?”
Prudence dictates that we should be sparing in our love, thereby opening the door to the prejudices and judgments that lock out a needy world. Jesus responded with the parable of the Good Samaritan. “A man was once on his way down from Jerusalem and fell into the hands of brigands who took all that he had, leaving him half dead.”
It is pointless to speculate who this victim might have been. He represents a whole world of need that we cannot ignore. Like the Samaritan, we either reach out with the little we have, or, like the priest and Levite, we pass by on the other side. The Samaritan, by his actions, was one with the will of God, bringing healing to a broken world.
Jesus instructed the lawyer to “go and do the same”. It is when we remain unmoved and uncaring that the love of God begins to die in us.