The Letter of the Law

March 22 “The Gift of the Law Jeremiah 31:31-34 John 12:26

“I will place my law within them and write it upon their hearts”

It is easy to be legalistic, for when one adheres to the letter of the law one is safe–does not have to worry about making a mistake. Jesus adhered to the law, but he let the law be guided by his heart.

For example I am told by people that needle exchange is wrong, giving out food is wrong, because it “babies and coddles” people, when the reality is that people are broken human beings, and judgment like that ultimately destroys them. We help no one when we adhere to legalism. Over 22 years ago I met “J”, in Minneapolis, an 18 year old queer young guy, who was in the process of coming out. He prostituted to make money and one night he killed a man. He received life without the possibility of parole. His life has changed, he helps other inmates through writing letters, counseling–for he found Christ in prison. If the “letter” of the law had been applied he would have received the death penalty. He touched my ministry because he was the first person I encountered, and knew personally, who committed a serious crime, it was a fearful experience to work with him, and I worked through those fears in working with him.

The spirit of the law brings us to salvation, to healing. There is a quote I found in a friend’s newsletter, Fr. Tom Jackson’s, which I feel summarizes where we are headed in our present times, and in my experience it leads to seeing people as things, following the letter of the law and ultimately is destructive in our lives and in our society:

Machines which ape people are tending to encroach on every aspect of people’s lives, and such machines force people to behave like machines.

The new electronic devices do indeed have the power to force people to “communicate” with them and with each other on the terms of the machine. Whatever structurally does not fit the logic of machines is effectively filtered from a culture dominated by their use.

The machine-like behavior of people chained to electronics constitutes a degradation of their well-being and of their dignity which, for most people in the long run, becomes intolerable.

Observations of the sickening effect of programmed environments show that people in them become indolent, impotent, narcissistic and apolitical. The political process breaks down, because people cease to be able to govern themselves; they demand to be managed.

Ivan Illich

Deo Gratias! Thanks be to God!

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