Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Wednesday in Lent III - Fr Damian Feeney

Fr Damian Feeney, Vice-Principal, gave this homily at the Mass on Wednesday in the third week of Lent. The readings for the Mass can be found here.

By anyone’s estimation, seven hundred years is a long time. If the Psalmist is correct, that’s ten lifetimes, end to end. It’s a hard period of time for us to comprehend. In 1310 (seven hundred years ago), fifty-four members of the Knights Templar were burned at the stake in France for being heretics, shoes were (finally) being made for both right & left feet, and Duccio's Maestà Altarpiece [see above], a seminal artwork of the early Italian Renaissance, was unveiled and installed in Siena Cathedral. Seven hundred years is a ballpark figure for the time which elapsed between the writing of our first reading, from Deuteronomy, and our Gospel reading, from Matthew. In that first reading, Moses exhorts the people of Israel to observation of the laws and customs which he was to teach them, as this would constitute obedience to the will of God, and demonstrate wisdom and understanding to others, who could be sure that here was an enlightened, civilised and God-fearing nation. Such observance and obedience also pointed to the proximity and even availability of God to his people. And thus was the benchmark set, for seven hundred years – and I might venture to suggest that over such a period of time, habits become engrained, especially if the people did as Moses asked, and told and taught the customs of the law to their children, and their children’s children.

Not surprisingly, then, the passage from Matthew comes as a shock. Suddenly, in the face of seven hundred years of habit, there is Jesus. To be fair, not as an abolitionist, but rather, as a fulfilment of the Law – that which completes. We may take a still broader view, that he teaches, reveals and bestows the perfect justice of God: Paul, in his letter to the church in Rome, says that ‘…Christ is the end of the law, so that there may be righteousness for everyone who believes.’ [Romans 10:4] In other words, Jesus is the last word, as well as being the first. It is part of what is meant by his being Alpha and Omega. He, indeed, transcends the Law, and it is his fulfilling, and therefore supplanting of the law, which becomes the norm by which we live. In fact, the word ‘fulfilment’ is here multi-dimensional. Jesus does not merely bring the law to completion, but broadens, deepens and enriches the term ‘righteousness’ so that it refers not merely to legalism but to his very person.

When we ponder the impact of these statements of Jesus, we get a glimpse of just why his words were controversial, how his claim to be the fulfilment of the law threw down a gauntlet to those who listened to him, and what a risk they took in following him. And if, for just a moment, we can measure a sense of that risk, perhaps it enlivens our own faith and response, not merely to our understanding of where Jesus stands in relation to the Mosaic Law, but to the whole of history, the whole of creation itself. We stand on the shoulders not merely of seven hundred years, but of two thousand or so more – two millennia, where faith in Christ has been more or less normative, and when the claims made for him were not only accepted, but often imposed and enforced. We now live in an age where we must decide afresh for Christ, in the presence of any number of alternatives – for he is Alpha, Omega, beginning and end, the fulfilling of the Law – and so much more besides.