Moses asks his people, Israel, to take notice of the Law of the Lord, observe them and let them be wise guide into the fulness of life. Law and Tradition is very important in the society. Tradition could be considered as the most enduring culture and lifestyle. But that does not mean that every enduring tradition is a good one. It feels secure to fall back to one’s tradition. You could easily trust what you are used to more than what is new. Law preserves and consolidates tradition. But some other times, law challenges and shakes the very foundations of a tradition; especially, when some form of law, which strongly supports tradition, in itself, becomes obsolete.
Law is meant to govern the behaviours between people. Law protects our basic human rights and freedom. When law compels me to fulfil my obligation it protects your right at the same time; because, my obligation is your right, and vice-versa. Sometimes, we may not realise how free we are until law and the justice it upholds is undermined; or when people take laws into their hands. A state of lawlessness is a state of chaos and confussion.
But the same law and tradition could be abused. The common abuse of the law is the failure to appreciate the purpose and spirit of the law. Like tradition, law is meant to be at the service of humanity. The human person and their needs must come first before the law. The humanitarian ideals must be the supreme focus of the law. Human rights are natural. They do not proceed from any human laws; Rather, such laws protect them.
If law is such a mechanism to protect and safeguard our rights, lives, property, aspirations and dreams, why do we often get agitated with laws? Simply put, the human person, out of historical experiences, have seen laws abused in a way that they often do not serve or protect the interest of the people but have served the selfish interest of those who make the laws, those who interprete them and those who apply them.
Jesus, in his time, was aware of the abuse of tradition and laws and he intervened. He was tagged a rebel, one who had no respect for the law and tradition. But he clearly stated, “I have come, not to abolish the law, but to fulfil it.” His mission was to remind us to read beyond the letters of the law and get to the heart and spirit of the law, which is that big heart called LOVE. Those who truly love do not fear to break the laws; love protects them more than the law. Those who make harsh laws and those who do not dispense the law with justice and fairness, mercy and compassion are but far from the end purpose of the law – LOVE. They are those Jesus referred to as hypocrites. Hypocrite is from the two Greek etymologies – hupo and krites: under – judge or under – criticism. In other words, hypocrites live their lives in consciousness of being watched, judged, assessed or criticised. How often do we shy away from practising our faith because we think others may judge us or call us hypocrites? I will be a true hypocrite when I give in to the imaginery or real criticism of those who see no point in my being weak and still practise my faith. After all, the Church is a welcome place for all saints and sinners. We are called to do good and not necessarily to be seen doing good; we are encouraged to avoid evil, not necessarily to avoid scandals.
The law often justifies and is often justified by the external manifestations; but who can know what is hidden in the heart? The mind engages the human reason to make laws that gurantee some sense of order and harmony, while the heart engages the human compassion to embrace peace, love, forgiveness and reconciliation. Jesus asks us to make that inward journey into the heart. Be in touch with your inner self; for that is more inportant than the external rituals. The heart is where the conversion takes place. That is where good and evil intentions proceed. A change of heart is far more important than a change of tradition or amendment of the law. People and places change; empires and kingdoms come to an end; laws and traditions may change but love endures from one generation to the next. It is not he who keeps the law to its perfection but the just who will live in the presence of the Lord (Psalm14).