Last week’s daily scripture readings confuse me. We were reading from Paul’s forceful letter to the Galatians warning them not to get enslaved to the law of Judaism. We also read Jesus’ “Woe to you, Scribes and Pharisees,” speech, in which he chastises the Scribes and Pharisees for teaching the law but not teaching and practicing love. It’s new testament Christianity at its most bold.
But at the same time, the Psalms for the day rejoice over the law. Meditate on the law, contemplate the law, the law, the law.
When I step back from these readings, this looks to me like the conflict between Catholicism and Protestant “Free Churches.” Catholics have the Catechism and all of its rules, explanations and consistency; Free Church Christians have Paul and his Live-by-the-Spirit, Die-by-the-Law attitude. Which is right? Are they both right? Are they both wrong? Or, more likely, am I just missing something?
I’m a Roman Catholic. I am a believer in the Church that Jesus built on the shoulders of St. Peter (“The Rock.”) One church. A universal church. A “catholic” church. That’s not going to change. Is the Church wrong in teaching the Old Testament? Should we tear Psalm 1, 119 and others out of the book and say that they no longer apply? Somehow, I don’t think so.
I used to cringe when something appeared in my spiritual path that I didn’t understand. I would quickly turn the page and move on to something easier. But after a very powerful epiphany several years ago, I learned that these moments can be doorsteps to a whole new understanding of Christianity. The Catholic Church has honed the Mass over two-thousand years. The readings chosen for the Mass were handpicked and arranged as they are for a reason. That reason may not be obvious to you and I, but there is a reason.
The Church says the New Testament, the story of Jesus, is hidden within the Old Testament, and the Old Testament is made manifest in the New. The various books are written in a variety of styles, from poetry and song to historical narrative, and they are interconnected. It’s a treasure trove, filled with inspirations and surprises. The Bible is one of the most important ways God speaks to us, and when God speaks to us, he speaks to us one-on-one. God doesn’t do mass marketing. God has a relationship with you that is unique and different from his relationship with me. He has things to say to you that I won’t understand. And God uses all of His tools, including the Bible, to convey that personal message.
So, last week, he was provoking me by putting two readings together that appeared to contradict each other. God was saying to me, “Child, it’s time to learn something new.”