first-year theology student at ITCJ

(Readings: Isaiah 48:17-19; Psalms 1; Mathew 11:16-19)

I am the LORD your God, who teaches you for your own good, who leads you in the way you should go. (Isa 48:17) What motivates our obedience to God today? Traditionally, Christians have been instructed to follow God’s law in order to avoid pain and suffering, either in this life or in the life to come.

Moral teachings have, however, taken a more positive dimension as the Church emphasises on the invitation to obedience to God out of love. While the fear of punishment could be a deterrent toward immorality, love is a more mature response to God’s invitation. The one who responds out of love responds with a sense of freedom which yields happiness and fulfilment, while the other who responds out of compulsion lacks the sense of joy and freedom. In today’s Gospel, Jesus gives the notion of such invitation to a response in freedom.

The Lord refers to a generation that responds negatively to his call – “the call of the eternal King” as St. Ignatius would put it. Why did the people reject the message of John? The reason is that he neither ate nor did he drink with and like them; so they claim that he is possessed. Jesus decides to eat and drink with them in order to, I think, build a closer relationship with them and be able to deliver his message more effectively. But yet, why do they also reject his teachings? They label him a glutton and a drunkard. By labelling both Jesus and John, they are able to easily disregard their teachings on the mere basis of how and what they ate and drank. This reaction, perhaps, is not unique to the Israelites of the time. Our reactions, sometimes, are not too different. How often, one might wonder, do we make quick judgements about people thus ignoring or not listening attentively to their message?

The Lord’s call is what we here in the first reading, to listen to and to obey his commands. To the one whose motive for obedience is fear, God’s commandments present an image of a God who is watching and waiting to take note of each and every mistake he makes, and so prepare for repercussions on the judgement day. Today, however, God is inviting us to perceive his teachings and laws differently. In the reading, he tells us through prophet Isaiah that it is for our own good that he gives us his law: “I am the LORD your God, who teaches you for your own good, who leads you in the way you should go (Isa 48:17 NRS).”

The author of the Psalms 119 says, “[Lord,] how I love your law! I ponder it all day long” (v.97). The Psalmist continues to sing in praise of the law of the Lord that gives him wisdom. A profound insight allows him to see the law of the Lord as a gift to him; that is, it serves for his good: he derives wisdom from it. If we too understand that God’s moral laws are for our own benefit, then we will discover that it is out of love that God instructs us; for he desires what is good for us now and in the life to come.

Let us pray today that the Lord grants us the grace that we may grow in the love for the Divine Majesty and that we may accept His instructions that make us better citizens of his kingdom. Amen.