Wednesday, December 10, 2014

Met Georges Khodr on the Sabbath and the Meaning of the Law

Arabic original here.

The Sabbath

Today's Gospel reading talks to us about the healing worked by the Lord on the Sabbath. The issue of keeping the Sabbath played a very important role in the life of the Lord, since the conspiracy of the Jews to kill Him began when Jesus healed the man with a withered hand on the Sabbath (Matthew 16:9-13). From that time, the Gospel tells us, they conspired to kill Him because they believed that He not only broke the Law as they interpreted it, but He was also demolishing the Jewish political order.

If we want to examine the true reason for killing Jesus in the minds of the Jews and their leaders, we find that it is that Jesus wanted to extend the boundaries of the People of God beyond Israel, to bring the gentiles into the covenant between God and humankind, to allow all humankind to enjoy God's sweetness and His blessings and, as a result, to break the Jews' state of insularity and do away with their feelings of superiority.

The Sabbath was a symbol of Jewish exclusionism, of Jewish racism and this is why the Jews took such a hard position against the Lord on account of what they regarded as his having transgressed the Law. The Lord came and wanted the people to transcend their obstinacy. He wanted to make it clear to them that the Sabbath was made for man and that every law was set down for the sake of man. Man was not created for the law. The Law exists for the sake of man, for his growth and knowledge of God. This is why Jesus brought something new in human history: He taught us that man, his heart and his spirit is better than the law and that we may transgress the law for the sake of man.

The days when marriages are not permitted to take place, the days when we must fast, fasting before receiving the Eucharist and so forth... these good, human rules were set forth in the councils, but they are general rules. If there is good for man in transgressing the law, then we should not be attached to general rules. For example, someone may be exempted from fasting and someone may be given the Eucharist even if he did not fast because there is a good in receiving it and this person may be in need of it. Therefore, let us not be attached to the law of fasting with regard to this person in this particular circumstance. This rests on the shoulders of the one who is responsible for discerning situations.

What is important is that our relationship with God be a relationship of spirit to spirit, the relationship of the human heart to God's heart, not a relationship of slaves submitting to an external law. What is important is that we transform the commandment from an imposed law to a beloved law. Thou shalt not steal. Thou shalt not commit adultery. Honor thy father and thy mother... These begin as external commandments that a person learns and sometimes feels to be a nightmare because he considers God to be far away and external and assaulting him. But if the believer knows God as his Father and realizes himself to be a Son to God, then he comes to realize that the commandment are not a nightmare that are imposed and are not like the sabbath of the Jews, but rather something beloved that points the way to salvation.

In Christ Jesus was have been transported from fear to live, to hope, to trust. Thus, as we go along our path to Christmas, we must not feel that Christianity is something external to us, merely rituals and social customs, like the sabbath of the Jews. Let us not be content to put a creche under the Christmas tree, but rather let us strive to transform our heart into into a manger to receive Christ. In this way we make the faith in our heart into a vision of Christ, holding close to Him and loving Him, so that Christ may be born in us as a wellspring of goodness and giving, and that our Lord may become everything in our life. In this way, we grow in the love of Jesus until Christ says in Himself, "Every house in this diocese is My house as though I am born in it and in the hearts of its people every day."

Georges, Metropolitan of Jbeil and Batroun (Mount Lebanon)
December 7, 2014

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