The process of conversion, our chief Lenten concern, is both human and divine. It is divine in the sense that it is God who directs our conversion and who actually accomplishes the inner transformation of our hearts. It is human in the sense that conversion needs some guidance, some path to follow, lest it go off in all directions, ultimately ending up just where it was at the beginning. So at this stage of Lent, twenty days into our forty day sojourn, some reflection on the process of conversion would be beneficial.
The Scriptures for this day focus our attention on obedience to the Law of the Sinai Covenant as a means to reflect on the process of conversion. Moses reviews the Law with the children of Israel before they cross over into the Promised Land in the reading from Deuteronomy. Jesus tells us that he has come to fulfill the Law, not to abolish it, in the reading from the Gospel of Matthew. Both Moses and Jesus hold up the Law as an essential part of our life of conversion.
By telling us that he has come to fulfill the Law, Jesus tries to correct the false understanding of the Law that persisted among his enemies. They did not see the Law as a loving reflection of God’s will for his people. Instead they used the Law as a means of putting God in debt to them. They believed that by meticulously observing the commandments of the Torah, they could buy or earn salvation through their efforts. So they scrupulously followed the various commandments but ignored the underlying wisdom and value of the Law. God gave them the Law so that they could be a beacon for the rest of the world who would come to understand their relationship with God through their behavior.
Such thinking would have rendered Jesus unnecessary. They did not need God’s plan of salvation which culminates in Jesus’ sacrificial death and resurrection. They felt they were justified by their obedience. However, God reconciles us through Jesus, not through our own actions.
Similarly, while the Church asks us to pray, fast, and give alms during Lent, these actions will not save us. They are meant to remind us of just how much we need Jesus in order to bring us to true conversion.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator