Thursday, March 4th
Paul mentions ‘the law’ 16 times in this passage. He and his audience obviously hold this ‘law’ in high regard. So, what exactly is Paul referring to? Paul refers to Jewish Torah. In its simplest understanding Torah is 613 laws given by God through Moses to the people of Israel, but Torah is much more than that. It is one of life’s great mysteries. Some Jewish teaching suggests that Torah actually existed prior to the creation of the world, and that God used Torah as an instrument to fashion His Creation. Like an architect uses blueprints to build a house, God used Torah to build His world. Torah is a living, breathing part of the created world. It is not merely an extensive set of moral codes by which a Jew conducts their life (although it certainly is that) Torah is a motivating and sustaining force guiding one in all of the circumstances of their lives. Its purpose is to make Israel “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.” Torah is mysterious, ineffable, and changing. It is a driving force much more than it is a strict set of moral tenets.
Living under Torah, or as Paul says in Romans ‘the law,’ esteems all of one’s life. The manner with which you prepare and eat food, care for others, care for yourself, your conversations, your relationships, your struggles, your joys, all is given esteem under the law. The common chores of our day, the great celebrations of our lives, and the terrible, excruciating events that comprise life are not just activities to simply be endured, but moments of encounter. The law not only specifies what sin is, but it is that interior influence that makes one aware of their failure to achieve what is required. This sense of remorse on one’s part is important because it is the force by which God reorients us to ‘the law.’ The law reminds us of our connection to God throughout our days and moves us all toward our common destination. The law is a gift given to all God’s people. It is not the exclusive privilege of any one ethnicity. It is gifted to Creation, given to all in the beginning when God used this law to create His world.
Paul, in order to correct his audience, elaborates on this deeper understanding of the law. He knew from his own experience that simply following the letter of the law is not at all living under the law. It actually destroys the individual and the law he professes to follow. Rest assured, if you are certain in your decisions without some inner struggle guiding you, if you over-confidently hold yourself in higher regard than another, and if you view life as mundane, as a challenge to overcome, then you are not living under the law. You debase what it means to be human and deny the holiness of life. When living under the law you are well aware of the graciousness of life. You value all of life, your own and that of others. Living under the law requires both your receptivity and respect of its mystery; it requires your responsible action; and it requires your humility. In the end the law is the power by which God reaches out to us and calls us back to Him in the simple, tangible objects and events of our lives.