If I were preaching on these readings, my main objective would be to avoid re-enforcing the idea strongly (if sometime subliminally) held by Christians that Jews are almost unavoidably legalistic and hypocritical about their arcane law. It can sound as if Jesus is saying that, which I would also want to argue against. Moses makes clear that law is sacred, sacrosanct: Add nothing, subtract nothing he says, speaking figuratively to make the point. Biblical law is full of change and contradiction, surely noticed by biblical authors and not resolved, since it is not resolvable. What is more important than law but inseparable from it is the relationship that law or teaching specifies. The self-giving by God and the loving response by God’s people are what the law makes tangible, shows us how to inhabit. Moses wants to guard that, and in this reading, his incentive is that YHWH’s people have been given a lot; even “the neighbors” are remarking it. Jesus speaks a disincentive, borrowing it from Isaiah: People can indeed become legalistic, formalistic, hypocritical, unjust while hiding behind a law.
But the object of concern is not only law but the relationship law explicates, illustrates, constructs. Moses urges care with both the relationship and the law, the inseparable, interconvertible means and end. In Mark, Jesus—surely always attentive to the relationship between God and humans—can seem to abrogate the law, though the words of abrogation (had the Lectionary included them!) are Mark’s rather Jesus’. Rather than emphasize here the distinction between human and God’s tradition, which I think can lead us Catholic Christians to a cafeteria approach to which we may already be too prone (obey some, ignore others). I would suggest that it is more Jewish to seek to re-think the matter, re-order rationales, and above all, re-engage in the discussion of how to live. The Judaism of Jesus’ day was not so tight about uniformity as we may think. Discussion would be expected, legitimate, welcome, and the base question is about relationship, with law as its servant.
Barbara Green, O.P.