Bound to a new law
A Reflection for Monday of the Fourth Week of Easter
Find today’s readings here.
I also heard a voice say to me, “Get up, Peter. Slaughter and eat.”
But I said, “Certainly not, sir,
because nothing profane or unclean has ever entered my mouth.”
But a second time a voice from heaven answered,
“What God has made clean, you are not to call profane.” (Acts 11:7-9)
Today’s first reading explains one of the reasons why we don’t follow a lot of Jewish laws, particularly pertaining to dietary restrictions. As Catholics, we can eat bacon and shrimp all we like (if only I liked those two foods). But why have these things suddenly become clean to us and to Peter and all the other formerly Jewish Christians? Did God just change his mind? After all, the voice told Peter that God has made these things clean, so were the Jews simply mistaken in the rules they made?
Of course God didn’t change his mind; the rules that applied prior to the Messiah coming applied then, and the rules that apply after the Messiah has come—namely, from around the time of Acts through today—apply now.
Jesus said many times that he has come to fulfill the law and the prophets. The prophets—that part makes sense, as we can point to things prophesied about the Suffering Servant or the Messiah and say, “Yes, this is exactly what Jesus did.” But how does one fulfill the law? Jesus is the only one who could fulfill the law, because the many rules written down would always be broken at some point by us humans.
Let us rejoice today that Jesus has come and has proclaimed a new law of love for us.
However, as the Catechism eloquently states, “In Jesus, the Law no longer appears engraved on tablets of stone but ‘upon the heart’ of the Servant who becomes ‘a covenant to the people,’ because he will ‘faithfully bring forth justice’” (CCC 580). All those laws were there to mark the chosen ones as separate from their pagan counterparts, marking them as different and special in their appearance, their diet, and their habits. But after Jesus has come into the world, after he has taken on himself—on him who would perfectly follow the law—all the transgressions of those who did not follow the law, we do not need to follow the old rules. Jesus has established a new covenant with his death on the cross.
Because we are no longer bound to the old covenant that God had with the Jews, anyone can be “granted life-giving repentance,” not only the Jews—officially bringing former Jews and former Gentiles into communion with each other in the early Christian church.
And because we are bound to the new covenant and we rejoice in the new law that Jesus put forth (to love God and one another), we do not need to restrict ourselves as the Jews did, waiting for the Messiah. Those laws were a preparation for his coming, and he has already come!
Let us rejoice today that Jesus has come and has proclaimed a new law of love for us. We, like Peter and the Jews and Gentiles in today’s first reading, can celebrate that we are not bound to the old law, but to the new.