If there is one thing that us “modern” people hate, it is mandated morality. Give us any rule whatsoever – let it be on taxes, or business transactions, or environmental regulations – but please, don’t tell us how we should behave morally! In a positive sense, such an attitude stems from an increased awareness of individuality and authenticity. Moral legalism, and its various children, repulse us because we realize, somewhat unclearly, that true morality demands freedom. We therefore react against “mandated” morality, thinking that it is inimical to true freedom. As it happens, our Lord disagrees with such an assessment.
If you love me, you will keep my commandments (Jn 14:15). Such are the words of Christ. But what does Christ mean by these words? In order to explore Christ’s meaning, I will focus on two words from this verse: “commandments” and “keep”. In the latin text, this verse is as follows: Si diligitis me, mandata (commandments) mea servabitis (you will keep). We don’t have to be budding latin scholars to recognize some of these words. Mandata, or ‘commandments’, is related to the word mandate or mandatory. Servare, or ‘to keep’, is related to such words as preserve or conservation. If we further analyze mandata, we can see that it is a compound word, meaning ‘having been given by the hand’ (man(u)-data). Mandates, or commandments, therefore come from the ‘hand’ of an authority. If we look at servare, we can see that it connotes preservation. To ‘keep’ something is not simply to hold it, but to preserve, maintain and protect it. Therefore, Christ is not simply saying that we should keep some arbitrary rules, but that we must preserve, maintain and protect commandments that come from the hand of God Himself.
In the book of Deuteronomy, we hear about how God gives the law to Moses, who then gives it to the People of Israel. But specifically, Moses relates that the Lord gave me the two tables of stone written with the finger of God; and on them were all the words which the Lord had spoken with you on the mountain out of the midst of the fire on the day of the assembly (Deuteronomy 9:10). In other words, the Law was written by the hand of God and was preserved on stone tablets. Mandata mea servabitis, you will keep my commandments. Thus, the People of Israel preserved the Law of God on stone tablets.
In today’s gospel, however, our Lord tells of a new way in which we are to keep the law. In the past, the law had been external to the People of Israel. They kept the law, but they could not perfectly internalize the law and make it their own, for there was always a degree of separation between them and the law. Our Lord, however, informs us that something new is happening. The Hand of God will once again descend upon the earth. However, this time, the hand will not touch lifeless stone, but human hearts – and when the Hand of God touches the human heart, the commandments of God will be transcribed into our very souls. Mandata mea servabitis.
In our baptism, the Hand of God reached down from heaven and transformed our hearts. Therefore, as Christians, we have a holy obligation to preserve the law of God that has been written in our hearts. Mandated morality which comes from God, therefore, is not contrary to our freedom, but in fact aligns with the deepest laws of our heart. May God give us the grace to keep, preserve, maintain and protect this law forever. Amen.
Ian Mahood – St. Joseph Seminary, Edmonton, Alberta
Fot. Tim Marshall/Unsplash.com