Saint Cyril of Jerusalem, bishop, doctor of the Church (opt. Memorial)
So now, Israel, give heed to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. See, just as the Lord my God has charged me, I now teach you statutes and ordinances for you to observe in the land that you are about to enter and occupy. You must observe them diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, "Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!" For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him? And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today?
But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children's children after you.
Glorify the Lord, O Jerusalem;
praise your God, O Zion.
For he has strengthened the bars of your gates;
he has blessed your children within you. (R./)
He sends forth his command to the earth;
swiftly runs his word!
He spreads snow like wool;
frost he strews like ashes. (R./)
He has proclaimed his word to Jacob,
his statutes and his ordinances to Israel.
He has not done thus for any other nation;
his ordinances he has not made known to them. (R./)
"Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
The Book of Deuteronomy provides a set of laws meant to help the Jewish people to stay faithful to their God. Most of this fifth book of the Bible consists of motivational sermons, all centred on one great virtue, faithfulness. This Book often refers to “today” as the very day God gave the law to Moses, to be passed on to the people in God’s name. It portrays a warmly loving God who deserves all our love in return. “Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength. Take to heart these words which I command you today” (Deut. 6:5-6).
Their God is closer to them than any pagan god, and therefore should be loved with all their heart. Clearly Jesus treasured this book, since he draws from it his basic inspiration and teaching. Whether in the temptation in the desert (Matt 4:1-11) or in declaring what is the first and greatest commandment (Mk 12:28-34), Jesus quoted from Deuteronomy. He used this book as a foundation text and may have had it in mind when he said: “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets, but to fulfill them.” He would agree with Moses that if the Jews were to stay faithful to the Lord their God, the whole world could learn from them and declare: “This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.”
Jesus used a wealth of imagery to lead us to treasure what is truly important in life. He compares his saving message to new wine; but this fermenting wine needs wineskins that are flexible enough to carry his dynamic message. The hidebound, static, legalist forms of religion would no longer do. At the same time, he kept faith with tradition, the best of own Jewish culture. Their Scriptures had guided and inspired him. He did not come to abolish the Law but to highlight its best aspects. He was not creating a new religion out of nothing.
Our Lord’s example tells us not to toss aside all the religious devotions of our past; but neither are we to canonize them. Our church always needs reform and renewal; and the new wine of the Holy Spirit needs new wineskins, people who are open to new and improved ways of sharing our faith. True renewal involves honouring what is best in our tradition by letting its potential touch our lives today, right here and now.