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Fr. Ben's letter Feb. 12th

Not everyone who gives directions knows the way.

You might find this hard to believe but the following story is absolutely true. A few years ago, I was having breakfast and was joined by two people who I didn’t know but who were family of a priest friend. As the conversation went on, we began talking about Rome. I lived in Rome for three years as a seminarian, so I was pretty familiar with the city. One of the men mentioned the Basilica of Sant’Agostino. I said that this particular church was where St. Monica, the mother of St. Augustine, was buried and that it was in Campo Marzio not far from Piazza Navona. A conversation ensued on where the church was located and how to get there. I was pretty sure of my geography as I had been to the church many times as my mother has a deep devotion to St. Monica and often prayed for her intercession. When she came to visit me near the end of my studies we went there together. Both the father and brother of my friend said I was mistaken and that the Basilica was not at Campo Marzio and that my directions were wrong. There followed a ten minute animated and somewhat aggressive conversation between both of them as to the directions to the Basilica. They were so convinced and certain of their knowledge of the place that I presumed I must have gotten it wrong. Later that day I happened to say to my friend “your father and brother know Rome quite well.” To which he answered, “no they don’t, they’ve never been to Rome.”

I guess if you are going to give directions you should really know what you are talking about. In the Gospel Jesus assumes the mantel of prophet and teacher of Israel. It is important to realize that the words Jesus says: “you have heard it said, but I say to you,” are not simply a turn of phrase. These words are loaded with authority and in saying them Jesus is speaking not as another interpreter of the law but as a law giver. He is saying that the law says one thing, but I am now giving you a new law. Rabbi Jacob Neusner, in his outstanding book, “A Rabbi Talks With Jesus,” points out that for the Jews, The Law, contained in the first five books of the Old Testament, called the Pentateuch, are the highest authority in Judaism. At the same time, Moses, who tradition says wrote the Pentateuch, is both the greatest prophet and “The Lawgiver.” There is no greater authority in Judaism than Moses and The Law. Rabbi Neusner says that here, Jesus deliberately and intentionally, places Himself above the Law, Moses, and the prophets. If Jesus was just another teacher giving another interpretation there would be no conflict with the Pharisees and Scribes as such interpretations were the common process for Jews coming to interpret the Law. When Jesus says: “You have heard it said,” who is he talking about? He is talking about what the Law of Moses says, and what those who came before Him said about the Law. The phrase: “You have heard it said, but, I say to you,” is a statement of authority that placed Jesus as the highest teacher, above the prophets, above Moses, and above the Law. “I have not come to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it.” He has come to bring it to completion.

In our time we are told that we put our mark on our own existence, we define who we are, how we live, even our own character, nature and being, our mode of existence, our gender, and our identity. As limited and dependent as we are we attempt to interpret and make real our own existence from our own personal conviction. We attempt to make creation, reality, and even God, in our own image and likeness. The world says to you; we say to ourselves; the elite say to you; those who don’t know you, don’t love you, don’t care anything about you, say to you. Jesus says: “You have heard it said,” You have heard others say, “But I say to you.”

There are lots of voices in the world who claim to know the way and are willing to lead anyone who will listen. It seems to me that the one who knows the way is the one we should listen to and the one we should follow. Everyone else thinks they know the way, has an opinion on how to make our way, but only Jesus is “The Way.” The one who created the way is the one who knows the way best. Listen to Him, He knows what He’s talking about.


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