The law and the prophets. An account of the Transfiguration is always the gospel reading for the Second Sunday of Lent. And the reading is about the law and the prophets, and their relationship with Jesus. Moses (the law) and Elijah (the prophets) appear with Jesus. The point being made is that Jesus is the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets. Why does this matter?
Because there is a heresy that has persisted throughout the history of the Church that believes the material world to be evil. Marcion, a thinker of the second century believed that Jesus and Yahweh were incompatible. He viewed Jesus as the fulfillment of love, whereas Yahweh was the creator God, but also vengeful punishing people for their sinfulness.
But more important was the belief that Jesus was not actually fully human, but in fact, only appeared to by human. Jesus was fully God but occupied an “imitation” body, and hence was not born, did not die, and was not raised from the dead. (This is a heresy known as Docetism, that denied the full humanity of Jesus and referred to his humanness as illusory. It was in direct contradiction to the Gospel of John which claims the Word was made flesh.)
Now because of this belief, Marcion believed that Yahweh, or the Demiurge, as he called the God of the Old Testament, was inferior and therefore rejected the Old Testament as not inspired. The reality is that the Church fought against this. While the incarnation is a powerful mystery we cannot fully understand, the claim is central to our salvation. We believe that Jesus is both fully human and fully divine. Being fully human, Jesus was born, died and rose from the dead. Literally.
Now the connection to the Old Testament is critical because Catholics believe the Old Testament contains the prophesies that were fulfilled in Jesus. It is not that the God of the Old Testament is any different from the God of the New Testament. As for the actual and literal resurrection, Saint Paul puts it clearly: “If Christ has not been raised, your faith is vain; you are still in your sins.” The resurrection as an historical fact is that important.
So too is our need to understand the Law as presented in the Old Testament. I suspect that most of us gloss over the sections of the Old Testament that spell out the Law, namely Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy. What these books show is that the Chosen People were to become holy so as to sanctify the world. We see this sanctification of the world fulfilled in Jesus. We are the recipients of this desire to make the world holy. The Law as it is spelled out for us is a way to teach us how to seek our identity as the people of God, a theme important for the Second Vatican Council.
And so this is why in the gospel for today Jesus emphasizes the fulfillment of the Law and not its abolishment. This is important because the primary purpose of the Law, and its fulfillment in Jesus can be summed up in John 10:10: “I came so that they might have life and have it more abundantly.” All of the Law and the Prophets, and the Incarnation of Jesus, then, is directed at our having abundant life. This is so important. Sometimes people think religion is simply about rules and telling us what we cannot do. But in truth, religion is about our freedom. By living the way God wants us to live we receive the true freedom that is an expression of who we are and who we can become. By focusing on Jesus as the fulfillment of the Law and the Prophets, the plan and purpose of God becomes most clear to us, and we can understand how it is we can receive this abundant life.