During his last visit to Jerusalem, Jesus preached in the Temple. Jesus had taught in many venues but in none more significant than the Temple in Jerusalem, the epicenter of the Jewish faith. In so doing Jesus was following a long tradition. As today’s Old Testament lesson relates, the prophet Jeremiah, while also teaching in the Temple, had centuries earlier condemned the people of Jerusalem for their faithlessness. Indeed, the prophet’s pronouncement of judgment was so much a model of its type that the word jeremiad was later coined to define such excoriations. God’s people had not kept the law, to be sure. Still, if the people would amend their ways and follow the law, then God would dwell with them forever. But if they did not, Jeremiah conveyed God’s assurance that “I will cast you out of my sight.”
In today’s Gospel, Jesus does not disagree with Jeremiah. As he notes, “none of you keeps the law.” Not much had changed, in other words. The fact, however, is that no one can keep the law. It is a goal to be pursued but never achieved. Besides, Jesus had not come to reject the law but to fulfill it. The proper response to the demands of the law, Jesus said, is to resolve to do the will of God. Simply put, the primary task is to have faith. If people truly and honestly seek God’s will, then in so doing they will come to know the true doctrine.
As St. Paul points out in today’s reading from his Letter to the Romans, such teaching fulfills rather than breaks with the law. St. Paul recounts that “Faith was reckoned to Abraham as righteousness.” That is, even before Moses had given Israel the law, faith had become the better measure of righteousness. It is faith, not works, which ultimately makes the difference. We might well, therefore, ponder the implications of this historical thread of doctrinal truth as a means of enriching our own Lenten journeys.