Moses praises the wisdom of God’s statutes and decrees. In comparison to the codes of law of other countries in the ancient Near East, Jewish Law was unique, providing for humane treatment for both Jews and foreigners, free people and slaves. It was a wise and just code which, if observed, would help them live in good order with God and one another.
In the second reading, James emphasizes that all good giving and every perfect gift is from God, responding to the faulty belief that everything that happens, including temptation and suffering, is predetermined by God. All that comes from God is good. God has given us free will to follow or reject the order of his laws. He allows evil but does not cause evil to happen and has built in a remedy for evil in his divine plan.
Societal norms and practices ritualize or give external expression to what we hold in our minds and hearts in relationship with God and one another. The Pharisees so focused on the external rituals of their faith to the point that, rather than reflecting the love and respect at the core or spirit of God’s law, their actions became a prideful show of religiosity while their hearts were filled with judgment toward others. “All their works are performed to be seen,” Jesus commented (Matthew 23:5). We must take care lest our expressions of faith (what we do and say at Mass, for example) and of fellowship with others (a handshake or wishes for a good day) become mere words and actions devoid of meaning as happened with the Pharisees.