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Contracts and Covenants

On this Saturday After Ash Wednesday, I continue my journey through Scott Hahn’s book, Lenten Reflections from A Father Who Keeps His Promises.

I have something to confess and I hope you won’t hold it against me. I … am a lawyer. I know: I’m supposed to sheepishly say “I’m not that kind of lawyer.” But to be honest, I don’t know of any legal practice that cannot be done with a humble heart, a servant’s spirit and a clear conscience.

So, I’m a lawyer and for over a decade my practice has focused primarily on contracts. Drafting, reviewing, negotiating, enforcing. And I read today’s reading through the lens of my experience.

Through the years I’ve worked for–and negotiated against–a wide array of personalities. Some are very reasonable. Some try to gain every advantage and upper hand, and many focus on maximizing their return or benefits from the contractual relationship often to the detriment of the relationship.

Some seek to enforce every jot and tittle of the contract regardless how minute.  In most cases, both parties try to nail down in specific details all rights, duties, warranties and representations. Ambiguity is the enemy of the contract-writer.

The contracts I work with typically have a term, or a duration. They might be for a term of a year, maybe two, but always finite (although they might renew automatically). They recognize that, “this, too, shall pass.”

So what is the difference between a contract relationship and a covenant relationship?  Well, I think contracts focus on quid pro quo, or tit-for-tat.  What can I get? What must I give? Contractual relationships seek to nail down details with the understanding that some authority may have to evaluate the terms of the contract to determine compliance.  Contracts tend to be finite.

Covenants, on the other hand, are self-sacrificing, and those in a covenant look for opportunities to give of themselves.  Covenants also recognize an authority, but it is the author who created all, who wrote on our souls and in our fibers all laws to which our adherence leads to joy.  Covenants are meant to be eternal.

And while contracts ultimately find legitimacy in the courts of law, covenants find their source of strength–and also manifest themselves most honestly–in love.

The Church is really a collection of covenants: primarily between God and His people, but secondarily between parishioners and pastor, among fellow pilgrims, etc.  With this in mind, Scott Hahn’s questions are apropos:

Day 04-1

In the final analysis, I think a great test to distinguish contracts from covenants lies in 1 Corinthians 13:4-7:

Love is patient, love is kind. It is not jealous, [love] is not pompous, it is not inflated, it is not rude, it does not seek its own interests, it is not quick-tempered, it does not brood over injury, it does not rejoice over wrongdoing but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Day 04-2

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