An invitation to Formation: When was the last time you did something serious to grow in the knowledge of your faith and more to the point allow that knowledge to form you? Confirmation, High School, a mandatory class in College? This year, we will again have a scripture sharing program which will meet throughout the week. It will be structured, but there will be little mandatory reading other than the scriptures. We have other ideas for the future. However, there is a possibility hiding in plain sight for now. St. Charles offers a program for Catholics who have missed Sacraments or Non-Catholics who wish to become Catholic. As we recognize the hectic lives of our parishioners and neighbors it meets one time per month for 2 hours and covers the basics of the faith. (The classes are also offered twice week, Sunday Afternoon and a weekday evening.) There is significant reading involved and needs to be taken seriously. Even if you have received all the appropriate Sacraments and are a regular church-goer, would this fit your spiritual needs here and now? More to come next week.
Funeral Mass: There will be a funeral Mass this Thursday, September 6th for Joseph Francis Monk. For exact time call the rectory or see the website after Tuesday.
Twenty Second Sunday in Ordinary Time
September 2, 2018
Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8
Today we read from the Book of Deuteronomy. It is literally translated as “second Law” but might be better called the second reading of the law. It is the 5th book of the Bible and concludes the Pentateuch/Torah and is composed as a series of addresses by Moses to the Hebrews as they prepare to invade Canaan. Moses reviews the law with the people and tells them that without it they will perish. We read from it last week to see how Joshua became the successor to Moses. At that time we saw the importance of the Torah and noted that it could better be translated as teachings than laws. This week we will look at why.
As we have many times seen in examining these readings the concerns of the time that the texts were written down are as important as when they occurred. Rabbinic Judaism held that Moses lived from 1391 to 1271 BC. Therefore, his original exhortation would have been in the late 1200s BC. This is obviosity a guess and we are not quite certain to what kind of group he was speaking nor exactly of what the law consisted.
We are on firmer ground during the reign of King Josiah who reigned between 640 and 609 BC. Two developments marked his times. In 627 the Assyrian king, who effectively controlled Judean kingdom, died and there was a succession battle. Josiah saw this as a moment to seek independence. Around the same time, he started to renovate the temple and discovered a copy of the law. This we may assume is the central part of the book of Deuteronomy.12:4-7. This discovery provoked a religious revival and part of this revival was editing this primitive version of Deuteronomy and adapting it for his day.
Therefore, as they sought to free themselves not only from military connection with Assyria but also its mental and spiritual dominion, Josiah’s editors included new material on refusing to follow foreign gods. This meant destroying temples and places of worship to other Gods in the countryside, worshipping only in Jerusalem (12:4-7) and not listening to any other god or supposed source of wisdom (6:14) They did not however fail to learn from the great prophets of the 8th century the importance of social justice. There are many instances of this but let us stop and ponder the following:
7 For the LORD, your God, is the God of gods, the LORD of lords, the great God, mighty and awesome, who has no favorites, accepts no bribes; 18 who executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and befriends the alien, feeding and clothing him.19 So you too must befriend the alien, for you were once aliens yourselves in the land of Egypt. Deuteronomy 10:17–19
These were certainly noble aspirations but as we have seen Josiah was killed in 609 BC and a series of events led to the destruction of the temple and the exile of the leadership of Judea to Babylon by 587. Although it seemed the end of the people one of the great miracles of history occurred and Persian leader Cyrus offered the people an opportunity to return to Jerusalem as his colonial administrators. The final editor of Deuteronomy was one of those who accepted this invitation and we see that many passages of it reflect these concerns. The section we read today is one of the most affecting.
As we noted the book is composed as a series of sermons of Moses. Those written by the final editor wish to show both why a loving God would allow his people to be exiled and also how they were able to maintain themselves as a people without temple or homeland. Both of these elements may be found in the 4th chapter of Deuteronomy but today’s reading looks at the second point with greater detail.
It is important for us to remember that the final editor is looking at the full history of his people. He knows that the more prosperous upper kingdom – Israel – was snuffed out 200 years before, he feels the captivity in Egypt in his bones and has himself experienced the exile in Babylon. What has allowed them to remain a people? It cannot be armies or financial prosperity, nor even worship in the temple. His answer is their way of life.
1 “Now, Israel, hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe, that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land which the LORD, the God of your fathers, is giving you. 2 In your observance of the commandments of the LORD, your God, which I enjoin upon you, you shall not add to what I command you nor subtract from it. Deuteronomy 4:1–2
The statutes, decrees and commandments of Israel are more than the sum of their parts. They form a way of life, a teaching which linked everything from what one ate to how one treated aliens in ones midst to the intervention of God in their history. This then as now has sustained the Jewish people.
It is no wonder that his attitude to God for this is gratitude.
6 Observe them carefully, for thus will you give evidence of your wisdom and intelligence to the nations, who will hear of all these statutes and say, ‘This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.’ 7 For what great nation is there that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us whenever we call upon him? 8 Or what great nation has statutes and decrees that are as just as this whole law which I am setting before you today? Deuteronomy 4:6–9
They understood that their community was the result of a covenant with God and that they ratified it by the way they lived. If they lived this life, they could not be separated from God and would last until the end of the ages.
We need to remember as well that this was the continuation of the Exodus, being led from captivity in Egypt to the promised land. It is the key experience of the Jewish people from which everything else must be understood. Moses and his future editors are telling the people as one that they participate in this journey by the life they lead even more than the animal sacrifices they offer. St Paul understood this and wrote in Romans:
1 I urge you therefore, brothers, by the mercies of God, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God, your spiritual worship. Romans 12:1
The early church built upon this and saw that loving each other was the first and truest sacrifice that opened the sacrifice of the Eucharist for us.
As we as a country and a Church undergo great trials and may like the ancient Israelites be pulled away from God let us remember other words of Paul in Romans:
35 What will separate us from the love of Christ? Will anguish, or distress, or persecution, or famine, or nakedness, or peril, or the sword? 37 No, in all these things we conquer overwhelmingly through him who loved us. 38 For I am convinced that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor present things, nor future things, nor powers, 39 nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord. Romans 8:35–39