Walking in God's way makes us partners with Him

  • August 26, 2009
22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) Aug. 30 (Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-8; Psalm 15; James 1:17-18, 21-22, 27)

Law and rule books are usually not our favourite reading and it is hard to think of them as something exciting or life-giving. And yet Deuteronomy is often quoted or alluded to in the New Testament and is even on the lips of Jesus as He resists the temptations of the devil in the wilderness. It is the core of the “great commandment” of love found in Mark 12. Fashioned in the seventh century B.C. during a time of reform and renewal, the book sought to bring the people into a sense of a partnership or relationship with God.

We have heard snippets of Deuteronomy during Lent: the oneness of God, the choice between life and death and the commandment to love God with all one’s heart, mind, and soul. There is much that is noble and spiritually uplifting, but there is a darker side too. Along with all the promised blessings for obeying God’s commandments is a list of hideous punishments for the entire nation in the event that they do not. And the worst sin, according to Deuteronomy, is that of idolatry. Not only are the Israelites “commanded by God” to punish severely those who are guilty, but they are also to deal out death and destruction to non-Israelite peoples who worship other gods.

It is highly doubtful that this is the voice of God. It reflects the religious mentality of the first millennium B.C. — gods deal out rewards and punishments. But the core message of Deuteronomy rings very true: walking in God’s ways is a partnership with God. Living according to divine principles is life-giving and those who do so can expect the happiness and blessings that flow from being in harmony with the divinity. Turning away from God and living according to selfish, unjust and violent principles brings its own misery and destruction — no need for divine punishment. And the total trust and commitment demanded by Deuteronomy will see us through every temptation and trial. Most of all, the greatest witness we can give to the world is to living according to God’s laws in a joyful and committed manner.

Generous acts of kindness and giving come from above. What does this mean? Only this: the ability to be kind and generous is a sign that God’s word has already been implanted in our heart and soul and is doing its work of transformation. The point of the passage is that true religion and devotion to God is always manifested in action. Be doers of the word, we are told, not just those who talk about it or who are along for a free ride. Lip service counts for nothing in the Kingdom of God. True worship is active concern and care for the needs of others — there are no shortcuts or excuses.

Outside or inside — that is the question. The argument over purification in the passage from Mark is not about the Pharisees or the scribes, it is about everyone. It is an age-old struggle: people try to place religion outside of themselves. Don’t touch, don’t eat, don’t drink, obey the rituals and so on. Most of these things are of human rather than divine origin. Religion can become a cagey and spiritually deadening game that one can play with God. What is the bottom line? How much can I get away with? Where is the loophole? And this externalization of spirituality leaves the deeper part of our mind and heart “safe” and untouched. One can rest smugly in the assurance that everything required has been done. Darkness? That can be projected outwards on things and people.

Moral crusades are a great outlet for pent-up inner darkness and it is easy enough to find villains. The real struggle is to look within and to realize that the negativity, injustice, fear and violence that we see in the world around us comes from the inner recesses of our own hearts that have not been cleansed and transformed. We cannot hope for a better church, nation or world unless we are willing to do our own inner work. True religion and spirituality is inner transformation and learning the lessons of love and service.

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