God will not forget those who are faithful

By  Fr. Scott Lewis, S.J.
  • February 19, 2007
Many are accustomed to think of the New Testament as being theologically disengaged from the Old Testament, but nothing could be further from the truth.

The theology of Deuteronomy plays a key role in the New Testament, especially in the life and mission of Jesus. Deuteronomy and its theology represented a theological remake of the Old Testament traditions in the seventh century B.C. under the reign of King Josiah. Its intent was to spark a reform movement within Judaism and cleanse Israel of idolatry. It was a covenantal theology that made it clear that Israel had a special relationship with God. If Israel obeyed God’s laws and statutes, all would be well and the people would live a blessed life in the land undisturbed by enemies. But if they were lax and unfaithful — especially with regard to worshipping other gods — God would be merciless and brutal.

Although today we might be hesitant to accept a theology that is based on such obvious self-interest and one that portrays God as the dispenser of punishments, it represented a step forward. God’s teachings are clear: follow them and all will be well. God can be depended upon. All that is asked in return is fidelity, and half-measures or divided hearts will not do.

The above passage prescribes a sort of creed that the believer is expected to recite while making an offering to God. It is interesting that dogma and abstract doctrines are absent. The “creed” consists of a litany of praise for the kindnesses and mercies that God has shown the people of Israel. In fact, God is consistently described in the Old Testament with the Hebrew word “esed,” meaning faithful and steadfast love.

Remembering God’s faithful and loving activity generates gratitude, which in turn motivates one to be faithful and loving in return. Perhaps reciting each day our private creed of gratitude to God would be a good practice for Lent and beyond. It might encourage us to focus less on self and more on God and others, as well as moving us out of a rut of self-pity and victimization.

Following Deuteronomy’s insistence that God’s word is not mysterious, esoteric or distant, Paul exhorts his listeners to focus on God’s latest and greatest act of loving kindness, the gift of His Son Jesus. Believing in Him — and that includes living His teachings — is the equivalent of fidelity to the covenant of Deuteronomy. God will not forget those who are faithful.

Whenever one begins to advance on a spiritual path, opposition will definitely come. Buddha, the desert fathers, Jesus, great visionaries such as Gandhi and Martin Luther King, all struggled with temptations, doubts and distractions. The loftiest and noblest of missions can be derailed by self-interest or fear. They all had to wrestle with those parts of humanity that drag us away from God and toward the self.

These are usually represented in the three temptations that Jesus faces at the hands of Satan. Satan does not appear with horns, tail and pitchfork of legend. These temptations are far more subtle but powerful and come in the form of the fears and doubts whispered within the human heart. They begin with “If you are the Son of God:” clearly intended both to plant seeds of doubt and to drive a wedge between Jesus and God the Father.

Physical survival, doubt about God’s dependability and love and the fear of powerlessness are all presented. Satan offers the solution to all three: use your own powers; impose your own will; turn to something other than God for your assurance and sense of well-being. Jesus responds to all three of these temptations with quotations from Deuteronomy: God alone is the ultimate provider and sustainer; God alone is worthy of worship or homage; God doesn’t need to prove anything — just remember what God has already done.

This is the core of Deuteronomy’s theology. Whereas the Israelites sometimes stumbled, Jesus is laser-like and unwavering in His devotion and fidelity. In the end, God will come through with the greatest gift and sign of loving care possible; He will raise Jesus from the dead.

The fears and temptations we face each day are an opportunity both to grow spiritually and to recommit ourselves to Jesus, who is our covenant with God. How faithful are we?