capable of delivering bliss
Let’s take a moment before I offer a reflection, to consider again the heart of today’s gospel reading:
There was a scholar of the law who stood up to test him and said,“Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?”Jesus said to him, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?”
He said in reply,“You shall love the Lord, your God,with all your heart,with all your being,with all your strength,and with all your mind,and your neighbor as yourself.”He replied to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.” Luke 10:25-37
You will recognize this as the first of the Commandments of the Old Testament Covenant between God and his people. As these People of God journeyed from captivity, through the wilderness to freedom, God spoke to them through Moses, and offered them everything. Note, God offered them everything!
Moses is trying to communicate this to the people in the first reading today. Listen again:
Moses said to the people: “If only you would heed the voice of the LORD, your God, and keep his commandments and statutes that are written in this book of the law, when you return to the LORD, your God, with all your heart and all your soul. Deut 30:10-14
When Moses came down the mountain with the commandments, the people did not grumble because God had given them laws. Instead they rejoiced. They were delighted because now they knew precisely “how” to receive all that God was offering them. If they would “heed the voice of the Lord, and keep his commandments, they will “inherit eternal life.”
The way to live life fully, not only for eternity, but also here and now, is to “heed the voice of the Lord, and keep his commandments.” This is the method for the one who seeks to live life!
Many people today have a notion of God as loving. This is always a good knowledge. However what is less appreciated is the fact that because God is the ultimate lover of human persons, God is therefore the ultimate respecter of human freedom. Yes God offer each human person everything. But it is over to us whether or not we accept this divine gift of life. The ultimate gift of life has been given. But have we fully accepted this gift?
We have all heard people suggesting that because God is loving, there cannot be a Hell. But since true love always empowers the loved one with freedom, there must be the option for us to either accept what God offers, or to reject the gift. Therefore if God is truly loving, we must have the terrible option of choosing away from God even for eternity. God does not drag the adult Christian kicking and screaming into Heaven. We are free to reject what is offered. Such eternal rejection of God is possible precisely because God loves us.
Parents of adult children know this well. When their children were very small, the loving parents made it impossible for them to act in a way that might harm them. In this the parents are teaching their toddlers and their teens to use their freedom well. But when these same children become adults, the way that the parents love has a new dimension: the respecting of their children’s adult freedom. The parent might try to explain to the twenty year old, the inevitable bad consequences of their behaviour, but then the parent shows their love by giving freedom. The parent who locks the toddler in the playpen is viewed as loving. The parent who locks the adult child in any kind of captivity is liable to be arrested.
Christians are those who in baptism have accepted all that God has offered, but who also need to receive this life anew daily by living in harmony with all that God has created us for. This is the life that we see outlined in the commandments. You could say that the commandments are the “manual” for human life.
Therefore the commandments are not the rules that we grudgingly keep in order to win an eternal reward. Instead as we grow in more intimate relationship with God, we realise that any thought we have to break the commandments, is in fact tempting us into death. No one ever finds true life by worshipping idols, murdering, stealing or bearing false witness. The temptation to sin is in fact a deadly mirage. Sin is never able to deliver what it promises. We know this from our own experience.
The call to keep the commandments is not a distant voice from a far-off authoritarian father. Tragically this is how too many people understand God’s commandments today. Instead the commandments are imprinted on our hearts. It is an intrinsic part of our human nature (and therefore our human need) to live in harmony with the commandments. The reason that God gave this law to Moses on tablets of stone, was that the people were having trouble reading the language of their own hearts.
Put simply, if you want to be fully and authentically human, the method is keeping the commandments. The first reading today expresses this very beautifully:
“For this command that I enjoin on you today is not too mysterious and remote for you. It is not up in the sky, that you should say, ‘Who will go up in the sky to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’ Nor is it across the sea, that you should say, ‘Who will cross the sea to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may carry it out?’ No, it is something very near to you, already in your mouths and in your hearts; you have only to carry it out.” Deut 30:10-14
Last week Pope Francis issued his first encyclical letter: “The Light of Faith” (Lumen Fidei). He announced it as the “work of four hands” since Pope Emeritus Benedict had begun the letter before his retirement, and Pope Francis has completed it. It is simply written, and rich in encouragement. One of the parts that speaks most clearly to help our understanding of today’s readings is the section titled “The Fulness of Christian Faith.” Pope Francis writes:
Our culture has lost its sense of God’s tangible presence and activity in our world. We think that God is to be found in the beyond, on another level of reality, far removed from our everyday relationships. But if this were the case, if God could not act in the world, his love would not be truly powerful, truly real, and thus not even true, a love capable of delivering the bliss that it promises. It would make no difference at all whether we believed in him or not. Christians, on the contrary, profess their faith in God’s tangible and powerful love which really does act in history and determines its final destiny: a love that can be encountered, a love fully revealed in Christ’s passion, death and resurrection. Lumen Fidei par.17
Our participation in the Mass each week (in accordance with the fourth commandment) is a sign that we are continuing to say yes to God’s offer of life. It is our participation in the sacramental life of the Church that enables us to receive and to live the life of Jesus. Jesus concludes today’s gospel reading speaking to his disciples, and inviting each of us to “Go and do likewise.”