“Gird your loins and light your lamps and be like servants who await their master’s return from a wedding, ready to open immediately when he comes and knocks. Blessed are those servants whom the master finds vigilant on his arrival.”
So begins the Gospel reading for our Cathedral in Reno Nevada, this Nineteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time. How do we get ready? What does God ask us as Americans, and as Catholics to do?
I teach you the customs and correct judicial precedents as the Personal Name my Almighty Judge, commanded me, for you may guard them in the land you enter to possess. Guard them and do them, for this being the midwife of your mind and building up of your thoughts in the sight of the peoples, who will hear of all these customs and say, “What nation has mighty ones so close to it as the Personal Name, our Almighty Judge, is to us whenever we call upon him? What great nation has customs and correct judicial precedents that are as charitable as this whole teaching I set before you, this day? Deuteronomy 4: 5-8
This Mitzvah I give you today is not too wondrous or remote for you. It is not in the heavens, that you should say, “Who will go up to the heavens to get it for us and tell us of it, that we may do it?” 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 do it?” No, it is something very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to do it. Deuteronomy 30:11-14
The Personal Name, your Almighty Judge, will bless you abundantly in the land The Personal Name, your Almighty Judge, will give you to possess as a heritage. There shall be no one of you in need, if you but listen to the voice of The Personal Name, your Almighty Judge, and carefully observe this entire Mitzvah I enjoin on you today. The Personal Name, your Almighty Judge, will bless you as he promised, you will lend to many nations, and borrow from none; you will rule over many nations, and none will rule over you.
If one of your kindred is in need in any community in the land which The Personal Name, your Almighty Judge, is giving you, you will not harden your heart nor close your hand against your kin who is in need. Instead, you shall freely open your hand and generously lend what suffices to meet that need. When you give, give generously and not with a stingy heart; for that, The Personal Name, your Almighty Judge, will bless you in all your works and undertakings. The land will never lack for needy persons; that is why I command you: “Open your hand freely to your poor and to your needy kin in your land.” Deuteronomy 15:4-11
Most scholars now agree how these words were not likely written by Moses, but by some unknown author at one of two dates.
The grammarian Shaphan informed the king, “Hilkiah the priest gave me a book,” and then Shaphan read it in the presence of the king. When the king heard the words of the book of the law, he tore his garments. He then issued this command to Hilkiah the priest, Ahikam, son of Shaphan, Achbor, son of Micaiah, Shaphan the grammarian, and Asaiah the king’s servant: II Kings, 22:10-13
This comes from chapter 22 of a 25-chapter book. At the book’s end, the Babylonians come and the era of the kings was over. Most scholars view the book in question to be our book of Deuteronomy. Some scholars date Deuteronomy even later, during the exile. In either case, the book does not look forward to the ideal state, but backward, trying to find out what went wrong. How did the society founded by God himself, and with such high ideals, as related in Deuteronomy 4, so deviate from what was supposed to be?
“There shall be no one of you in need… if you but listen to the voice of The Personal Name… The land will never lack for needy persons,” as Deuteronomy 15 tells us. The key phrase is, “if you but listen to the voice of The Personal Name…” What does that voice say? “It is something very near to you, in your mouth and in your heart, to do it. Deuteronomy 30:11-14 “I have set before you life and death, the blessing and the curse. Choose life!…” Deuteronomy 30:19. God knows how we will not keep this Mitzvah. Therefore, there will be needy in the land. Therefore, we must strive to return to God by helping the needy. This is choosing life.
We often find it easier to live by the written law book than to follow the dictates of Deuteronomy 30, which is part of the written law book. Jesus meets a young scholar with this very problem.
A Torah scholar who stood up to test Jesus, “Teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus replied, “What is written in the law? How do you read it?” He replied, “Love the Personal Name, your Almighty Judge, with all your hearts, with all your anima (that which animates you), with all your measure, and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” Jesus replied to him, “You have answered correctly; do this and you will live.” Because he wished to justify himself, he told Jesus, “Who is my neighbor?”
The scholar, even in the Greek, does not ask Jesus, but tells him the question. For the scholar, this is an academic question, demanding an academic response, not the serious answer to a question. Jesus chooses to avoid the academics, and force the scholar to answer his own question. We all know what the truth is; we simply need to put our mental concepts out of the way and listen to our hearts. Jesus loves to get his disputants to put their mental concepts to one side, and listen to their hearts. This is but one example of the effort.
Deuteronomy 30 tells us we already know the answer to the question. We must merely put the academics aside, the rulebook aside, and look into the rulebook of our hearts.
As he was setting out on a journey, a man ran up, knelt down before him, and asked him, “Good teacher, what must I do to inherit eternal life?” Jesus answered him, “Why do you call me good? No one is good but God alone. You know the commandments: ‘You will not kill; you will not commit adultery; you shall not steal; you shall not bear vain witness; you will not defraud; hold as important your father and your mother.”
This version is interesting because Jesus combines what St. Augustine calls the last two commandments in “On the Exodus,” into one commandment. This means, that for Jesus to have Ten Commandments, he must find one elsewhere in the passage. Where is it?
The Personal Name, our Almighty Judge, cut a Social Contract with us at Horeb; not with our fathers did the Personal Name cut this Social Contract, but with us, all of us, alive, here, this day. Face to face, the LORD spoke with you on the mountain from the midst of the fire, while I was standing between the Personal Name and you at that time, to announce to you these words of the Personal Name, since you were afraid of the fire and would not go up the mountain:
Remember, “I am the Personal Name your Almighty Judge, who brought you out of the land of Egypt/Oppression, out of the house of Menial Labor.” You will remember what it was like to be there, and you will remember your rescue. When you do this, when you see others suffering, it will bring back bad memories, and you will do something to stop that suffering.”
This is the essence of Deuteronomy 30; this is what makes Israel, the perfect society; this is what Jesus talks about in the story of the Samaritan. Put the academics aside and your heart will tell you what the command of God is, as individuals, as Americans, as Catholics, and as Christians.