What do the readings for the Twenty Second Sunday of Ordinary time have in common with our national heritage and the story of Adam and Eve? Many people look to the great story of Adam and Eve and Eve’s great sin, the great fall. A close reading of the story says, “Not so!” This is what our liturgical reading says about listening to God:
In your observance of the Mitzvah of the NAME, your God, which I enjoin upon you, you shall not add to what I command you nor subtract from it.
Read the great exchanges between God and Adam and then between Eve and the Serpent:
The NAME God commanded the man: You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of good and evil. From that tree you shall not eat; when you eat from it you shall die. Genesis 2:16-17
“Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any of the trees in the garden’?” The woman answered : “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; it is only about the fruit of the tree in the middle of the garden that God said, ‘You shall not eat it or even touch it, or else you will die.’” Genesis 3:1-3
The Serpent quotes God correctly. Eve is not rebellious; she is overly pious. She adds, “or even touch it.”
The Gospel reading adds to this theme. It is no secret to the Jewish establishment, it is only a matter of time before the Romans come and level Jerusalem. The historian Josephus reports Rome has already attacked many Israeli cities, several times, in the last quarter century. Their method of operation is well established. The Jewish establishment took pains to make sure the people were ready. They took the rituals of the temple liturgy and required the common people to follow these in their homes. They added to the Commandments given by Moses. They were not rebellious; they were overly zealous. They failed to understand the section from Deuteronomy 4:
The nations, who will hear of all these customs and say, ‘This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.’ What great nation is there that has gods so close to it, as the NAME, our God is to us whenever we call upon him? Or what great nation has customs and precedents that are as just as this whole Torah/teaching I set before you today?”
In our nation, we face the same problems. Some desire to push an overly pious approach to church and the running of the nation. They would force rote resuscitation of church prayers, the Pledge of Allegiance and other documents of our national heritage. They do not push understanding what these words mean.
The Jewish national understanding and America’s national understanding have much in common. They both preach, “Give me your tired, your poor, your huddled masses yearning to breathe free…” “As Christ died to make men Holy, let us die to make men free…” They both preach the equality of all men. They both preach we are a nation rescued from over there, wherever over there is, to over here, Israel/America. When we practice the words of our sacred documents, people say, “This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.”
When we preach law, order, and following the rules for the sake of following the rules, they rename Jerusalem, Aelia Capitolina, evict all its residents and bring in replacements, burning the city to the ground. The choice is ours. Do we want to live our heritage, or do we want to add to God’s rules and bring down his wrath?
Deuteronomy 4:13 is the only passage numbering the Ten Commandments as ten. “He proclaimed to you his covenant, commanding you to keep: the ten words, which he wrote on two stone tablets.” The key term is “Ten,” “Asher” in Hebrew. “Asher” means Ten, but also means “Happy.”
We are happy when we follow the simple rules God gave Adam and Eve. “The NAME God took the man and settled him in the garden of Eden, to guard it and to care of it. The NAME God gave the man this order: You are free to eat from any of the trees of the garden except the tree of knowledge of the satisfying and the rotten. From that tree you shall not eat; when you eat from it you will die, die.” Genesis 2:15-17.” God set us here to guard and care for his garden, all of it, including each other. The command is just that simple.
In Deuteronomy 6:4-9 God says, “Here Israel, (you who struggle with God) God is Almighty, God is One. Love God with all your hearts, with all your animate being, and with all your measure.” How do we love God; what do we give someone who literally already has everything? We respect what is his, in particular that which is made in his image, each other. God meant for us to take care for each other, to help each other be happy. When we as a community do this we all become happy. There is no room for being solemn. There is no emphasis on rules. There is only the emphasis on the game of life. Taking time to figure out the rules, the game must stop. That is why the typical football game, four 15 minute periods, one hour, takes three hours to play.
The game is not about ritual either; it is about helping everyone to be happy. We share the responsibility, with the goal of making everyone happy. Society does not say, government should do this, private enterprise should do that, and the church does the other. We love God with all our measure, government, private enterprise, church, and each other. The command before us today is to help each other to be happy, no more and no less.