One of God’s great gifts to the Israelites while they were in the desert, making their long way to the “promised land,” was the revealing of the Law. The “Law,” as it is called, was a glimpse into the inner life of God. The Israelites were told that if they kept
the Law that God gave them through Moses they would be able to “take possession of the land which the Lord, the God of your fathers, is giving you.”
Obedience to God yielded as its reward God’s Promised Land. The Israelites desperately desired a land they could finally rest and settle in. As with most history and stories of the Old Testament, this event points beyond itself to a greater truth being communicated to all times and peoples. The truth that obedience to God yields eternal rest and settling in the coming Promised Land which no one can take from us.
Obedience to God is a life that is able to move and interact with him in harmony and this yields joy. The story of humanity, however, is the great saga of our disobedience and its consequence: our unsettling malcontent. God, however, in his immense love for us, does not allow our deadly disobedience to be our last word to him. Rather, he becomes for us the great obedience that is needed, by his becoming man in Christ Jesus. God himself does what God asks of us through Moses. This is the gift of a Savior. He will also take on and destroy the consequence of disobedience, which is death, through his own resurrection.
After his resurrection and ascension, Christ will impart to us through baptism his first gift: the Holy Spirit, who enables us to live in this obedience that yields joy; and if we fail, there is now forgiveness possible through his obedient blood. God just wants us to share life with him and taste joy. It is for this reason that St. James can exhort us in the second reading, without any fear or hesitation, to “welcome the word that has been planted in you and is able to save your souls.” James exhorts us to live the life of God by being “doers of the word and not hearers only,” because it is now possible in Christ.
Our Lord knew that the Law, with all its external observations, was meant to prepare and train the heart for this deeper inner obedience of spirit. Without this end, the Law was purposeless. Jesus points to this when he quotes the prophet Isaiah: “This people honors me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.” What is sought, rather, is a congruity of heart, mind and body in one’s life with God. This is the natural, and now redeemed, human life with God.
It is as St. James says, “The religion that is pure and undefiled before God.” The marks of incongruity are clear as our Lord says, “From within people, from their hearts, come evil thoughts, unchastity, theft, murder, adultery, greed, malice, deceit, licentiousness, envy, blasphemy, arrogance, folly. All these evils come from within and they defile.” The marks of obedient harmony with God are also clear as St. Paul says in Galatians 5:22, they are love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, generosity, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.
Questions for reflection
1. What actions in my life reveal disharmony with God?
2. Where is God helping me to grow in obedience?
3. Where have I grown overly frustrated with this life, mistaking it for the Promised Land.
Fr. Vander Steeg is pastor of St. Mary Parish, Greenville, and St. Edward Parish, Mackville.