My brothers and sisters, in the chapter before our first reading from Deuteronomy, Moses gave the people of God, including you and I, the 10 commandments written on 2 tablets- the first tablet of 3 focusing on love of God, and the other inscribing the next 7 focusing on love of neighbor. And in our 1st reading today, Moses instructs the Israelites, all the people of God, to “keep throughout the days of your lives all his statutes and commandments which I enjoin on you, and thus have long life. Be careful to observe them, that you may grow and prosper according to the promise of God”. The 10 commandments are, then, a blueprint for our lives given to us by our Creator. They are a written decree or covenant made with God, and if we keep the commandments all the days of our lives, then we will have a long life. Which alludes also, the opposite, if we don’t keep the commandments, then we will bring a spiritual death upon us. This spiritual death occurs by our committing a mortal sin and not keeping a commandment. But if we are careful in observing all the commandments then we will have a long life, we will grow and prosper. Thus, our happiness is wrapped up with us keeping the commandments.
Hopefully, that is a truth we know well enough, as that is indeed the high standard God is placing for our happiness and eternal life. We might know the high standard God has given, but for many of us it is difficult to live out. For some people it is so hard to keep all the commandments because the world has blurred their conscience, and thus are prone to sin. These individuals often find themselves consistently falling in one or two of the commandments so easily. And so, they jump to the conclusion, that keeping all the commandments is hopeless, or pretty much impossible for them, so they begin to lie to themselves that keeping most of them is good enough. If you might be one of those people who sometimes think that way, stay tuned and I’ll share with you a way to help grow in keeping the all the commandments.
But still for other people, keeping the commandments can become a sort of checklist that results in a cause and effect mentality. Their reasoning goes something like this: have not killed anyone, check, have not committed adultery, check, I’ve lied or coveted my neighbor in some small ways, but not being big enough in their mind to equate breaking the commandment, so that’s a check too. Thus, by the commandments being a checklist, they can equate their spiritual lives to simply if they have done a good enough job of not committing major sins. Their checklist has been evaluated. And their spiritual growth is only dependent on how well they avoid mortal sins. They reason that by not sinning that badly, or that they are keeping the commandments for the most part, thus they are being good enough to deserve the happiness they want, and the happiness God has promised. For these people their spiritual life is a cause and effect mentality. Again, if you find yourself like these people with this mentality, stay tuned.
But what is especially critical for us to understand, regardless of which extreme of mentality you might find yourself- either keeping all the commandments being pretty much impossible, or thinking that they are good enough and so have caused to get the effect of happiness they want- either way, whichever mentality- you have embraced you most likely have become complacent in your spiritual life, and stop striving, and thus, they stop growing closer to God. When we stop striving, then we become lukewarm, and Scripture says lukewarm is the worst spiritual state one can be in.
So, instead of subscribing to either of these mentalities, let us look at what our Gospel tells us. In our Gospel, a scribe, who is a scholar of the law of Moses, asked Jesus which is the first, or greatest, of all the commandments? But instead of answering with one of the 10 commandents, Jesus summarizes the 10 into two-more general commandments. The first summarization is of the 1st 3 commandments and the 2nd is the summarization of the next 7 commandments to love our neighbor as ourselves. For the first summarization, Jesus quotes what is called the Shema. The Shema is the Jewish prayer in our 1st reading: Hear, O Israel! The Lord is our God, the Lord alone! Therefore, you shall love the Lord, your God, will all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength”. Then our 1st reading concludes with Moses telling the people to “take to heart these words which I enjoin on you today”. And take to heart those words the Jewish people did. In fact, every Jew memorized the Shema, and recited it 3 times a day, with their morning, afternoon, and evening prayers. Imagine praying, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength” every day, 3 times a day. Do you think loving God would always be on the forefront of their minds and hearts? I think so. Can you and I honestly say the same? Is the love of God, and us loving God, on the forefront of our minds and hearts throughout the day? Probably not. But what if it was? My brothers and sisters, I submit to you that it should be, it would be better for us if it was, and so, we should strive to do so.
Think about how hard it is to love God with all our heart, with all our soul, mind, and strength. Think about how impossible it is to love God to the degree that he loves us! Even though it is even harder than trying to keep all the 10 commandments, we won’t become complacent or lukewarm if we strive to love God with all that we are. Focusing on striving to love God with all that we are will help us to keep the commandments, as obviously not obeying them is not loving God. If our mentality is striving to love God and neighbor with all that we are, then it will be harder for us to become complacent and stop trying, but also the happier we will become, not because it is cause and effect, but because that is the way God made us. Let me explain how it would be easier for us not to become complacent but also why we’d be happier in doing so.
First and foremost, God has and continues to outpour his love upon us. And God wants to lavish his love upon us each day. So, God has first loved us. If you really don’t know or haven’t experienced just how full and gentle God’s love for you is, then ask him, and keep desiring to receive His love. But also, God wants and deserves to be loved in return. God wants and deserves His love to be reciprocated. You and I know well that it is easier to love someone if they love us; that is, it is natural for one who has received love to want to give love in return. As that is the way we were made, in the image and likeness of God. And because God is so generous in loving us, in fact, that is all he does, all he knows how to do, because God IS Love; then the happier we will be, not because of what we have done but because our hearts are simply wanting to love God and more open to receiving God’s love. There is a more natural reciprocation, a natural giving and receiving of love, than a cause and effect mentality. And what a different and better mentality it is than just trying to avoid sin and keeping the commandments.
Therefore, what if we went to pray not to get something from God, but went simply to tell and show God how much we love him? What if loving God with our whole heart, soul, mind and strength, was our primary purpose in prayer, instead of a checklist we should do? What if God was always on our mind throughout the day? And what if we strived to love others from the way God has loved us? Friends, the more we strive to love God with all that we are, the easier it will be, and the happier we will be in doing so. So, join me in praying, ‘Lord, help me to recognize and know your love for me more and more, and help me to love you and others in a deeper way’.BACK TO LIST