Deuteronomy 30:8-14
You, however, shall again obey the voice of the LORD and observe all his commandments which I am giving you today. Then the LORD, your God, will generously increase your undertakings…; for the LORD, your God, will again take delight in your prosperity, just as he took delight in your ancestors’, because you will obey the voice of the LORD, your God, keeping the commandments and statutes that are written in this book of the law, when you return to the LORD, your God, with your whole heart and your whole being.
For this command which I am giving 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.
What does it mean to obey the will of God? To obey his commandments? The answer to that may not be as hard as you think.
Pope St. John Paul, quoting St. Augustine, said “The law was given that grace might be sought; and grace was given, that the law might be fulfilled”. Someplace, the Scripture says that it is impossible for man to please God. Yet, we CAN please God when our actions are united to Christ. Because then what we do is not just us, but Christ living in us. We are taught, by God himself through his self–revelation, a full and complete way to live in harmony with one another, with all creation, and most importantly – with Him.
Another of my sources put it very well: “The law is designed as a guide to human life. It is not part of an inaccessible divine mystery. To believe otherwise is nothing less than an attempt to evade responsibility. Second, the law is a practical guide to daily living. It is not some obtuse… system that is beyond most people. The law is THE way of life open to all.”
One way to think of “evading responsibility” is to say “this stuff is too hard, who can possibly fulfill all of this?” And because of this kind of attitude, many people give up the spiritual life! But, the entire record of God’s dealing with human beings is one of enabling us to follow where he leads. He not only offers us a great way of life, but he gives us the support – through the Holy Spirit – to live that life.
Let me repeat that quote from St. Augustine: “The law was given that grace might be sought; and grace was given, that the law might be fulfilled”.
Too many people are not accepting the responsibility to live in holiness. I’m reminded of the story from Mark’s gospel of the rich young man. Jesus “looked at him with love,” but the man walked away. What Moses is trying to tell the Israelites is, in some ways, exactly what Jesus says we are able to fulfill. We can have an abundant and full life, driven by the Holy Spirit, that enables us to complete the commandments that God has laid before us.
I remember someone saying once (and I have probably said it at least once here): “there are more do’s in the Bible than there are don’ts; so if you spend your time doing the do’s, you wouldn’t have time to do the don’ts, and even if you could, you wouldn’t, so you can’t, so you don’t.”
I think this is what our reading from Deuteronomy is trying to explain. God is the one who provides the strength for us to do what seems impossible. At this point in their journey through the desert, the Israelites knew how bad they were at following God’s commands. But, so they would not be too discouraged, God offers them the consolation of knowing that the possibility to complete these commandments is within their grasp.
In fact, in some manuscripts, the last line of our first reading today reads differently: “no, it is something very near you, in your mouth, and in your heart, AND IN YOUR HANDS, to do it.” One early Church Father said this: “the mouth stands for meditation on the divine words; the heart, readiness of the spirit; the hands for doing what is commanded.”
Jesus is asking us to grasp the fullness of his truth. He is calling us out of ourselves in such a way that we would care for someone who had been beaten up. In our world today there are many people who have been spiritually beaten, nearly to despair. God has put it in our minds, that is, our mouths, to know his divine words – his commandments. He has put it in our hearts to understand what a life of holiness is all about. He has put the ability to do these works of holiness in our hands.
This also reminds me of the three–fold blessing that I do just before reading the Gospel. It is on the forehead, the lips, and the heart, while I say silently: “God keep your word in my mind, on my lips, and in my heart.” This is the same kind of idea as I mentioned just a moment ago. The ability to follow God’s commands, to do his will, “is something very near you, in your mouth, and in your heart, AND IN YOUR HANDS, to do it.”
We can choose to be like the scribe who wanted to justify himself, and thereby nearly missed the grace that God had planned for him. We can be like the rich young man who chose to walk away instead of to receive grace, the call to holiness. Or we can think about what God has given us to do, open our hearts in courage that he walks with us, and use our hands, our skills, all our abilities to bring holiness into a world that seems neither to understand it nor want it.
One more simple question: do YOU want the holiness of God at the center of your life, in the center of your heart?
Normally, as you may have noticed, I have been concluding my homily with the a prayer. But, this time, I’m going to take a few moments of silence and invite you to answer that question personally, between you and God.… Amen.