I think a big turn-off a lot of folks have with religion is the amount of rules there seems to be, or the checklist attitude that is taken to them. It can feel like an exhausting balancing act even for the devoted, much less for the newcomer, to view the commandments this way. Which is exactly why we shouldn’t. As the readings this week explore, God desires us to have a new perspective on the commandments and a deeper practice of them!
Our first reading from Sirach reminds us of the importance of the commandments. God never asks anything except for our benefit, but still leaves the decision in our hands that we might choose good ourselves. In this, God allows us to develop our hearts to desire the things he desires, and this allows us to go beyond doing just what is asked of us.
This notion, I believe, is what St. Paul is getting at in the second reading. God has not willfully hidden some secret of salvation away to make things difficult, for we hear regularly how He desires all people to come to Him. Rather, the wisdom of God is secret because it etches itself onto our hearts in indescribable ways, known only by continual practice.
Jesus’ preaching confirms this as he challenges his followers to go deeper into love of the commandments. Rather than superseding them, Jesus ups the ante, saying that anger is tantamount to murder, or lust equal to adultery, but He is not trying to inflict more rules on us in saying this. Rather he is inviting us to consider how we do ourselves a disservice by only keeping to them as a kind of minimalist checklist. God’s goal is rather to draw us into a deeper and deeper and deeper relationship of love with Him and with others.
Each of these readings avoids the notion of a checklist, or any kind of ‘bare minimum’ thinking. God is not satisfied with doing the bare minimum. Rather the readings reframe the commandments to help us see them as ways God invites us to share in His divine life which is dynamic, moving, and overflowing into the forgotten cracks of life. As we prepare for Lent, perhaps one of our resolutions could be diving fully into the commandments with this newfound attitude and explore ways we can more abundantly love God and others!
Written by: Alex Craven, Family Faith Formation Coordinator