March 4 - We cannot treat religious faith like another commodity in life

July 29, 2019 at 12:37 p.m.

The Word

The movement from slavery in Egypt to settlement in the Promised Land was not an easy one. Not all of the people wanted to leave Egypt. While life as lower class slaves was not easy, Egypt was rich with food and drink, and the Israelites lived in better conditions than did many free peoples of the same period.

While the Israelites, or technically the Hebrews, were a distinct ethnic minority within Egypt, they did not really have a shared identity. Much of the work in the desert under Moses, Aaron and Miriam, was to shape the people into a nation. Essentially they entered the desert as a Late Bronze Age people and emerged 40 years later in the Promised Land as an Iron Age nation.

Part of forming an identity is the development of a shared ethos and legal code. The Israelites receive the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) from God on Mount Sinai, and the Lord gives an additional 603 laws, all of which are found throughout the Torah.

The First Reading for the Third Sunday of Lent is the Ten Commandments as recorded in Exodus. (There is a slightly different arrangement of the Commandments in Deuteronomy).  The Lord gives the commandments not as a focus on punishment, but to forge a people through a shared ethos.

The Commandments focus first on the duty to God. The Israelites are God’s people. He covenanted them through Abraham, and renews that covenant with them at Sinai. The Commandments are the preamble to the Covenant, summarizing the relationship between God and his people. The majority of the commandments draw attention to the social relationships and property rights. They insure that the people will feel safe and that their rights will be secured.

It is interesting that Christians, especially Catholics, focus so much attention on the Decalogue, for the Jewish people in large measure do not. The Commandments form the basis of our examination of conscience as we prepare for Confession. Yet we use them still for the same purpose that the Lord established them among the ancient Israelites: to forge the basis of a common ethos.

The pronouncement of the Decalogue stands in a very stark contrast to the Cleansing of the Temple in the Gospel passage this Sunday. The Commandments to honor God and him alone had been overshadowed by the economic enterprise of religious observance at the temple. Religious faith and practice became a commodity, and not an obligation borne of faith and made pure through sacrifice.

There is always a danger in treating religious faith as though it were just another activity of our lives. We feel the need to compromise with faith. The school soccer match, or the talent show, bears equal importance on the calendar to attending Mass. Indeed, for many of us they actually supersede Mass. The Lord asks of us to put him first and not to simply treat him and the covenant he has made with us as though it were another commodity or activity in life.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.

 

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The movement from slavery in Egypt to settlement in the Promised Land was not an easy one. Not all of the people wanted to leave Egypt. While life as lower class slaves was not easy, Egypt was rich with food and drink, and the Israelites lived in better conditions than did many free peoples of the same period.

While the Israelites, or technically the Hebrews, were a distinct ethnic minority within Egypt, they did not really have a shared identity. Much of the work in the desert under Moses, Aaron and Miriam, was to shape the people into a nation. Essentially they entered the desert as a Late Bronze Age people and emerged 40 years later in the Promised Land as an Iron Age nation.

Part of forming an identity is the development of a shared ethos and legal code. The Israelites receive the Decalogue (Ten Commandments) from God on Mount Sinai, and the Lord gives an additional 603 laws, all of which are found throughout the Torah.

The First Reading for the Third Sunday of Lent is the Ten Commandments as recorded in Exodus. (There is a slightly different arrangement of the Commandments in Deuteronomy).  The Lord gives the commandments not as a focus on punishment, but to forge a people through a shared ethos.

The Commandments focus first on the duty to God. The Israelites are God’s people. He covenanted them through Abraham, and renews that covenant with them at Sinai. The Commandments are the preamble to the Covenant, summarizing the relationship between God and his people. The majority of the commandments draw attention to the social relationships and property rights. They insure that the people will feel safe and that their rights will be secured.

It is interesting that Christians, especially Catholics, focus so much attention on the Decalogue, for the Jewish people in large measure do not. The Commandments form the basis of our examination of conscience as we prepare for Confession. Yet we use them still for the same purpose that the Lord established them among the ancient Israelites: to forge the basis of a common ethos.

The pronouncement of the Decalogue stands in a very stark contrast to the Cleansing of the Temple in the Gospel passage this Sunday. The Commandments to honor God and him alone had been overshadowed by the economic enterprise of religious observance at the temple. Religious faith and practice became a commodity, and not an obligation borne of faith and made pure through sacrifice.

There is always a danger in treating religious faith as though it were just another activity of our lives. We feel the need to compromise with faith. The school soccer match, or the talent show, bears equal importance on the calendar to attending Mass. Indeed, for many of us they actually supersede Mass. The Lord asks of us to put him first and not to simply treat him and the covenant he has made with us as though it were another commodity or activity in life.

Father Garry Koch is pastor of St. Benedict Parish, Holmdel.

 

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