Sunday Sermon for July 14, 2013, the Fifteenth Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C

Readings: Dt 30: 10-14; Col 1:15-20, Lk 10:25-37

In the first reading today Moses pleads with the people of Israel saying “If only you would heed the voice of the Lord, your God and keep His commandments and statutes…” The people had promised that they would do everything the Lord had spoken through Moses, but we know that this intention did not last very long with most of them. In fact, the disobedience and the lack of faith became so extreme that the people had to spend forty years wandering in the desert until all from that wayward generation had died (Joshua and Caleb excepted).

More tragic is the fact that people do not learn from the mistakes of others and, consequently, repeat those same mistakes. This summarizes the history of Israel. Human nature did not change after our Lord came to earth to save us from ourselves and, therefore, it summarizes the history of Christians until our present day.

Moses had already written for the people, in the chapters immediately preceding today’s reading, all of the blessings that the Lord would bestow upon them if they lived according to the Law and all of the curses that would befall them if they did not follow what God had revealed to them. So the people could not say that they had not been warned. These blessings and curses remain in effect to this day.

We still have to carry out God’s will in our lives, but as we read in the Gospel, Jesus narrowed down everything contained in the Law and the Prophets to two commands so that we could no longer claim that there was too much to remember, it was too difficult or whatever other excuse fallen humanity could invent. Jesus told us that we are to love the Lord with our whole heart, soul and strength, and we are to love our neighbor as ourselves.

Even if we argued that we did not really know what this meant in practice, not only do we have our Lord’s exposition about the Good Samaritan, but we also have His own actions and example throughout His life and especially on the Cross. Even with this simplicity and clarity we have still failed, not only to love Him wholeheartedly, but most of us have failed to love Him even halfheartedly.

There will be those who will claim ignorance: “I didn’t know.” This attempt to excuse ourselves will not work at all because Moses told the people that the commands he enjoined upon the people were not too mysterious or remote for them. In fact, he tells them they these precepts are already in their hearts and in their mouths, they had only to carry them out. This is very similar to what God promises through the Prophet Jeremiah when He says that He will write in Law in our hearts and in our minds.

What is more, we are in Jesus, Who is one with the Father and the Holy Spirit, and they dwell in us. St. Paul reminds us in the second reading of what this means for us. Jesus is the Creator and Redeemer of all, and all things exist in and for Him. He is the firstborn of all creation and in Him the fullness of God dwells, even in His Incarnate form. He has also reconciled everything in Himself. So we have no excuse. We have no reason to fear because we are reconciled with God and also because He became one of us. Now He has not only come among us, but He dwells within us.

If the laws and commandments of God were not too remote for the people of old, what we are we to say when God Himself is not remote from us? Moses must have been shown by God what the people would do because he told the people that they would follow the ways of God when they return to Him with their whole hearts. This also remains true for us. When we turn wholehearted to the Lord, we will be able to carry out everything because our love for God will cause us to seek and to do only what it good and right. This is why Jesus could reduce everything down to two points.

We who have made vows in baptism have made quite an art of giving lip service to God while our hearts are far from Him. Even those who are closer to Him struggle to love Him wholeheartedly. We are too much in love with ourselves and too attached to our own wills. The curses and blessings contained in Deuteronomy remain for those who choose their own will or God’s, respectively. It is time that we apply the words of Moses to ourselves: “If only you would heed the voice of the Lord, your God.”

Fr. Altier’s column appears regularly in The Wanderer, a national Catholic weekly published in St. Paul, Minn. For information about subscribing to The Wanderer, please visit