No. 15 Teach us Your Ways
‘Lord, teach us how to love you.’
True religion leads the individual’s soul, the whole people of God, to make this plea, ‘Teach us, Lord’.
Over the millennia has come the response, revealed in love. Gently, gradually. Until with Jesus, who is the very Love and Mercy of God, we hear, “If you love me, keep my commandments”. Not commandments as human language has the term, as orders backed by an ‘Obey! Or Else!’ (‘or else you will be zapped!’), but beacons, paths through the wilderness of life, away from law of the jungle and the quicksands of selfishness. Ways to fuller life, to a life of inner joy and peace, a life of intimacy with the Lord, and life for the world. To realise this we need to live out the words of the Father: ‘Listen to his voice’.
Wending our way through the history of salvation we see that this teaching developed in four phases, taking people from where they were and leading them, according to their capacity, to understand the things of God.
1. From the phase of ‘pre-Abrahamic’ darkness and confusion, of superstition and idolatry with its focus upon survival and victory over the forces of nature and of rivals and the satisfaction of the belly,
2. To an ‘Abrahamic phase’ consisting of the recognition of the One God, of worshiping Him alone; and of the far more difficult corollary of trusting in the Lord, of listening for His voice and of doing or setting out to do whatever He asked, regardless of the cost and the probable outcome (as with Abraham’s willingness to sacrifice his precious son, Isaac, upon whom the Lord’s promise of descendants as numerous as the stars hinged). This phase was one of incipient and unstructured religion, when the God-given moral code was yet to be revealed; and when personal and group behaviour was a matter of poorly informed conscience, which was pliable. (As individuals bent on doing ‘our own thing’ are we not still at this stage?)
3. Then came the ‘Mosaic phase’ which amplified the essentials of the Abrahamic. Now we had the Law, as revealed by God through Moses to the Jews, an oppressed people, in order to deliver them from the yoke of slavery, ignorance and sin, and to guide His Chosen People, to the land of promise and spiritual plenty.
That Law is summarised in the Ten Commandments. A wonderful blessing to enlighten our pathways, but a stumbling block to those who insist on going ‘my own way’ (as our world continues to persist in doing and justifying in our day).
“If today you hear his voice, harden not your hearts” (Psalm 94). “O that my people would heed me….Israel I would feed with finest wheat and fill them with honey from the rock”…”But my people did not heed my voice and Israel would not obey, so I left them in their stubbornness of heart to follow their own designs.” (Psalm 80).
No, they would not listen, and their plans led to disaster: the splitting up of the Kingdom and subsequently the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, deportation to Babylon and captivity there. But, in their affliction and desolation, hope was offered by God to a rebellious people: the promise of a Messiah who would restore the Chosen People to their lost heritage and carry them forward in the ways of the Lord. The prophets spoke of the need to return to the One God and to observing God’s law, through repentance and living by its spirit rather than by its letter. But conversion was too distasteful (as it is for us) for the Jewish establishment. They would not recognise the Messiah when he did come. Their preconceptions of Him did not tally with His social pedigree, His message and His demeanour: “But my people did not heed my voice and Israel would not obey, so I left them in their stubbornness of heart to follow their own designs” (Psalm 80), designs which were political, cultural, temporal and selfish.
4. The Christic phase was (and remains) one in which the this-worldly standards and aspirations of the Jewish religious leadership of Jesus’ day were shown to be incompatible with the mind of the Father, by Jesus His Son, with His invitation into the mysterious and transformative ways of divine love: all-embracing and rich beyond measure. Meant for all and to be communicated to all.
But the new Christic order was built on the older Mosaic dispensation, which it did not negate, but enhanced. However, today as yesterday, we have in our Christian midst, so many who are misguided: those who do not like the Ten Commandments
a) which challenge their ‘right’ to go according to their inclinations, weaknesses and preferences.
b) And there are others who are so caught up in their personal constructions of spirituality and spiritual enlightenment and their direct line to God, that they presume that if they say “God spoke to me…” or “My conscience says it is O.K…” this is truly God’s will for them! And, before such presumption the Commandments of God and the voice of His Church to which Christ gave his authority to teach in His Name, must bow. These too forget the Lord’s insistence:
‘Do not imagine that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets. I have come not to abolish but to complete them. In truth I tell you, till heaven and earth disappear, not one dot, not one little stroke, is to disappear from the Law until all its purpose is achieved. Therefore, anyone who infringes even one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do the same will be considered the least in the kingdom of Heaven; but the person who keeps them and teaches them will be considered great in the kingdom of Heaven. (Matthew 5: 17 – 19 . New Jerusalem Bible)
The New Commandment
So, where do we stand? Christ Jesus, by word and example and the gift of his grace, has given us a lens and a prism which bring into clearer focus the Ten Commandments and the Law of Moses, dispelling fear and anxiety and despondency in the face of our own weakness, enriching and opening them for ongoing application in all times. Jesus has given us the Beatitudes, the Sermon on the Mount (in Matthew) or the Sermon on the Plain (as in Luke) and their imperative, “Love one another as I have loved you.”
‘Lord, teach us your ways. Show us how to love you.’