Print Version February 18th, 2005
Both our readings impose exacting standards of behaviour: Deuteronomy says we must observe all those laws and customs and observe them with all our heart and observe them with all our soul; Matthew, in turn, will be happy if we are simply perfect. They both set the bar pretty high. Impossibly high.
And Deuteronomy is clear on the consequences of failure. God will no longer be our God and we will no longer be God’s people. And the way the Deuteronomist tells the story that means defeat and death, uprooting and exile.
This is the tradition—or one of the traditions—that Jesus was brought up with. That God punishes transgression and God blesses obedience. Where did Jesus get the courage and the insight to speak the opposite: that God causes the sun to rise on bad and good alike, that God sends his rain to fall on honest and dishonest alike, that God loves her friends and enemies alike?
Where do we get that same courage and insight? When nation and church spend time and money telling the old, old story, where do we find the voice to sing, with Jesus, a new song? When our own tempters are always ready to whisper tales of pride and doom how do we have the heart instead to attend to the better angels of our human nature?
In a sense that’s all our work—letting people hear the right words, see the real God, get a feel for God’s humble perfection. But Deuteronomy isn’t just addressed to individuals like the ones who find their way to our door. Deuteronomy is asking a pledge of a nation, speaking to the heart of a whole people. And as a nation we’ve learned the message well: we bless and curse according to merit, or celebrity, or birth. How do we speak to that?