Immersed in Christ: February 29, 2020
Saturday After Ash Wednesday
Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may be faithful in your sight (Psalm 86).
Isaiah 58: 9-14 presents two levels of response to God, and two levels of promise.
The first level is to keep the Commandments on the “second tablet” of the “two tablets of the covenant,” that God gave to Moses on Mount Sinai. Custom assigns to the first tablet the Commandments that call us “to acknowledge God as the one Lord of all and to worship him alone for his infinite holiness.” On the second are the Commandments that rule our interaction with humans, “the summary and foundation of which is "the commandment of love of neighbor:"1
The Lord promises: “If you offer your food to the hungry and satisfy the needs of the afflicted [the “second tablet], then “the Lord will guide you continually, and satisfy your needs.... The ancient ruins shall be rebuilt... you shall be called the repairer of the breach, the restorer of streets to live in.” To live by God’s law brings wellbeing on earth, restores and renews human society.
But to those who keep the “first tablet” God promises something higher:
If you refrain from trampling the sabbath, from pursuing your own interests on my holy day; if you call the sabbath a delight and ... honor it.... then you shall take delight in the LORD, and I will make you ride upon the heights of the earth; I will nourish you with the heritage of your ancestor Jacob....
Treat those on earth right, and we will have delight on earth. Treat God right, and we will “delight in the Lord” himself. We will know God.
Which shall we choose? To focus on living well (in both senses) on earth, or to focus on relationship with God and enjoying that “life to the full” Jesus came to give, finding our delight in knowing God and spending our lives to make his name “hallowed” by every person in the world? This is not an “either-or” choice; we must make it “both-and.” Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may be faithful in your sight. 2
Luke 5: 27-32 tells us only the hungry will come to be fed. If we are good enough not to think we are bad, we may settle for ordinary, decent human behavior, with no further hunger or desire, no longing to learn how to live on the level of God. This is the curse of the self-controlled; the fallacy of the Pharisees. Jesus calls it the handicap of the “healthy.” It is the “good” that is the enemy of the “better.”
The paradox is, if we are fully “natural” we will long for the “supernatural.” The built-in desire of our intellect and will is for truth and goodness. If the infinite Truth and Goodness we can never attain by nature is offered, it is a sin against our human nature to refuse it.
Initiative: To be fully “natural,” long and live for the “supernatural.”
1 See Exodus 31:18 and John Paul II, The Splendor of Truth, nos. 11-13, citing Exodus 20:2-11 for the “first tablet” and Romans 13:8-10 for the second.
2 John 10:10. See John Paul’s brilliant explanation of how Jesus transformed the practice and promise of both tablets in The Splendor of Truth, nos. 11 to end.