Saturday of Week 16 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Exodus 24:3-8

The giving of the Decalogue at Mount Sinai is followed in the Book of Exodus by the Book of the Covenant, a list of ordinances and laws concerning subjects like the treatment of slaves, murder and injury, theft of animals, matters demanding compensation, duties towards enemies, the sabbath and great feasts. Today’s reading gives us the solemn ratification of a covenant between God and his people based on the teaching that God has given to Moses.

After Moses had told the people of all the words and ordinances he had received from the Lord, the people answered with one voice:

We will do everything that the Lord has told us.

Moses then committed all the words of the Lord to writing. 

Early the next day, he set up an altar with twelve pillars at the foot of the mountain, each pillar representing a tribe of Israel. God was symbolically represented by the altar and the people by the twelve pillars surrounding it. He then sent young men to offer holocausts and sacrifices of young bulls as peace offerings to the Lord. By burning them completely, they indicated that they were being given back to God in their entirety.

Moses then took half of the blood of these animals and put it in large bowls. The rest of the blood he splashed on the altar. He read the Book of the Covenant to all the people and again they replied:

All that the Lord has said, we will heed and do.

Finally, he took the blood in the bowls and sprinkled it on the people, saying:

This is the blood of the covenant which the Lord has made with you in accordance with all these words of his.

In this way God and his people were united in one purpose. Their intentions were good but, as we shall see, they did not always live up to their solemn promises.

Moses here acts as mediator between God and the people, a priestly role. He unifies them symbolically by sprinkling the blood of a single victim first on the altar, which represents Yahweh, and then on the people. In this way the pact is ratified by blood. 

We can see here foreshadowings of our own covenant sacrifice with God which we do through, with and in Jesus Christ. The “blood of the new covenant” is that of Jesus himself. The altar is the cross and the priest and victim are both Jesus. In the same way, the New Covenant is ratified by the blood of Christ:

This is my blood, the blood of the covenant, to be poured out in behalf of many for the forgiveness of sin. (Matt 26:28)

Jesus pours out not the blood of animals, but his own blood on the altar of the cross.

Like the Israelites of old, we many times fail to live up to the promises we make in our covenant with Christ. Indeed, we begin every Eucharist with the confession of our sins and failings. As we celebrate this Eucharist today let us renew our covenant promises and beg Jesus to help us do so.

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