Monday of Week 19 of Ordinary Time – First Reading

Commentary on Deuteronomy 10:12-22

Our reading again comes from the second of the three discourses of Moses which form the major part of Deuteronomy. Today’s passage comes from the last part of the discourse. It is a beautiful call for the people of Israel to be filled with the very spirit of their God.

Moses’ question to the people is:

What does Yahweh your God ask of you?

He himself gives the beautiful answer:

To fear Yahweh your God,
to follow all his ways,
to love him,
to serve Yahweh your God with all your heart and soul,
to keep the commandments and laws of Yahweh,
which I am laying down today for your own good.

He tells them that they are living in a world where everything above, on and below the earth belongs to Yahweh and comes from him:

To your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens.

‘Heaven of heavens’ is a Hebrew superlative meaning the highest of heavens.

Yet, out of all he has made in his mysterious ways “for love of them”, he chose their ancestors to be his own in a special way. This love extends to their descendants down to the present day.

The sign of their belonging to God is their circumcision but they must go further and circumcise their hearts and be resistant to the Lord’s call no longer. Circumcision was the outer sign of belonging to God’s people, but that was not enough. The bonding must reach deep down into the heart. It cannot stop at a merely external physical badge; membership brings spiritual obligations with it.

So, Jeremiah says:

For the sake of the Lord, be circumcised, remove the foreskins of your hearts. (Jer 4:4)

The “uncircumcised” heart is closed and unreceptive to God’s grace and guidance. Elsewhere the Scripture speaks also of “uncircumcised” ears (Jer 6:10) which are closed to the voice of God and “uncircumcised” lips, which do not speak well.

Moses then gives a wonderful description of God:

God of gods, Lord of lords,
the great God, mighty and awesome,
who has no favourites, accepts no bribes.
It is he who seeks justice for the orphan and the widow,
who loves the stranger, feeding and clothing him.

So the Israelites must imitate their God in loving the stranger, because they themselves were once strangers in Egypt. Here, we have an advance beyond concern for their own people.

Their total allegiance must be to this God. He is the one they must fear and serve; to him they must hold firm; in his name only will they make their oaths. He is the one they must praise, the one who did these great and terrible things of which they themselves were witnesses. This can refer to all the wonders that happened before they left Egypt, the happenings at Mount Sinai and the many other signs of God’s power they experienced in their 40 years of wanderings.

And although their ancestors – Jacob and his family – were only 70 persons when they went down to Egypt (as described at the end of Genesis), their numbers are now as many as the stars of heaven, thus fulfilling the promise made so long ago to Abraham when his wife was still barren and he had no heir and no prospect of one.

Moses is emphasising that their being God’s chosen people is not just a privilege to be exploited, but a responsibility which calls for even greater accountability.

We are moving now into the spirituality of the prophets. In the earlier times of hardship, the Israelites were more concerned with justice for themselves and looking for the end of a life of suffering. Now, with better times, they can begin to look around them, because with better times – as so often happens – comes social inequality.

The emphasis, too, on loving God is moving from focusing on God alone and the observance of law to a greater sensitivity to the needs of those around us, including the total stranger and the outsider. The Gospel will make it abundantly clear that there can be no love of God which does not include going through other people.

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