You have led the people through the wilderness. You have given them rules to live by. Now they are on the threshold of the Promised Land and you are about to die. What do you do?
Well given that the people are stubborn, stiff-necked, and tend to forget whose they are and how they are to live, it might be a good idea to remind them. And thus we have the raison d’etre of the Book of Deuteronomy at least according to tradition (and the first two audiences listed in the Working Preacher commentary).
This weeks tidbit from the re-telling of the law comes from 2 chapters. We have the 10 Commandments re-told (and slightly altered from the Exodus version) in 5:1-21 and we have the Shema in 6:4-9. You can read the passage here. The commentary from Working Preacher is here with the podcast here. Resources from The Text this Week related to these verses are here.
Now while tradition says these are the words of Moses to the people, it seems much more historically accurate to say that these are words that were written down and shared at a much later date (the third audience in the WP commentary). Possibly they are the scroll of the Law that was “discovered” during renovations to the Temple during the reign of Josiah (2 Kings 22). Then in the Gospel accounts Jesus returns to the Shema to answer the question about the Greatest Commandment. All this goes to show that passing on the teaching of the Law remains important from Moses through Josiah and the writer of Deuteronomy, through Jesus and the Gospel writers, through to the present day. Otherwise we might forget, we might lose our way.
There is, I think, something about humanity that chafes at rules. There is something of the rebellious toddler (or teenager) in us that wants to have “freedom” and forgets that bounded freedom is often more free than anarchy. And so we need to be reminded about the rules and why they exist. How should we live? How do we form a faithful community? Why are these rules a gift rather than a straitjacket? We answer those questions (which, to be honest, are most often unspoken) by sharing the old stories, by remembering, by making them part of our consciousness. We continue in the ancient cycle.
This idea of retelling the story, of recalling the law comes up again and again in the arc of the Scripture story. Joshua does it at the end of his part in the story. As mentioned above, Josiah appears to have included it in his reforms. When the exiles return to rebuild Jerusalem they gather to hear the Torah read. And the people weep. The reminder of the story and of the Law makes people weep. I often wonder if they are tears of repentance, tears of gratitude, or both? What happens when we remind ourselves of the story and of the obligations placed upon us? Do we weep? Or do we even stop and take notice?
Scripture reminds us that we need a Rule of Life (which usually consists of a variety of positive and negative rules). Scripture even gives us that Rule. We get to choose what to do with the offering? Do we practice the Love of God with our whole being? Or do we focus at least some of our love-energy on something else? At various times in the Book of Deuteronomy Moses offers the people a choice. To follow God’s Rule or to go their own way. Which will we choose?
Some [more] questions:
- we don’t use mezuzahs or tefellin as visible reminders. How do we remind ourselves of the Law on a daily basis?
- Jesus pairs the Shema with another commandment. love your neighbour as you love yourself (Leviticus 19). Is it possible to love God without also loving God’s Creation? Or are they two sides of one coin?
- Moses often complains about the stiff-necked people he has as followers. Are we any less stiff-necked? Are we willing to admit that?
- The Scriptural Rule of life is very communal in its focus. The Western world’s wisdom/Rule of Life tends to be much more individualistic. Where do we find the meeting place of the two?
- The rule of love seems so very absent in our newsfeeds these days. Where do we see signs of love’s dominance?
- If you had to come up with a modern version of the 10 Commandments what would be different? What would be the same?
- In Canada this Sunday is Thanksgiving Sunday. Do we give thanks for the Commandments? Why and how?
Where is this portion of the Scripture story taking you this week?
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