15th Sunday in Ordinary Time
July 10, 1983
Deut 30: 10-14
Salesian Sisters, No. Haledon, N.J.
This morning I preached (at St. Vincent's Hospital in Harrison, N.Y., without written text--on the parable of the Good Samaritan). Here's a 30-year-old homily on the 1st reading of the day.
“This commandment which I command you this day is not too hard for you, neither is it far off. The word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it” (Deut 30: 11, 14).
This passage from Deuteronomy appears to be a late addition to the book of the Law, perhaps associated with covenant renewal during the Exile. It stresses God’s closeness to us.
God is close to us in his commandments, that is, the whole law that Moses has laid before the people, the law that he capsulizes as “turning to YHWH your God with all your heart and all your soul” (30:10).
God is close to us, not just to Moses and the Israelites whom he led to the Promised Land. God comes close to each succeeding generation of his people: “This commandment which I command you this day” applies to any covenant renewal during the Babylonian Exile, the restoration to Judea, the time of Christ, or the present. God is always the present. God’s command is always close to us, in our mouths and in our hearts.
“This commandment…is not too hard for you. The word is very near you; it is in your mouth and in your heart, so that you can do it.” God’s law is a natural part of us. We feel it deep within us. Revelation only enhances it, highlights it.
I don’t suppose any of you have seen the Star Wars trilogy, the 3d part of which is the current smash, Return of the Jedi. All 3 films are good, old-fashioned flicks in which plainly identifiable good guys and a pretty princess contend against plainly identifiable villains in the name of freedom. But in the latest film, the struggle, the confrontation, goes beyond laser beams and high speed battles, into the deepest parts of the handsome hero and the arch villain—not only in the words of their mouths as they try to convert each other, one to the goodness of the Force, the other to the Dark Side, but in their hearts and minds. The tension heightens when Darth Vader brings Luke before the evil emperor. We become thoroughly involved in Luke’s struggle to resist the power of the Dark Side within himself, to remain true to his ideals.
The struggle, the confrontation, between good and evil takes place within Luke Skywalker, Darth Vader, and Everyman. God’s word is in our mouths and in our hearts so that we can do it; it’s not too hard for us. It’s not something externally imposed but something deep inside us. We know it instinctively. As Christians, we have the Force of the Holy Spirit, who dwells within us and makes us closer to God.
God is close to us, even in the temptations that form part of the pattern of our lives. The temptations usually come from our Dark Side, from within our weak, hurt, or corrupt hearts—“What comes out of a man is what defiles a man. For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness” (Mark 7:21-22).
Yet we are created in God’s image. His goodness is likewise rooted in our hearts. Tertullian has said that the soul is naturally Christian. We all have an instinct for goodness, beauty, and truth. No matter how intense our personal struggles, then, the commandment which YHWH commands this day is not hard for us, neither is it far off. We were formed in his love. We are saved by his grace. Like Jesus, while we are on our way up to the Holy City, we must engage the enemy in combat. But the Father is with us, deep within us by his Holy Spirit. His word is very near us, nearer than we are to ourselves, so that we can love him with all our hearts and all our souls.