Sunday, June 27, 2010

Introduction to the Covenant of Sinai

The locus of the Covenant of Sinai is the handing of the Decalogue of God to Moses, or what has been commonly handed down as Ten Commandments. To better understand the event, which Judaism and Christianity has considered as the foundation of the moral life, then, let us take a look on the historical background of the Exodus of the Israelites.

God does not abandon His people, and He had heard their cries. So, Moses was sent to redeem to save them from the oppression of the Pharaoh. With the hesitancy of Moses, God worked before him wonders using his staff. And for this, he was accompanied by his brother, who met him, while he was about to leave Midian.

Before all Egyptians, Moses proclaimed the wonders of Yahweh and showed them His power. The nine plagues were succeeded by the death of the firstborn of the Egyptians and because of this, Ramses, the Pharaoh of that time, granted them liberty. Is it not the same that Jesus was to die to liberate us? Is the death of the firstborn son of the Pharaoh a reminder of what was to happen in the Messianic times?

The exodus of the ten tribes was a logistical problem for Moses that he earnestly cried out to God for help. But God does not abandon His plan; He opened the sea for them to pass. For three months, they came to the wilderness of Sinai from Raphidim; and, eventually was brought before Horeb, the holy mountain of God. On this mountain, God will give them the covenant, and not just an ordinary covenant - a pact between the God and His people. Isn't this the same when Jesus had to climb up the mountain of Tabor to give the new covenant? When Jesus was illuminating with glory and with His conversations with Elijah and Moses, so Moses' face was glowing with his conversation with Yahweh upon receiving the Law. Jesus is the Law-made-Man, while Moses carried the Law for the people.

Sinai has been called the mountain of God. "The name is now given to the triangular peninsula lying between the desert of Southern Palestine, the Red Sea, and the gulfs of Akabah and Suez, with an area of about 10,000 square miles, which was the scene of the forty years' wandering of the Israelites after the Exodus from Egypt." From the land of Egypt, Moses led the nation of Israel into the heart of Sinai; to enter Canaan directly from the south, it was risky, since they would cross the land of the Philistines (who are warlike), while at the southeast, "the less formidable Amalacites are the only inimical tribes and are easily overcome thanks to the intercession of Moses." The wandering lasted forty years. In their journey, the prophet of Yahweh brought them at the foot of the mountain (Jabel Musa or Jabel ), where God would meet them and make a covenant with them. They had prepared themselves for three days and washed their clothes in preparation of the visit.

The Decalogue, in which the prefix deca- means ten and logos a word, has been traditionally divided into 10 precepts. "

The Supreme Law-Giver begins by proclaiming His Name and His Titles to the obedience of the creature man: "I am the Lord, thy God. . ." The laws which follow have regard to God and His representatives on earth (first four) and to our fellow-man (last six).

  • Being the one true God, He alone is to be adored, and all rendering to creatures of the worship which belongs to Him falls under the ban of His displeasure; the making of "graven things" is condemned: not all pictures, images, and works of art, but such as are intended to be adored and served (First).

  • Associated with God in the minds of men and representing Him, is His Holy Name, which by the Second Commandment is declared worthy of all veneration and respect and its profanation reprobated.

  • And He claims one day out of the seven as a memorial to Himself, and this must be kept holy (Third).

  • Finally, parents being the natural providence of their offspring, invested with authority for their guidance and correction, and holding the place of God before them, the child is bidden to honour and respect them as His lawful representatives (Fourth)."

The precepts which follow are meant to protect man in his natural rights against the injustice of his fellows.

  • His life is the object of the Fifth;

  • the honour of his body as well as the source of life, of the Sixth;

  • his lawful possessions, of the Seventh;

  • his good name, of the Eighth;

  • And in order to make him still more secure in the enjoyment of his rights, it is declared an offense against God to desire to wrong him, in his family rights by the Ninth;

  • and in his property rights by the Tenth."
"The Ten Commandments are precepts bearing on the fundamental obligations of religion and morality and embodying the revealed expression of the Creator's will in relation to man's whole duty to God and to his fellow-creatures."

We are invited brothers and sisters to penetrate into the readings; we need to appreciate how an ordinary Israelite could have thought the gravity of the words of the Law. In so doing, we can appreciate how much an ordinary Jew during the time of Jesus could not help but wonder on how Jesus could ascribe to Himself the Law. We can at least appreciate the weight of the feelings of the Sadducees and Pharisees upon hearing Jesus.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Various Thoughts at Different Times

A Not Forgetful Past

The first and early years of which my recollection can bring me calls to mind spaces of lands and lush green, verdant in all surrounds. This was a day in the 1980s, when the world I see is somewhat in a dream. The environment I saw was lush with green. The verdant surrounding is a dry contrast to the world I have seen now. I was standing in a bluff, overlooking the rice fields down below, while the smoke was billowing on my grandmother's house; she must have been cooking something. It rises amidst the ever thickening outgrowths of the rising coconut trees. This was around 5pm; the gathering dusk is enveloping whatever light there was as the sun was concealed from the hill facing the hillside I was standing. I was waiting for my cousin to appear right below the sloping and descending pathway; she was gathering the goats before leading them to the dual-purpose barn and dryer. In the coming days, the barangay would celebrate its annual fiesta, as the people started to buy in provisions and ingredients of the menus already planned.

It was almost like a different world than what I have seen now. The house had been torn down, as easily as the fire could consume it in a blink of an eye. The pathway had been clogged by the overgrowths of years of neglect as the thick bushes and hedges crept into the clearing. Just the inhabitants of the place had left it, the ambience followed suit. It is as if the dead had made its abode, while the living have fled into different directions, promising to flee from it for good.

Genesis 30:1-2, Isaiah 49:15, Ephesians 6:4-4, and Luke 14:26 on Motherhood

In the readings, our reflection opens with the book of Genesis on the account of Rachel's demand for a child: "when...saw that she bore no children, she became jealous of her sister...". She puts a consequential factor in her state: "or I shall die". This is representative of how the ancient world views the state of a barren womanhood: the gods had receded its gift on you. In one way, that retreat of grace and help is perceived as a curse, seen in a negative sense. From the mouth of Rachel, we see that it is the death of her being if she bore no genetic inheritance of her husband's family. The role of woman in the age of the ancients is fundamentally to extend the family line, or the family risked to totally disappear. But, in this case, the family had been secured genetically by the children of Leah. This is not so much of having the progeny as to the personal condition of Rachel of being barren. Also, the abundance is seen in the children among women in that time. In the Genesis account Jacob retorted in a somewhat irked manner. It was not his will that God would give none to her. We would suspect that this incessant asking of Rachel had annoyed Jacob. This is, indeed, an urgent situation for Rachel for she believes that death could come to her. In a certain sense, what the second reading is teaching us is a word of hope for the demand of Rachel: the prophet wrote: "yet though she forget, I will never forget you". What Rachel had conceived as death of her own being is answered by the loyalty of God to His own children. He knows us: a knowing of us that knows us from end to last, from the deepest longing to the flimsy, superficial wants. If we read the text before the one quoted, Zion claimed that God had forgotten her, which had to be answered by the prophet in maternal terms. This also shows that the God of Israel is a nourishing and caring deity, a God who is neither strictly father nor mother, but is both at the same time. In one being of Israel's God is both the essence of a strong paternal character that subdues the enemies and shows His power of His own commands, while at the same is a God who comes with open arms to care our needs and heal our wounds.

The third reading from the letter of Paul to the first Christians of Ephesus is a strongly worded admonition of children to obedience that is first before the second one was given for the parents. St. Paul says to the children of Ephesus "...obey your parents for this is right" and is connected to its first cause: "this is the first commandment that has promise". The latter is the first principle for it comes from the command of God from Horeb, the mountain from which the Law has come. From the mouth of Yahweh is the cause of the Law, and from it is our own obedience. In the dynamics of the three scriptural citations, we can say that the immanent orientation of temporal situations and demands of our family can be channeled to our relationship with the Lord, who sustains us all. We may not worry what comes to us in the most uncertain circumstances, in the barrenness and sterility of our life-projects and plans for His promise in the words of the prophet Isaiah is a seal of hope, a trustworthy vow and pledge of the Giver of the Law. In the brokenness of our failures, God comes not as a father with a stern countenance but a mother with a hand that touches. We do not shrink from force and look to the ground of fear, but look our gaze up to meet His in the coming of our own salvation.

The Gospel reverses what we normally conceives as the usual scheme of things, the paradigm of the world. Jesus demands nothing short of a central focus of discipleship: "if you come to me, without being ready to give up your love for your ....". This is fundamental in understanding our obedience of Jesus Christ, who sets limits of our earthly ideal. The Lord bisects what love we can give to ourselves and others with that of the love we can give to Him, who is the source of love itself. Does Jesus need us to forsake even ourselves to come to Him, or there is another way of explaining it? One way for sure, the Law itself is clear as to the demands of the fourth commandment: to honor the father and mother, just as St Paul was clear when he admonished the children of Ephesus; however, the fourth command serves the first three of the Decalogue. In that orientation, how we honor our parents flows from the bidding of God to honor Him first. What counts now is the obedience demanded by Jesus from us? Is this valid though he himself shows us the countenance of a human being. We need to jump, then, from looking Jesus from man to being a god, and not just a god, but the God. We need to understand that the transposition of this obedience was hard for the first disciples as they hear the words. It is not without astonishment to hear the words as first time in our ears: the command was incisive, it cuts the very fabric of our society, the garment that holds us together, and the institution of our civilization. But didn't He say that " seek first the kingdom of God and everything will be given unto you"?

When we seek God and follow Him is a path that leads always to goodness and truth. Though the words of Jesus is hard and harsh, but what lurks within is the essence of motherhood, the countenance of a maternal demand that ushers us to a better way of understanding things and living it in reality. We do not gain the whole world, if we embrace it; we, therefore, gain it when we forsake it and lead our path to Him who gives everything: "what profits a man if he gains the whole world but loses his soul". This is the irony of life - we do not rest content of what life is imposing us, the contentment of a pacified living beyond the taint of the exacts of the Gospel.

The dynamics of the Gospel vis-a-vis the three scriptural readings points eventually to the Church in sojourn. The Church, the spouse of Christ, bears and births Her children for Christ. In her is the nourishment of the flowing waters of redemption through Her sacraments. It is only in Her that the demands of Christ is intelligible and is shown with a face for the world to see. It is in Her saints that the acerbic taste of His commands is given life and blood.