If someone were to ask me which of the books of the Hebrew Scriptures was a favorite, I would have to answer that Deuteronomy comes pretty close to the top of my list! The first reading from today’s liturgy comes from the Book of Deuteronomy.
The name of this book of the Bible means “The second law,” (deutero – second), (onomy – law). The first law is recorded in the Book of Exodus. Moses goes to the top of Mt. Sinai and receives the law from God on two tablets of stone. Then for the next forty years, the children of Israel wander through the desert until they come to the banks of the River Jordan. They pitch camp. Moses, realizing that he will not cross over into the Promised Land with them, spends time reviewing the last forty years. Much of the time is spent repeating the Sinai covenant Law a second time.
Why did it take forty years to reach the Promised Land? Actually, it didn’t. They had been here before. They sent scouts to the “land flowing with milk and honey” to reconnoiter. Those scouts came back with evidence of the richness of the land. However, they also came back with frightening tales of the fierce people who currently occupied the land that God was proposing to give the children of Israel. Fearful of the inevitable conflict that would ensue, they refused to cross over the River Jordan, refused to accept the gift that God was giving them. As a result, they wandered through the desert for forty years, the space of two generations, so that most of the original people of the Exodus had long since died.
Notice that Moses is speaking to the people as if the covenant was happening right then, right there. In actuality, the covenant had been sealed forty years before. Moses presents the choice to accept the covenant in what is called a “renewal” ceremony. He is proposing that they start over again. Forget the last forty years. Forget the mistakes that they had made. Forget their obstinance! Put the past aside and accept the covenant relationship with God TODAY.
I have always marveled at this story for the very reason that it is a perfect example of God’s willingness to forgive and forget. This is God’s mercy in action. God simply proposes that they start over again. In fact, God has been doing the same thing over and over again throughout the millennia. Each time we celebrate Lent, each time we celebrate the Sacrament of Penance, God is simply saying: “Let’s start over again.”
This is what makes God who God is! God is willing to start over again. This is not a human characteristic. This is what makes God divine.
The invitation stands. God is waiting for our RSVP.
Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator