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Conditional Love

Fr. Lawrence Jagdfeld, O.F.M., Administrator

We began to read from the Book of Joshua on Wednesday. We are already reading from Chapter 24 today, just two days later. Chapter 24 is the last chapter of the Book.

The Book of Joshua is the first book of what Scripture scholars call "The Deuteronomic Corpus." The first five books of the Bible, which we call the Pentateuch and our Jewish brothers and sisters call the Torah, contain the story of the covenant relationship which God offered to the people of Israel. This is followed by books that relate the history of the People of Israel from Moses to the Babylonian Captivity. If we were to summarize these books, we could state it this way: "IF you will be my people, THEN I will be your God." The presence of that word "if" and the word "then" clearly illustrate that they saw the Love of God as conditional upon their behavior.

The history of Israel chronicles the fact that Israel did not live up to the bargain. Most of the kings of Israel strayed from the covenant relationship. The Babylonian Captivity or Exile was the effect while their failure to obey was the cause in the minds of the sacred writers of these particular books of the Bible.

This makes the writings of the classical prophets all the more remarkable. In particular, I am mindful of the Prophet Ezekiel who restates the covenant relationship without the condition. You will be my people, and I will be your God. (Ezekiel 39:28b) Ezekiel states that God is rewriting the covenant placing the Law on their hearts rather than on stone as was the case with Moses on Sinai. Why does God do this? Do we deserve such unconditional love? Ezekiel answers the question by quoting God as saying: Not for your sakes do I act, house of Israel, but for the sake of my holy name. . . (Ezekiel 36:22b) Plainly stated, God loves unconditionally because God is God. God is simply living up to the proclamation of God's name made to Moses on the Mount Sinai.

Human beings have a hard time understanding or accepting this. It seems too easy. Say you're sorry, and God forgives. The hardness of our hearts is still much more comfortable with the commandments written on stone than the commandment written in our hearts. This is partly because we are more comfortable with the thought that God is not so forgiving and compassionate. Admitting that God is unconditional love personified takes on immense proportions when we realize and accept that we were made in God's image. We have a long way to go before we actually live up to that image.

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