18 Pentecost, Oct. 8
“I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery” (Ex. 20:2). History resonates and tells its tale. We are pure on the east bank of the great sea where Miriam sings a freedom song. God sings too, a love song concerning his vineyard, for the people in the wilderness will be his planted vine (Isa. 5:1). In union with God, they sing, “You brought a vine out of Egypt; you drove out the nations and planted it. You cleared the ground for it; it took deep root and filled the land. The mountains were covered with its shade, the mighty cedars with its branches; it sent out its branches to the sea, and its shoots to the River” (Ps. 80:8-11).
So planted, the people of God were given two gifts in addition to their freedom. They would see the power and wonder of God’s creative work in the heavens, the day and night, and the wordless speech of nature. Knowing the Creator, they would contemplate creation with a discerning and reverent eye. “The heavens declare the glory of God, and the firmament shows his handiwork. One day tells its tale to another, and one night imparts knowledge to another. Although they have no words or language, and their voices are not heard, their sound has gone out into all lands, and their message to the end of the world” (Ps. 19:1-4). They were given the gift of science. And the beginning of science is the fear of the Lord and searching wonder.
They were also given the law. “The law of the Lord is perfect and revives the soul; the testimony of the Lord is sure and gives wisdom to the innocent. The statutes of the Lord are just and rejoice the heart; the commandment of the Lord is clear and gives light to the eyes” (Ps. 19:8-9). “For I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished” (Matt. 5:18). This is not a rigid and dry adherence, a slavish bondage to words and texts. Rather, the law “is more to be desired that gold, more than much fine gold, sweeter far than honey, than honey in the comb” (Ps. 19:10). In the law and the Scriptures of God, the people of God were given a love for the humanities. Textual study and commentary would be among the highest callings.
God has given freedom for a purpose: to see God in nature and to read God in the Word. This calling lifts the heart, brightens the eyes, and is exceedingly valuable and sweet. Could there be anything better? Yes, but only in comparison.
“As to the law, [I was] a Pharisee,” St. Paul says (Phil. 3:5). As a member of this party, Paul lived by a strict and meticulous application of the law, although law came to include an expanded body of sacred texts, and a corresponding treasure of oral tradition. Still, the careful application of text and tradition to daily life was, for Paul, something precious and desirable. He defended it with violent zeal until providence struck him to the ground and revealed the “surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord” (Phil. 3:8). Although he wanted to persecute the Church, he was “broken to pieces,” having fallen on “this stone” (Matt. 21:44). And with a broken and contrite heart, he received the fulfillment of the law, namely the Word of the Father. In Christ he would read anew the preciousness and sweetness of the ancient texts.
Look It Up
Read Psalm 19.
Think About It
Perfection and beauty, and then fulfillment.