Thursday, February 5, 2009

O God, We Ponder Your Mercy. Great Is the LORD, And Wholly To Be Praised!

In Deuteronomy, chapter 9, it is written that when Moses came down from the mountain, with the two tablets of the covenant in his hands, he saw that the people had turned away from the way the LORD had commanded, and made an idol cast in the shape of a calf. He became so angry that he took the two stone tablets and threw them to the ground, breaking them to pieces before their eyes. Then he fasted for forty days and forty nights in reparation for the sins of the people. He feared the anger of the LORD, for he was angry enough to destroy the people.

Today, the writer of the Letter to the Hebrews recalls fear and trembling Moses felt before going back up to the summit of Sinai to receive a second set of stone tables with the law of the LORD inscribed on them. He suggests that his readers, Hebrew disciples of Jesus, might have the same fear of the LORD that their ancestors had thousands of years before. But then, he speaks to the Hebrew disciples of Jesus, who no doubt have learned to fear God’s wrath because, as children, they learned that respect for authority means fear of authority, be it the police officer on the beat, the teacher in the classroom, or mommy and daddy at home.

We, the disciples of Jesus, have no reason to be afraid of the LORD, he tells his readers – then and now – because Jesus, the mediator of a New Covenant, has shed his blood, a more perfect sacrifice than the blood of Abel, to take away all reason for fear. When we approach the mountain where God dwells, the heavenly Jerusalem, the city of the living God, we will be welcomed by thousands of angels in joyful assembly, and the spirits of the just who have gone before us, marked with the sign of faith.

But we do not need to wait until we leave this world for a more perfect one to enjoy the presence of the LORD in our lives. Even today, Jesus, our Redeemer and our Brother, gives us peace and reassurance not to be afraid, but to remember that the LORD our God is a God of love, who sent his only-begotten Son to redeem us from the burden of our sins, and sends the Holy Spirit to direct our thoughts, words, and actions in the direction that will most surely lead us to the gates of the Kingdom of Heaven. But more than that, our loving Father recognizes that we, as human beings, are not perfect, and cannot become perfect, since only God is perfect. He knows that, as imperfect creatures we struggle with pride, avarice, envy, wrath, lust, gluttony, and sloth. God forgives us and gives us grace to resist temptation, and to avoid sin. And he reminds us, throughout the Scriptures, that one of the first and most critical steps in this journey toward the summit of the holy mountain is to forgive ourselves for being imperfect, and to live each day as followers of Jesus, hoping and praying that we might be closer to him tomorrow than we were yesterday.

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