Leviticus 19:1-2, 11-18
In a poll recently conducted by the Pew Research Forum on Religion and Public Life, folks were asked thirty-two questions about the Bible, world religions, famous religious figures, and principles governing religion in public life. On the average, people answered only half the questions correctly, and those who scored highest were atheists and agnostics! Even more astounding is what Robin Meyers (The Underground Church) calls "almost Bible." You know, it’s what wise country folk speak of as, "…the things we think we know that just ain’t so." For example, nowhere in the bible does it say that Adam and Eve ate an apple, or that there were three kings (they were astrologers, magi… magicians), or that Saul of Tarsus fell from a horse. More importantly, nowhere in the bible does it say, "God helps those who help themselves." That quotation happens to be from the pen of Benjamin Franklin, his Poor Richard’s Almanac!
Could this be an application of the medieval axiom, Quidquid recipitur ad modum recipientis recipitur? (Whatever is received is received according to the manner of the receiver.) Basically, your perception of something is shaped as much by who you are as it is shaped by the thing itself. The antenna determines the signal received. We see things, not as they are, but as we are. So all this bible talk could be dismissed as bible trivia, scriptural entertainment… IF the stakes were not so high.
Today’s readings help us to focus on ESSENTIALS. Scripture is so focused on interior dispositions and significant actions, it’s hard to imagine how Lent ever got reduced to "giving up desserts." Rather, Jesus calls us to repentance (to "re-pent" literally means to "re-think"). So the Hebrew or Old Testament commentary on the Ten Commandments centers on being free from grudges, hatred, desire for revenge. And Matthew’s Gospel reminds us that we meet and serve Jesus when we minister to the sick, hungry, naked, homeless and imprisoned. Embracing these ESSENTIALS is quite different from foregoing Hershey bars or Heinekins, Baby Ruths and Budweisers!
Why else would Jesus prioritize our reconciliation with each other before we worship? ("…if you bring your gift to the altar, and there recall that your brother has anything against you, leave your gift there at the altar, go first and be reconciled …" Matthew 5)? Why else would Jesus so reverence the words of Hosea, ("For it is loyalty that I desire, not sacrifice, and knowledge of God rather than burnt offerings?") Repeatedly the prophets speak of our sacrifices being loathsome to God, or fasting unsatisfactory… in light of God’s desire that we care for others.
Fr. Jack Conley, C.P. gives Passionist missions and retreats and lives in Chicago.