3rd Sunday of Lent (B)
March 11, 2012
I generally don’t prefer eating out and patronizing big restaurant chains, even if they pass themselves off as “family restaurants” that offer sit-down dinners a la carte. Reason, you might ask? I don’t like having to choose from so many options, from starters to main courses; from sides to sauces and dips, to drinks and what appears to be an endless array of concoctions galore. Being basically of simple taste and simple, humble origins, I would rather go for simple dishes that already boast of everything in one, simple, uncomplicated platter.
Postmodernity, they say, is a world caught up in an infinite variety of choices. Everything has become a fruit of a choice. One does not take things as given. One decides to have it, chooses to hold it, and opts to keep it. Cable TV has become the epitome of what the postmodern world of choices, and unbridled freedom devoid of any parameters, stands for. Truth also becomes a matter of choice, or preference. Nothing objective holds sway over people’s minds and hearts. The band named Boyzone more than 15 years ago, already clinched it in one of their more popular songs: “No matter what they tell us, no matter what they do; no matter what they teach us, what I believe is true.”
Nowhere is this unbridled freedom that is separated from any objective standard more true as in the arena of personal and collective morality. There is no more objectively and intrinsically evil act, for many people. If everything is a choice, then what one chooses is really indifferent, morally speaking.
And yet, the first reading today puts us face to face with the reality of the Decalogue, or the 10 commandments. Whilst I submit it is hard to put all imaginable moral cases and scenarios under any one of the 10 “words” or commands, Exodus chapter 20 does remind us that there is an objective standard of right human behavior out there, and these ten words are “signs” that point to that objective moral order.
But it takes more than just a set of commands to establish the need, or to posit the reality of an objective moral order and standard of right human behavior. We need something more than just commandments. The ten commandments cannot vouch for themselves. They are signposts, yes, but before they are a listing of what to do and what not to do, they are first and foremost a set of signs that are best understood in the context of a bigger, wider, and more encompassing backdrop. And that background has to do with WISDOM.
For many, many people, that wisdom is primarily understood as something that has to do with REASON, with man’s innate capacity to use his intrinsic and inborn intelligence to pore through life and reality in the world in order to see a cogent, convincing bases for the said rules. This is the wisdom that even the Bible posits as starting from a truth – the truth of God, first of all, and the truth that He is behind that natural law written in the heart of everyman, and in everything that exists in the world of nature.
But many, many people, too, are not aware that in the Old Testament tradition, wisdom also stands for Someone. Biblically, wisdom is often personified, and is taken to stand for God Himself. Wisdom, long hidden from the understanding of humanity, is gradually revealed, and that unfolding revelation points to no other than God Himself.
What the, does all this have to do with the Decalogue, or the ten words of command that we now have before us? The answer then leads me to the third word for today, which is PROCLAMATION. Yes, the ten commandments, at bottom, before being prescriptions for good behavior and proscriptions against bad behavior, are first and foremost about a relationship with that Someone. They first have to do with Someone that the whole history of salvation and the history of revelation proclaims – God and His will and desire to relate with us meaningfully and fully as His creatures, as His sons and daughters.
No, dear reader, the ten commandments are not primarily about prohibitions. Yes, dear reader, the ten words primarily have to do with signs that point to wisdom and to Wisdom – that is, to right understanding coupled with right behavior and right attitudes, and to Him who is Wisdom personified. They are signs that point, furthermore, to a way that leads to a right relationship. They are a proclamation of a God who has come to save us in Christ, and through whom He has revealed the Way towards fullness of life.
This essentially, is what the Church proclaims today. The old law and the new law are summed up in no other than Christ. In St. Paul’s words: “Christ is the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength.” But let us hear it, too, from St. John: “God so loved the world that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who believes in him might have eternal life.”
Need we say more?