The 22nd Sunday of the Year
I know we have to keep religion and politics separate, but I think this Sunday’s first reading from the Book of Deuteronomy suggests some connections between the two.
Can we learn something from this book of the Old Testament as we elect leaders and have our political conventions today? The Book of Deuteronomy describes a great political, as well as religious, event in the history of the Jewish people. It’s a collection of speeches that Moses gave to the Israelites as they were preparing to go into the Promised Land after escaping from Egypt. Deuteronomy itself means “words.” What would politics be without words?
Moses speaks to the people, not in a convention hall, but in the desert, south of the Dead Sea. They haven’t crossed the River Jordan yet. They’ve been wandering for years; they’re tired; this is a tough place to be. Yet here, Moses calls them to take the next step in their history. They haven’t had it easy, and Moses pulls no punches; the road ahead isn’t easy either.
The first thing Moses does is keep his peoples’ dreams alive. He reminds people where they came from. “Remember, you came from Mount Sinai where God spoke to you and made a covenant with you and promised God would be with you, no matter what. God doesn’t fail you. You’ll be a wise and intelligent people,” Moses says, “if you remember this above all: God is close to you, when you call upon him.”
Religion brings hope and perspective to politics. It invites us to see life in big terms, not small. We are not just people wandering through life with a few human dreams. We are not people figuring out how to get along.We are bearers of God’s dreams. Religion expands the reach of politics which, as we know, can become so selfcentered and narrow.
Moses speaks forcefully to the people of their failures on this journey. They haven’t always made good choices. They’ve made bad choices, selfish choices. The reason why they wandered in the desert was not God’s fault but their own.
What is interesting is that Moses doesn’t blame one group or some individuals for the failures. We’re all responsible for the failures of our society, Moses says, and he includes himself.
I don’t think we recognize or admit our own faults in our own political process as we see him do it. We’re not good at admitting common responsibility. We’re not good at recognizing and admitting we all are at fault. We like blaming others.
Listen, Israel, Moses says to them. “Hear what I’m teaching you to observe, that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land which the LORD, your God, is giving you.”
Follow God’s teachings, Moses tells the people. God’s teachings seem very simple, but they’re crucial. Remember the Lord, your God. Remember there’s a bigger reality in life than you. God has a plan for this world. You shall not kill, you shall not steal, you shall not lie, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not be greedy. Jesus later condensed it into two sentences: Love the Lord your God, and love your neighbor as yourself.
Certainly today we’re living in a very complex, sophisticated world, our problems are immense, our challenges massive. We need smart people to help us figure out the future. We need think-tanks and experts to help us navigate the world before us.
But Jesus says in today’s gospel today: Don’t forget the human heart. All the structures we build, all the economic, social and political changes we make, wont work without the human heart, without its efforts, its goodness and its love.
Does religion have a place in the world of politics? Yes, it does. It did in the days of Moses and it does in our day too.