What the Lord has commanded we will do - Third Sunday of Lent (B)

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Home > Archbishop > Homilies > What the Lord has commanded we will do - Third Sunday of Lent (B)

Mt Sinai, also called Horeb, rises two thousand two hundred metres in the midst of a range of mountains in the southern Sinai Peninsula. The region is harsh dry desert and the mountains lack any vegetation.

This mountain is a holy mountain to the three Abrahamic religions – Judaism, Christianity and Islam. It is place where Moses encountered the Lord. He was instructed to command the Israelite nation fleeing from Egypt to camp at its base.  However, no one, no animal, was allowed to come near the mountain. Only one man was to climb the mountain and there encounter the majesty and glory of God. Moses alone would ascend to its peak.

God manifested his presence on the mountain by a dark cloud covering it. From the cloud came deafening peals of thunder and bolts of lightning. So much so that the ground trembled and the people were filled with awe. God revealed himself as a God of great power.

This was the God who heard their cries when they endured much suffering under the Egyptians who had put them all in hard labour. Then with a mighty show of power turned Pharaoh’s heart to let them go, supposedly to go three days into the wilderness to offer sacrifice to God. 

We know well the story of Moses parting the Red Sea by stretching out his staff over the waters. The people crossed but the pursuing Egyptian army were destroyed by the returning waters. The people then made their way to the south and at the foot of Mt Sinai where God was waiting for them.

Solemn events were then to unfold. Firstly God said to Moses that He intended to enter into a covenant with this people. He asked Moses to confer with them and ask them if they were willing to enter this covenant.

Moses was instructed to say to the people, “You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles' wings and brought you to myself. Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my own possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation”. (Exodus 19:3-6)

The response by the people is unanimous: "We will do everything the Lord has said." The people were willing to enter into a covenanted relationship with God. They were prepared to obey whatever stipulations the Lord requires. In other words, there was to be an agreement, an understanding. God would make them a people of his own, and they would become the People of God. A unique and binding agreement was about to entered into. This agreement would endure over time. This was a most solemn and significant moment.

This was a vital moment in salvation history. It was such an agreement that it would effect human history from this time on. We today continue to be heirs of this agreement, this covenant. For we, as Christians, live under the covenant completed and renewed in Christ. As members of the Church we share in the blessings of being members of the People of God.

The people are instructed to prepare themselves for this solemn event. They were to see this as a solemn consecration. Then they gathered at the foot of the mountain.

The Book of Exodus describes it this way: "On the morning of the third day there was thunder and lightning, with a thick cloud over the mountain, and a very loud trumpet blast. Everyone in the camp trembled." (Exodus 19:16)
The people were so frightened that they said to Moses, “Speak to us yourself and we will listen. But do not have God speak to us or we will die.”

Moses’ response is worth hearing. He said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” (Exodus 20:18-21) This fear is a reverential awe. The people had this fear as they were exposed to the raw power of the presence of God, so should be foster in our hearts a reverential awe before the presence of God, now in silence in the Blessed Sacrament.

This is the context of the first reading of the Mass today. The people were to be God’s own people. They were about to become a consecrated nation. For their part they were to obey all that the Lord was about to enjoin on them. The Lord from the cloud and thunder announced a set of commandments which the people were to accept. These commandants were their side of the agreement. They would be obeyed as the means by which they lived this agreement. They were to follow the commands of the Lord, given in ten statements: the Ten Commandments, also known as the Decalogue.

Notice the first three: they are the commands of God that the people must serve no other gods, but be totally devoted to the service of the One Lord. There must be no idols. God alone must be worshipped. God expects each person to be completely devoted to him. The Book of Deuteronomy (6:5) speaks of loving God will all your heart, soul, mind and strength. This expresses the intention of the first three commandments. It is these words that Jesus himself endorses as the first and greatest commandment.

With the Israelites in the desert we can contemplate glory and majesty of God, knowing Him as all in all. There is no other. He is the source of all things and the destiny of all things. God deserves our total love and service. We as members of the Church, the People of God, affirm our belief that there is one God and we bow in worship before him. He give our heart, our soul, our mind and our strength to Him and Him alone.

The third commandment states that God is to be worshipped on the Sabbath day. This day is to be a holy day, different from every other day. Sunday is the Lord’s Day. It is the day for the Christian assembly where the holy Sacrifice of the Mass is offered. It is a day of rest, to be refreshed in body, mind and spirit. It is for the Christian a holy day. 

The commandments then move to the way we would relate to people around us. The fourth commandment addresses family relationships – we must honour our father and our mother. The importance of family is acknowledged here. Family relationships have a priority.
The remaining commandments speak of the prohibition of murder, adultery and stealing. Then speak of importance of upholding the truth and the warning against greed. These are basic and essential moral precepts for living in human society.

The book of Exodus records the response to the presentation of the Ten Commandments. It says, “When Moses went and told the people all the Lord's words and laws, they responded with one voice, 'Everything the Lord has said we will do’. Moses then wrote down everything the Lord had said." (Exodus 24:3-4)

Today these ancient events are recalled and hearing the Ten Commandments read to us, we are invited to make a response. Like the Israelites in the desert, gathered in front of the holy mountain, we too make a response: “Everything the Lord has said we will do”.

Archbishop Julian Porteous
Saturday, 7 March 2015