“Listen then, Israel, keep and observe what will make you prosper and give you great increase, as the Lord God of your fathers has promised you, giving you a land where milk and honey flow.” With these words Moses prepared the wandering tribes of Israel to take possession of the Promised Land. The children of Israel, from the time of Abraham, had lived as strangers in lands that they could never call their own. During the exile in Egypt they had experienced the oppression and enslavement so often visited on transient migrants. They longed for a land that would be their own, a place of rest and belonging, a place where their dreams might flourish.
The God of Israel, a God of loving kindness, had set them free and brought them to the very threshold of the Promised Land. It was from this context that Moses reminded them of God’s graciousness, exhorting them to live by the commandments entrusted to them. They would indeed take possession of the land of their dreams, but it would be fidelity to God’s loving purpose that would safeguard the dream.
We do not long for a promised land in quite the same way as nomadic tribes. We do, however, as human beings long to be at home with ourselves, with God and those around us. We long for the blessings of family life, for the security that enables us and those we love to flourish. This is a promised land that is denied to many in a broken world. Longings are thwarted in the tragedy of broken families, the meaningless superficiality of excess and the desperation of poverty.
We can learn much from Israel’s inheritance of the land. The blessings that fill our lives, like the promised land, are the signs of God’s love. We should never take them for granted. Above all, like the tribes of Israel we should remain faithful to the will of God, for it is his loving purpose that safeguards what we cherish most. As Moses had warned his people,
it is when the world departs from faithfulness to a loving God that its dream begins to crumble.
Moses summarised the Law in a single commandment that had the power to possess a people and safeguard its longing: “Listen, Israel: The Lord our God is the one Lord. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength. Let these words I urge on you today be written on your heart.”
This was not a law to be imposed; it was a communion with God to be cherished and safeguarded in all that we do and think.
Jesus, who came to bring the Law of Moses to its fulfilment, reiterated all that Moses had taught. With Moses he spoke of a passion for God that would possess heart, soul and mind. As we enter the year of faith it is only natural to feel that we fall far short of this, the greatest commandment. Let us take heart from the realisation that faith itself, however frail, is the doorway that enables the Father to create our hearts anew.
Jesus went beyond the ancient prescription. He added: “The second greatest commandment is this: you shall love your neighbour as yourself.” It is when faith works through love that we reach out to the world, becoming, in ourselves, the new evangelisation that will win a broken world for the Father.