Sunday, March 8, 2015

How to Choose

I've learned to cope with my menu paralysis: order one of the specials.

   Third Sunday of Lent   B 

Long restaurant menus overwhelm me.
It’s simply a matter of my temperament, I guess.
I hate having to pick 
from among so many good choices!
If it’s the end of a festive meal,
and several desserts are being offered,
I’m the guy who asks, 
“Can I please have a small piece of each?”

It’s not that I’m a glutton;
it’s just hard for me to pick from all those options.

It’s one thing to have that trouble 
when it comes to food,
quite another when it comes to faith.

We’ve just heard again the Ten Commandments—
a familiar Bible passage, to be sure.
The first of the bunch reads:
I, the Lord, am your God….
You shall not have other gods besides me.
What if I told you that—if forced to choose—
it’s the only the one that really matters?
God didn’t put it first on the list by accident!

Our willingness to compromise,
our desire to “have our cake and it eat it, too”—
to try and have things both ways—
is certainly clear enough with the other nine commandments.

You shall not steal.
We’re angered and embarrassed if our kid shoplifts…
…but what’s wrong with occasionally
taking home a few supplies from work?
I mean, nobody’s going to notice
and—besides—they don’t pay me enough. 

Remember to keep holy the sabbath day.
We make sure to squeeze Mass in (most Sundays, anyway)…
…but then we’re rushing off, quick as we can,
as soon as it’s over—or even before—
to get back to other “more important” things.

You shall not commit adultery.
Several years ago—no joke—
a church-going woman in her eighties
asked me if there was any exception for older folks
to the rule about not having sex outside the bonds of marriage.
“I don’t think my grandchildren should be living in sin, Father…
…but at our age, it’s different.”
(I have yet to find anything in the small print about that!)

But back to the beginning:
I, the Lord, am your God…
You shall not have other gods besides me.
Even more so than with the nine commandments that follow,
we can’t be looking for exceptions or loopholes with this one.
Choosing God;
choosing to believe in Jesus as God’s Only Begotten Son;
choosing to belong to the Catholic Church
as Christ’s living Body on earth;
choosing to live every moment of every day
according to the way of life that Church teaches—
this is not just one choice among many.

It’s the only choice that matters.

It’s becoming increasingly common—even among Catholics—
to approach faith the way you would a buffet:
a little of this, a helping of that,
all according to my personal tastes.
“Of course, I believe in Jesus…
but I also like these Buddhist ideas
and those New Age meditations.”
Some people are as quick to change their religion
as they are to change their clothes.
Such mix-and-match methods
were actually quite popular in Jesus’ day, too.
What distinguished the Jewish people and the first Christians
from the wider culture, however,
was that they would make no such compromises.

I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God.
God is jealous, you see, not in the sense of envy—
part of being God means needing absolutely nothing at all;
no, God is jealous in the sense
of wanting us wholly, totally, completely for himself alone.
The Lord asks: Are you with me, or not?  For me, or against?
Not sometimes.  Not mostly.
Not just when it’s convenient or you need something.
Will you be entirely mine?

That’s because God doesn’t want to be your Boss—
some all-seeing supervisor in the sky.
And God doesn’t want to be your Cop—
yes, protecting you from evil,
but also ready to ticket you for any moral infraction.
What God wants is to be our Friend—
even more, what God wants is to be your Lover.
That’s why making compromises in faith
isn’t like saying, “I prefer Pepsi, but sometimes I drink Coke”;
it’s more like saying, “I love my spouse,
but sometimes I sleep with other people.”

Are you committed to this kind of exclusive relationship with God?

I, the Lord, your God, am a jealous God.
Is this not a window into Jesus’ zeal for his Father’s house?
Jesus has no problem, per se,
with the Temple’s system of sacrifice;
we know Mary and Joseph offered two doves there
40 days after their Son was born,
and Jesus himself will have his Apostles
procure a Passover lamb from the Temple
to be served at his Last Supper.
What upsets him, though, is the perspective
that sees religion as a means to gain:
that looks upon faith as a way to profit—
whether from worldly goods like money, power, or prestige,
or even from spiritual benefits,
as if God’s blessings could be earned.
I mustn’t try to stay close to God
because of what’s in it for me!
Keeping faith isn’t about what I stand to get,
but about what I’m willing to give.
That’s the true nature of sacrifice—
as we’ll soon enough see upon the Cross.
The Lord, this jealous God,
is looking for nothing short of the gift of myself—
given to him completely.
After all, that’s just the sort of gift
this jealous God has given to me.

I, the Lord, am your God…
You shall not have other gods besides me.
Obeying the first commandment
is not a matter of my tastes, but of what is true;
not a question of what I like, but of Who I love above all else.
That’s why, if we get this first one right,
the other nine fall right into place.
The Ten Commandments aren’t a menu you choose from;
they’re a full meal deal.

There’s only room for one god in the temple of your heart.
Choose the God of Jesus.

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