Here we have the famous command to ‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength’ (Deut. 6:1-8:20). The Bible is the greatest love story of all time. We love God because He loved us first. The Jews were instructed to write the Lord’s commandments on the door-frames of their houses and on their gates. Attaching something to the front of your house that proclaims your faith is a great way of bearing witness to our religion. Jews do this today by fixing a mezuzah to the side of the front door. A mezuzah is a decorative case containing a piece of parchment inscribed with passages from Deuteronomy (6:4-9 and 11:13-21). I thought this was a wonderful idea and joined in by attaching a mezuzah to my front door-post, even though I was Christian. My children were of course horrified and begged me to remove it, particularly after a pizza delivery driver implied that he hated it and interrogated me about which religion I actually belonged to. He gave the impression that the next pizza he delivered would come through the letterbox on fire. Unfortunately it is quite common for a mezuzah, and the home to which it is attached, to be vandalised by people who oppose the people of God.
The Jews were told to ‘not forget the Lord’ (v.12) in their conquered territory as they enjoyed all the good things that other people had built. When people are rich and well-fed, they tend to get complacent and lazy. They forget to praise and thank God. What can God do to overfed, prosperous and proud people in the West to get them to pay attention to him? People mistakenly think that it is their own power, effort and strength that has given them prosperity. However, everything is from God, ‘for it is he who gives you the ability to produce wealth (8:18). God has to take the shackles off the devil and allow illness, cancer and a global pandemic to hit us to make us remember we can’t live independently. We should know in our hearts ‘that as a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you (8:5).
We must never ‘follow other Gods’ for the ‘Lord is a jealous God and his anger will burn against you’ (v.14-15). We must not treat celebrities, sports, careers or created objects as idols to be adored and worshipped. God gave the Israelites a clear warning that if they bowed down to other Gods he would destroy them (8:19-20).
The other nations were ‘seven times stronger’ (7:1) than the Israelites but God would deliver them over to them. It sounds ruthless to our modern ears when the Israelites are instructed to destroy their enemies totally, to make no treaty with them and not to intermarry. But God knows the future. He knew that even Solomon, the wisest man in the whole of human history, would be snared and brought down by his non-Jewish wives.
The Jews were confirmed as ‘people holy to the Lord your God’ and ‘his treasured possession‘ (v.6).
The Lord made amazing promises to Israel if they carefully followed his laws: ‘None of your men or women will be childless’ (v.14), ‘The Lord will keep you free from every disease’ (v.15).
Just as God used creatures such as flies, frogs and locusts to plague the Egyptians, he promises to ‘send the hornet’ (v.20) to finish off any hiding enemy survivors.
God wisely planned for the Israelites to conquer the land little by little (v.22). He is full of common sense. It would have been too overwhelming to take over an entire region in one go.
Jesus quoted 8:3 to the devil after his 40 days of temptation. It is written: ‘man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord’. Not only did God feed the Israelites with manna for forty years, he ensured that their clothes did not wear out or their feet swell (8:4). God cared for the practicalities of daily desert life as well as their spirituality.
The goal of the Holy Spirit living within us is to gradually sanctify us so that our whole body will be eventually full of light. He slowly drives out all of the darkness, just as God did not let the Israelites conquer the promised land in one go (Deut. 7:22). If all the evil was driven out of us in one go, a vacuum might be created inside us – which could allow even worse evil to flood in and take up residence within us. As evil is gradually drained from us, we need to fill up the conquered territory inside us with more of the Holy Spirit and the word of God. Our promised land, full of milk and honey, is within us. We must kick the evil out of us with no mercy and not leave any surviving remnants.
Jesus said that our eyes are the lamp of the body (v.34). Many exorcists report that people’s eyes give away when they are possessed by evil. Either the normal look in their eyes is suddenly replaced by one of intense evil and rage (caused by an ‘apertus’ demon) or people go into a trance with their eyes closed and their eyeballs roll upwards (an ‘aperti’ demon) (see Fortea, p. 88).
We need to avoid looking at the wrong type or movies or magazines. We can commit adultery just by looking the wrong way. Let us look at wonderful holy things with our eyes to fill our body with inner light and look away from evil things. Unholy people successfully manage to do this the other way around. Many avoid reading the word of God or going to church to prevent light flooding into their darkness. Dark deeds are done in dark places. They prefer darkness to light, they prefer death to life. The Easter Vigil service is a wonderful demonstration of light. Everyone lights their own candle, from the flame of Easter candle, gradually turning a dark church into a blaze of light. The first thing that is done before any church service is to turn all the lights on and also light some candles for good measure. We proclaim that Jesus is the light of the world.
Jesus was going to eat with a Pharisee but before the meal was even served, there was a strong rebuke from Jesus. He said that we must not get so caught up in carrying out religious practices that we ‘neglect justice and the love of God’ (v.42).
Jesus said to ‘give what is inside the dish to the poor and everything will be clean for you’ (v.41). The tradition of tithing to a church helps us to separate us from a love of money, which means we are more likely to give to the poor. Tithing is an Old Testament concept and Christians are not bound by it. A Catholic priest would never instruct his parishioners to tithe but we are expected to support our churches with a realistic proportion of our income. Our priests and pastors do have to buy groceries and the church has got to be heated. God is not a debtor to any man. Whatever we give away to the needy, he will repay more generously. Maybe not in cash, but in love.
Jesus warned the teachers of the Law not to ‘load people down with burdens they can hardly carry’ (v.46) without helping. It is important to teach without hypocrisy and reflect on how we personally needed supernatural help to escape from a mire of sin. Jesus came to give us freedom from sin, not to convict us and condemn us. It is very easy to pontificate that practices such as abortion should be made illegal but that would load people with burdens they can hardly carry. To protect unborn children, we need to all join in wholeheartedly with our love, finances and time to support all pregnant ladies, new mothers and adoption services – not criticise from the side-lines.
To break ranks for a minute, I think this also relates to traditional teaching on contraception. Celibate teachers of the law may not be in the best place to advise legitimately married couples on how to space out their children. The approved ‘natural method’ is as good as not lifting ‘one finger to help them‘ (v.46). I fully accept that it is sinful for a married couple to vow never to have children or to use a method of contraception that prevents a fertilised egg from implanting. However, I can’t personally see a big issue with married couples using condoms to space out the timing of their children or try to avoid having too many of them. My wife and I were habitual condom users when we were first married – we were Anglicans at the time – and my first child still came along. My God is the God who split the Red Sea, He isn’t going to let a little bit of rubber get in the way if He decrees it’s time to have a child.
Jesus referred to the ‘blood of Zechariah, who was killed between the altar and the sanctuary’ (v.51). In non-canonical writings, it is stated that Zechariah, the Father of John the Baptist, was killed by Herod’s troops during the slaughter of the innocent baby boys after Jesus’ birth (Matthew 2:16-18) or he was killed for not removing Mary, Mother of Jesus, from the prayer area reserved for virgins even though she was pregnant (https://detroitcatholic.com/news/gary-michuta/did-john-the-baptist-s-father-die-a-martyr). John the Baptist had been born more publicly than Jesus, and his father had not escaped to Egypt. It is likely that Zechariah would have been interrogated as to where his baby child was.
The experts in law removed the key to wisdom and knowledge: The Holy Spirit. As baptized Christians, we have the key to knowledge living inside the temple of our bodies. The water of baptism not only makes us clean on the outside. By the living presence of the Holy Spirit within us, we start to become clean and full of light on the inside.
This is a beautiful psalm that we can sing along to:
Our soul thirsts for God, the living God to give us life. No matter what we try to distract ourselves with: sex, money, possessions, or power we will never be happy until we give up on our own efforts and hand over control to God.
God loves us and wants to set us free from the bondage of sin. Sin and slavery cling to us, like a sliver of cellophane stuck to our hands that is virtually impossible to shake off. However, the Holy Spirit can purify us from within.
Looking at the state of the world around us, many people could ask: ‘Where is your God?’ (v.3).
The last time I was downcast, it was because an evil spirit was attacking me. God had allowed this to occur because I was being lazy in my faith, attending a non-dynamic church and spiritually treading water. ‘As a man disciplines his son, so the Lord your God disciplines you (Deut. 8:5). I found a new church and began to regularly worship with ‘shouts of joy and thanks giving among the festive throng (v.4). As I worshipped, I felt evil leave and I was cured.
We have to show the world that God is above us, around us and within us. We need to prove this by walking with the Holy Spirit and performing great acts in the name of Jesus.