The Church’s first scripture for today is an excerpt from the Old Testament Book of Judges. The Book of Judges presents an interim period in the history of the Israelites, the years between the Exodus from Egypt (remember, the Israelites had lanquished in slavery in Egypt for generations until the God of Israel defeated the gods of the Egyptians and liberated the Israelites from bondage) and the establishment of the monarchies of Saul and David.
The Judges are the men and women who provided leadership during this critical juncture in Israelite history.
Today’s scripture from the Book of Judges warns us against the sin of idolatry. Idolatry is truly the capital sin of the bible. There are more warnings about idolatry than any other transgression in the Bible and of the Ten great commandments, it is a warning against idolatry that is given priority.
Our understanding of idolatry should not be limited to that of the worship of pagan gods and goddesses. Idolatry happens when we take any finite reality and elevate it to our ultimate concern and give it a place in our lives that should only properly belong to God. Our idols can be such things as wealth, pleasure, power and honors, but it can also be things like ideology or the need to be right or to have things our way. Many contemporary ideologies are the elevation of feelings to our ultimate concern.
The Bible is clear that nothing good comes from idols. False gods allure us with false promises. False gods destroy those who would worship them and thus does the one, true God burn with passionate intensity to warn us about idolatry and deliver us from their power.
The Book of Judges tells us that the best of the Israelite judges opposed the idolatry of the Israelites, thus also it should be with the leaders of the Church.
The Lord Jesus encounters a young man who asks him what he must do to attain eternal life? Christ responds that fulfilling the precepts of the Ten Commandments will suffice. The young man presents himself as willing to do more than this and Christ then asks him to abandon the pursuit of wealth, giving what he has to the poor, and placing his life wholly and completely at Christ’s disposal.
This the young man will not do and his refusal results in much grief.
The highest expression of the Christian spiritual life is expressed in the rigorous demands of what are called the evangelical counsels- poverty, chastity and obedience. These values constitute a way of life of total and complete dedication to Christ, not just in some things, but in all things. It is not an easy way, and not all will be able to live out the evangelical counsels in their fullest expressions.
Those who are able are Christ’s great athletes.
All of Christians must accept the evangelical counsels, even if it means we accept them at less than their fullest expression. Wealth should not be squandered, but given over to help the needy. A Christian recognizes that no one is simply a means to satisfy our base desires. Adherence to the command of Christ to love God and neighbor is not merely an option.
The Christian spiritual life demands more of us than adherence to the 10 Commandments. Living a way of life integrated by the 10 Commandments is basic to the Christian life, it is ordinary not extraordinary.
The extraordinary way takes us where the young man in the Gospel would not go- accepting less for ourselves so that others might have more, disciplining our desires and ordering them to Christ’s will and purposes, and seeking to live in communion with Christ, not just in those things that we choose, but in all that Christ chooses for us.