Today we celebrate the Memorial of Saint John of the Cross, priest and doctor of the Church. His mystical teachings, especially his poetry, have greatly influenced those who want to draw closer to God. His writings are not the easiest to read but what a wonderful teacher he is.
The Isaiah reading is such an important corrective to what many of us received growing up. God’s commandments somehow got disconnected from the love of God and ended up a burden. Why are there so many “Thou shalt not’s?” Why does God stick his nose into my business? Why does he care about how I satisfy my sexual desires? What business is it of God what I want to eat and drink? Why does God have to be such a killjoy? Isaiah affirms that this is a total misunderstanding of the Lord and the commandments. First, the Lord is our redeemer, the one who saves us from ourselves. That is probably a good place to begin every time we think about God’s commandments. They are the teachings of the one who has saved me for himself. So, why would I not want to know what pleases him? Whenever the commandments start feeling like a burden it is good to look at a crucifix and think of the burden our redeemer carried for us.
Second, God says through Isaiah, “I, the Lord, your God, teach you what is for your good….” Do I really believe that God loves me, that he knows what is best for me, and that he wants what is best for me? Is he trying to kill my joy or is he trying to show me the path that leads to my own happiness? When God says, keep my commandments for your good, do we think back to our parents who said, “Here, take this medicine. It’s good for you”? God says, “I…lead you on the way you should go.” Why is it the way I should go? Because it makes me unhappy and God just loves seeing me miserable? There is the stereotypical librarian who does nothing but go around saying “Shhhh. Quiet please. You’re having too much fun in my library.” God is like that librarian to us. How did we get such an unbiblical view of God? The God of Isaiah says that our prosperity is directly tied to hearkening to his commandments but just the thought of “having” to “obey” commandments grates on us. This comes about when the commandments are divorced from a relationship with the living God. When was the last time you heard someone proclaim, using the words of the psalmist, that they delight in the law of the Lord? In the Protestant church of my youth, we used to sing a song with the refrain, “O how love I Thy law.” We sang the song but our hearts were far from the law. Isn’t the Bible a love letter from God, we opined? Then let’s dispense with all the legalities.
God has rescued us from darkness. He has brought us into his marvelous light. He wants what is best for us and leads us in the path that will bring us prosperity and joy. His commandments are for our good. They tell us what is required to have a relationship with the one who loves and saves us. Keep the commandments for selfish reasons: they will lead to our good. Or, keep them because we love the one who gave them to us. Either way, they lead to eternal life.
St. John of the Cross, pray for us.
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