119:1-2, 4-5, 7-8
On this first Saturday in Lent, the readings all speak to the virtue
of faithfulness. We are mandated "... to do these statutes and ordinances...
with all your heart and with all your soul" in the reading from Deuteronomy.
This reading emphasizes the covenant between God and God's people.
A covenant, the traditional Biblical meaning, is an unconditional agreement
that includes command, promise and threat. Thus, a covenant begins
with a gift - the love and faithfulness of God. It is a relationship
based on grace. All human covenants are mere representations of the
basic covenant between God and the faithful. A covenant is not dependent
on performance or nonperformance of the parties involved. The key
notions of covenant are promise and fidelity to promise.
The reading from Psalm 119 carries this theme of faithfulness and
steadfastness forward. The psalmist speaks the words that we all
carry in our hearts, "O forsake me not utterly!" God's perfect faithfulness
to us is sometimes reflected in our interactions with others. This
reading, in particular, reminded me of a portion of a book Talk Before
Sleep by Elizabeth Berg that deals with the death of a vibrant woman,
Ruth. Her friends are present in a variety of ways during her struggle
with breast cancer. As it becomes clear that Ruth will die, one of
her friends reflects on how perseverance in the face of tragedy and loss
may be the unique strength of women. She specifically thinks of Ruth's
Still, I know if Ruth's mother were alive, she would handle this,
draw from the reservoir of sacred strength that women are born with.
She would wear clothes whose very smell comforted Ruth, she would put on
an apron and make her soup and butter her toast and help her to walk to
the bathroom when she needed it; and when things turned the worst, she
would not leave. Women do not leave situations like this: we push
up our sleeves, lean in closer, and say, "What do you need? Tell
me what you need and by God I will do it." I believe that the souls
of women flatten and anchor themselves in times of adversity, lay in for
The final reading from Matthew challenges us even beyond the faithfulness
owed to those we love. Jesus speaks about a love that must go further
than that involving those we love. He seems to be saying that loving
those who love us is the easy part. We are called to do more.
This last part makes me more mindful of how much I need God's love because
I often find it hard to "lay in for the stay" even with those I love deeply.
Of course it is easier to love those who love us, but I do not think it
is ever easy. Loving those who hate us and persecute us is even more
difficult, if not impossible at times. Let us pray, women and men,
for the virtue of fidelity and the ability to ". . . lean in closer and
say, 'What do you need? Tell me what you need and by God I will do