By Sr. Miriam Loveland, S.H.M.
The First Commandment invites us to recognize God as God and realize that this means that I am not God. If we remember the last article, the Ten Commandments are given to man as a light to illumine our path. They help us to identify both where the cliff is and where the paths are that lead to death and to life.
When God gave this Commandment to the Israelites, they certainly ran the very real risk of worshipping other gods. Do you remember the golden calf that the Israelites built in the exact same moment that Moses was receiving the Ten Commandments from God Himself? It was all too easy for them to fall into the temptation of adoring a god that they could touch and see—a god that they could understand—especially if we keep in mind that all of the other nations that surrounded them did just that. They truly needed this Commandment to keep them from following the example of the other nations; they needed it in order to remain faithful to God.
Perhaps nowadays we no longer see our neighbors bowing down before a graven image in declaration of its sovereignty and asking it to bless them—or maybe we do.
But we are indeed surrounded by a truly polytheistic society baptized Catholics who continue to surrender their hearts to false gods How many Christians seek to reaffirm their deepest identity through their work or a particular rela-tionship? How many measure their success in life by the number of zeros on their pay check? How many proclaim themselves to be the center of the universe and demand others—many times at the expense of their families—to recognize them as such? If we are truly honest with ourselves we will see that even today we run the risk of surrendering our hearts to “false gods.” .
When God gives this Commandment to Moses he starts out by reminding the Israelites who He is: “I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of bondage” (Ex 20:2). God once again reminds them that He is a loving God, a God that is close by and that cares for His people and intervenes in their lives in powerful ways. The Commandments are born out of the love that God has for His people: precisely because He loves us, He reveals both Himself and His law. He symbolically presents Himself as a jealous God that is unwilling to share our adoration with anyone or anything: “You shall have no other gods before me” (Ex 20:3). But why does He ask us to worship Him? Is God somehow lacking glory? Does God lose splendor if I give my heart to a creature instead of to Him? To respond affirmatively would mean that in some way God depends on me in order to be perfect. The reality, however, is that God does not need anything from me. If He needed my love, He would not be God.
If He commands us to love Him, it is precisely because He loved us first and that is why He reminds His people about the wonders He worked freeing them from bondage in Egypt. He will go on to repeat over and over again through the prophets that He acts with a very clear intention: “I will be like a father to him and he will be like a son to me” (2 Sam 7:14). Ever since the very beginning of creation, God’s plan is revealed to us through the covenant: God forges a relationship with mankind that far exceeds the relationship between creature and creator or between a lord and his servant; He makes us members of His very family. God does not want us to worship Him because He is in need of it, but rather because we need it. He commands us to recognize that He is God because our life—not His—depends on it. Our heart is made to belong to God’s family, to participate in the divine nature itself and that is why we will never be satisfied outside of God.
When God tells us not to adore other gods, it helps us to understand that the heart of worship is not the mere intellectual recognition that God is stronger than I am and that I should therefore venerate Him; it is not pure submission for its own sake. The essence of adoration is entering into the mystery of knowing oneself to be loved unconditionally by God and further recognizing that this freely-offered loved turns into an invitation that opens before us a path of fullness that will transform us into true sons and daughters of God in Christ. The commandment that God places before us to not have any gods besides Him encloses the loving promise of a God that is madly in love with us and wants to fulfill our hearts beyond our wildest expectations if we simply let Him be God and enter unreservedly into the relationship of sonship that He offers us. We ask the Blessed Virgin Mary, chosen daughter of the Father, to teach us to surrender ourselves to God in a life of worship and adoration just as she did.
© HM Magazine Nº208 May-June 2019