October 2, 2016

When we hear the word obligated, what does that spark within us?   When we are told we are obligated to do something, how do we feel about doing it?   Many times it does not bring about great joy.  In our faith journey God has given us many obligations.  We are obligated to follow the Ten Commandments.  We are obligated to celebrate the Sacrament of Reconciliation when we have committed a mortal sin.  We are obligated to follow the Lenten regulations for fasting and abstaining.  There are many things we are obligated to do as we maintain our relationship with God.

In today’s Gospel we are told we are not the best of servants when we do only what we are obligated to do.  These are challenging words that Jesus spoke.  The word “obligation” is to lead us.  The word “obligation” is to show us a path that is the minimal.  Behind the obligations and the law is the spirit of what the obligations bring us to do.  We sacrifice in Lent because we are getting in touch with the suffering servant Jesus.  We fast on Fridays to make ourselves disciplined in preparation to celebrate the Friday of the Triduum.  On that day we reverence the cross and recall the great suffering He endured for our sins.  The Church hoped that these obligations would lead us to a desire to exceed what their rules were and do what we knew in school as “extra credit”.  My siblings were great at doing a lot of extra credit.  When I came along as the youngest, I was not so enthusiastic about extra credit and teachers would say, you are not like your brothers or sister.  At that point in my life I was not as connected to the concept of going the extra mile.

In the desert when Moses revealed the Commandments of God, the people of Israel saw them not as obligations, but as words of life.  We have to realize they had just come out of slavery in Egypt.  They watched the Egyptians offer sacrifice to stone gods who never spoke to them.  The Egyptians offered sacrifices for rain and the harvest.  The stone never spoke back and they were left to wonder if they did not sacrifice correctly or if the gods were angry with them.  When Moses speaks, he tells the people these are the words spoken.  We no longer have to guess.  We are to love God, praise His holy name, and keep holy the Sabbath.  No longer did the people have to guess what made God happy. He spoke to them.

As we look at obligations, we are given an opportunity to see them not as things we need to check off a list, but to see the spirit behind them and the reasons why they were given to us in the first place.  When we go behind the rules and the Commandments, when we go behind the action to see their spirit, an immense value of communication and joy may be found.

Reverend John J. Ouper