Sunday, April 13, 2014

Desiring the Kingdom, and Exodus

Saint Peter Roman Catholic Church, in Saint Charles, Missouri, USA - stained glass window of Lamb of God

Our local Catholic Bible Study group is studying Exodus right now, and in this week's lesson I came across a connection to Desiring the Kingdom that was helpful for me.

I don't vouch for the entire source, since I haven't studied it, but this PDF on Exodus has a section that makes a similar point to the one I read in the Exodus study guide.   It is about the connotation of the Hebrew word "avad" or "abad", which apparently means work but also worship, service but also liturgy:   

One of the central themes in Exodus is related to the Hebrew word avad . We first see this word in the characterization of how th e Egyptians persecute the Israelites. The Israelites were made to “serve with vigor.” 107 This word “to serve” is translated from the Hebrew word avad , which means “to serve,” but can also have the deeper meaning “to worship.” In fact, the word liturgy is derived from the Greek work for worship, leitourgia . Liturgy is to serve the Lord in wo rship. Pharaoh wants the Israelites to avad Pharaoh and the Egyptian gods, not the Lord. Sa dly, the reality is that this is exactly what has happened. The Israelites are enslaved in Egypt, but, as will become clear as the story develops, they are also spiritually ensl aved. They have entered the Egyptian culture of idolatry, paganism and polythe ism (the belief in many gods). Their physical slavery is an outward manifestation of their spiritual slavery. Throughout Exodus we will see that God calls Moses and the people to avad Him. Moses will lead the Israelites out of slavery in Egypt to avad the Lord.
You can find more analysis of the word at this source:  Is Work Worship?
If you want to see the word in Biblical context, go to this interlinear and then check the annotation.

Anyway, this solved a longstanding question in my mind:  Why the Benedictines call the Divine Office the Opus Dei, or "work of God".    It is also called the Liturgy of Hours. 

It also gives me some context for Josemaria Escriva's constant theme (which you also see in Francis de Sales, Brother Lawrence and many other sources) that the work of God is the work you are called to do at that particular moment in your life, and that this work can be sanctified -- it can be, in other words, a liturgy.

This section of Exodus also starkly depicts the same idea that Smith is trying to unpack in his book Desiring the Kingdom, that no practice is neutral, that God rightly claims it all.   Again and again, the text makes clear that Pharoah is claiming exactly what God claims, the Israelites' service and sacrifice.    And unlike King Darius in the story of Daniel, Pharoah is not trying directly to get the Israelites to worship him; rather, he is preventing them from worshipping God in the way God commands.

The Palm Sunday service in the Catholic Church always fascinates me because for this one occasion we break the Gospel reading into parts -- a narrator reads the main narrative, the priest says the words of Jesus, another man reads the parts of the various disciples, and the congregation reads the words of the people.    You can find the readings arranged for parts here , though it is different from the way our missal has it, and an explanation of the practice here.

This forces us (the congregation) to say things like:
“Prophesy for us, Christ: who is it that struck you?” and
(to Peter) “Surely you too are one of them; even your speech gives you away.”
and “Let him be crucified!” among other things that I most fervently pray I would never be tempted to say in real life.

However, it struck me that there is a kind of education in having to say such things.    Though we are members of the Body of Christ, we do confess our sins and transgressions and repent of them every time we go to Mass, and it never hurts to have it pointed out that the kinds of temptations that made the people say the things they did are exactly the same ones that are in our own sinful hearts.

 This roleplaying of evil is a kind of immersion into the depths of our own hearts, very suitable for this Holy Week, or at least, that is how I feel it.     As Chesterton says:  "What's wrong with the world?  I am." 

So getting back to Desiring the Kingdom, practices that we repeat again and again are the very substance of our lives.  I've noticed many times since converting (24 years ago this Easter) that when I read the Psalms over and over again, when I say the many traditional prayers commended to the Church, when I try to be more like Jesus, when I do things like go to Mass, sit down with my kids and begin the homeschool day, clean the toilets, or whatever, there is not infrequently big gap between my inner heart and what I am doing or saying.    However, the point is that I am "reforming", literally, by doing or saying these things.  

When Pharoah was forcing the Egyptians to work, he was forming their souls to some extent.  When God took the Israelites away, He freed them by reforming them towards their true selves, even though they often fought Him.   When we go to Mass or pray or do the duties of our state in life, we are being formed, if we let ourselves be.    In this way our work and our worship are intrinsically connected by the aim to which they lead.   

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