“God’s love precedes the law and gives it meaning”
Dear brothers and sisters:
We continue to speak of the commandments which, as we have said, more than commandments are God’s words to his people to walk well; loving words of a Father. The ten words begin thus: “I, Yahveh, am your God, who has taken you out of the country of Egypt, from the house of servitude” (Exodus 20:2). This beginning may seem strange to the true laws that follow. But it’s not like that. Why this proclamation that God makes of himself and of liberation? Because you reach Mount Sinai, having crossed the Red Sea: the God of Israel first saves, then asks for confidence. That is, the Decalogue begins with God’s generosity. God never asks without giving first. Never. First save, first give, then ask. That’s our Father, God is good.
And we understand the importance of the first statement: “I, Yahveh, am your God.” There’s a possessive, there’s a relationship, it belongs. God is not a stranger: he is your God. This illuminates the whole Decalogue and also reveals the secret of Christian action, because it is the same attitude of Jesus when he says: “As the Father loved me, I have also loved you” (John 15:9). Christ is the one loved by the Father and loves us with that love. He does not part of himself but of the Father. Often our works fail because we start from ourselves and not from gratitude. And who’s part of himself, where does he get to? Get to yourself! He’s incapable of making his way, he’s coming back to himself. It is precisely that selfish behavior that people define: “That person is a self, me, with me and for me.” He gets out of himself and comes back to himself.
The Christian life is first and foremost the grateful response to a generous Father. Christians who follow only “duties” report that they do not have a personal experience of that God who is “ours.” I have to do this, this, this… Just homework. But you’re missing something! What is the basis of this duty? The foundation of this duty is the love of God, the Father, who first gives, then commands. Putting the law before the relationship does not help the way of faith. How can a young man desire to be a Christian, if we start from obligations, commitments, coherence and not liberation? But being a Christian is a journey of liberation! The commandments free you from your selfishness and free you because there is the love of God, who carries you forward. Christian formation is not based on willpower, but on the acceptance of salvation, on letting onesement be loved: first the Red Sea, then Mount Sinai. First salvation: God saves His people in the Red Sea; then in Sinai tells them what to do. But that people know that these things do them because they were saved by a Father who loves him. Gratitude is a characteristic feature of the heart visited by the Holy Spirit; to obey God, we must first remember his benefits. St Basil says: “Whoever does not let these benefits fall into oblivion is oriented towards good virtue and all works of righteousness.”1 Where does all this lead us? To do an exercise by heart: how many beautiful things God has done for each of us! How generous Heavenly Father is!
Now I would like to propose to you a small exercise, in silence, that everyone responds in their heart. How many beautiful things has God done for me? Here’s the question. Silently, let each of us respond. How many beautiful things has God done for me? And this is God’s deliverance. God does many beautiful things and frees us.
And yet one may feel that he has not yet made a true experience of God’s deliverance. This can happen. It might be that you look inside and find only a sense of duty, a spirituality of servants and not of children. What to do in this case? As the chosen people did. The book of Exodus says: “The Israelites, moaning under servitude, cried out, and their cry, which flowed from the bottom of their slavery, rose to God. God heard his groans and God remembered his covenant with Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. And God looked at the children of Israel and knew…” (Exodus 2, 23-25). God thinks of me.
God’s liberating action placed at the beginning of the Decalogue—that is, the commandments—is the answer to this complaint. We do not save ourselves, but from us can break a cry of help: “Lord, save me, Lord, show me your way, O Lord caress me, Lord, give me some joy”. This is a cry for help. This awaits us: to ask to be freed from selfishness, from sin, from the chains of slavery. This cry is important, it is prayer, it is to be aware of what is still oppressed and not liberated in us.
There are many things that are not liberated in our souls. “Save me, help me, free me.” This is a beautiful prayer for the Lord. God expects that cry because He can and wants to break our chains; God has not called us to life to remain oppressed, but to be free and live in gratitude, obedience to the joy he has given us so much, infinitely more than we can give to Him. This is beautiful. May God always be blessed by all that He has done, does, and will do for us! Ω
1 Regole brevi, 56.