At the Red Sea, God liberates the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt; the water was divided, they were able to proceed on dry ground through the middle of the sea whereas the whole army of Pharaoh who pursued them was engulfed by water (Ref Ex 14:21-28). “Not one of them escaped” (Ex 14:28). The almighty God who is all faithful sets his people free as he has promised.
Then on Mount Sinai, this same God reminds his people Israel through Moses that it is he who has freed them, bore them on eagles’ wings and brought them to himself. He makes a Covenant with them: if Israel obey his voice and keep his covenant, they shall be “a kingdom of priests and a holy nation” (Ref Ex 19:1-5; Ex 19:6).
Israel promised to obey the law, they responded to Moses with one voice, “All that Yahweh has said, we will do” (Ex 19:8). Moses was given the Ten Commandments which Pope St John Paul II described as “the laws of freedom: not the freedom to follow our blind passions, but the freedom to love, to choose what is good in every situation, even when to do so is a burden”. They were written in stone “with the finger of God” but before that they are written in the human heart, the timeless universal moral law (Exodus 31:18). The Commandments point out the false idols and gods that draw humanity into slavery; the love of self that excludes God, the greed of power and pleasure that destroys the order of justice and degrades our human dignity and that of our neighbour. “Today as always” Pope St John Paul II continued, to keep the Commandments is “the only future of the human family”, being “faithful to God, to ourselves, our true nature and our deepest aspirations”.(Note 1).
In the second reading, St. Paul proclaims, “God proves his love for us in that while we still were sinners Christ died for us” (Romans 5:8). How should we understand this? Pope St John Paul II explained that at the heart of our religion is the mystery of liberating obedience which finds its fulfilment in the perfect obedience of Christ to the Father in the Incarnation and on the Cross. We, too, shall be truly free if we learn to obey as Christ does. That is, we are to obey God and keep his commandments as a loving surrender to the Father through Christ Jesus in the Holy Spirit. (Note 1)
In the gospel reading, Jesus gives his twelve apostles authority to cast out demons, cure the sick and raise the dead. Then he sends them out to proclaim the good news, “You received without payment; give without payment” (Mt 10:8). Indeed, the grace of love and life, faith and salvation is bestowed on us freely. We are provided with abundant blessings freely but oftentimes, we may not readily recognize them and may take them for granted, fail to appreciate their goodness and to thank our God who is the giver and the source of grace.
As Jesus’ disciple in this day and age, what does it mean for us to “give without payment” (Mt 10:8)？Are we ready?
Pope St John Paul II, “Celebration of the Word at Mount Sinai” St Catherine’s Monastery, February 26, 2000.