Return, O Israel, to the Lord your God,
for you have stumbled because of your iniquity.
Take words with you
and return to the Lord;
say to him,
“Take away all guilt;
accept that which is good,
and we will offer
the fruit of our lips.
Assyria shall not save us;
we will not ride upon horses;
we will say no more, ‘Our God,’
to the work of our hands.
In you the orphan finds mercy.”
I will heal their disloyalty;
I will love them freely,
for my anger has turned from them.
I will be like the dew to Israel;
he shall blossom like the lily,
he shall strike root like the forests of Lebanon.
His shoots shall spread out;
his beauty shall be like the olive tree,
and his fragrance like that of Lebanon.
They shall again live beneath my shadow,
they shall flourish as a garden;
they shall blossom like the vine,
their fragrance shall be like the wine of Lebanon.
O Ephraim, what have I to do with idols?
It is I who answer and look after you.
I am like an evergreen cypress;
your faithfulness comes from me.
Those who are wise understand these things;
those who are discerning know them.
For the ways of the Lord are right,
and the upright walk in them,
but transgressors stumble in them.
Psalm 81:5C-10AB, 13, 16
I hear a voice I had not known:
“I relieved your shoulder of the burden;
your hands were freed from the basket.
In distress you called, and I rescued you;
I answered you in the secret place of thunder;
I tested you at the waters of Meribah.
Hear, O my people, while I admonish you;
O Israel, if you would but listen to me!
There shall be no strange god among you;
you shall not bow down to a foreign god.
I am the Lord your God,
who brought you up out of the land of Egypt.
O that my people would listen to me,
that Israel would walk in my ways!
I would feed you with the finest of the wheat,
and with honey from the rock I would satisfy you.”
One of the scribes came near and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he answered them well, he asked him, “Which commandment is the first of all?” Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” Then the scribe said to him, “You are right, Teacher; you have truly said that ‘he is one, and besides him there is no other’; and ‘to love him with all the heart, and with all the understanding, and with all the strength,’ and ‘to love one’s neighbor as oneself,’—this is much more important than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.” When Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” After that no one dared to ask him any question.
In this season of Lent we focus on repentance, on prayer, fasting, and almsgiving. We examine our consciences and work to deny our carnal nature so our spirits can be strong. We discipline ourselves so that our lives can become more holy.
Though penance is important for making the changes we need to make and to show our desire for atonement, the greatest desire of the Lord’s heart is for his people to know how to love.
The commandments of God are a means of getting to know the heart of God. The scribe in the Gospel asked what was the most important of all the commandments and he pleased Jesus by saying that sacrifices and burnt offerings are less important than the actual building of the Kingdom of God.
The commandments show us the way to Jesus who fulfilled them and perfected them in himself. They show us what we do wrong but they also point us to new life in Christ if we apply ourselves to them with our entire heart, mind and soul.
God wants us to walk in His ways and he wants to satisfy us with His blessings. For all the times when we have failed to do that, we can make the decision to love more, to love God and to love those we have sinned against.