Dostoevsky’s famous The Brothers Karamazov revolves around this broken family, especially the father and his three sons and the small Russian community in which they live. One of the noticeable fact about this work is the distinction he makes between people. Those engaged in objectively morally evil behavior have chaotic lives which seem to be spinning more out of control with every breath; they are carried away by every whim and wind. On the other hand, those engaged in morally good behavior have a life of order, they’re in control, and their lives are peaceful. It’s a remarkable contrast that is presented by Dostoevsky.
The Catechism (paragraph 374, 376) states:
The first man was not only created good, but was also established in friendship with his Creator and in harmony with himself and with the creation around him, in a state that would be surpassed only by the glory of the new creation in Christ…As long as he remained in the divine intimacy, man would not have to suffer or die. The inner harmony of the human person, the harmony between man and woman, and finally the harmony between the first couple and all creation, comprised the state called “original justice”.
This notion of harmony is obviously crucial to the story of creation; like a symphony, all the instruments play their part. While each one plays in a unique way with a unique sound, together each musician, each instrument adds to the beauty of the whole. In the Garden, that first harmony which man enjoyed was with God: “friendship” or “Divine Intimacy.” St. Irenaeus, in his work Against Heresies, wrote: [God] who stands in need of no one gave communion with himself to those who need him.
From this first harmony with God sprung other harmonies. First is the inner harmony of the human person such that the powers of the soul (intellect, will, passions) each performed their proper function and provided the proper, ordered, balanced support to the other powers. Next is the harmony between man and woman, a relationship that looked upon the other person in a whole and ordered way, recognizing the physical and spiritual dimension of the other person, treasuring and honoring the other as a subject, not an object. Last is the harmony with creation around him such that the goods of the Garden aided Adam and Eve in their relationship with God and with one another.
The Catechism, however, continues (379): This entire harmony of original justice, foreseen for man in God’s plan, will be lost by the sin of our first parents. As freely as it was given, it was lost: man let his trust in his Creator die in his heart (CCC, 397). It is perhaps this dichotomy of harmony and disharmony which Dostoevsky wished to highlight in a concrete way in The Brothers Karamazov. Adam and Eve rejected that friendship, rooted in trust and love for the Father, and consequently, all other harmony was serious damaged as well. The great drama of redemption begins then with a rupture of harmony, and the work of redemption is precisely the work of re-establishing harmony. This is a work that is principally God’s doing, but we’re co-operators in this work, and most especially in this Lenten season! With this in mind, we approach today’s readings.
In his First Letter to the Christians in Corinth, St. Paul wrote: Christ is the power of God and wisdom of God. It seems these are the keys to the mysteries we hear of in the 1st Reading the Gospel. Wisdom, we know, is derived from intellectual power understanding most profound things; it’s about a communication of truth, and in this case, a truth that allows us to see into the mind of God, so to speak. This is what we are given through the work of Moses in the 1st Reading. The mind of God wishes to return us to the order and harmony that Adam and Eve enjoyed, so He gives us the 10 Commandments with which we are so familiar. The 10 Commandments is not just a list of things to do or not do; rather, it’s a spiritual path to restore the harmonies lost by original sin. God does this not only by the content, but also by the order of the content
Regarding the content, Commandments 1-3 guide us in our relationship to God; St. Thomas Aquinas wrote: the chief intention of the Divine law is to establish man in friendship w/God (STh, I-II, 99, 2). God tells us how relate to Him so as to re-establish friendship and harmony. He teaches us that there is truly only one God, that we should not pretend there are others or accept the claim of others who say there isn’t a God at all. He teaches that we, as a sign of our reverence for God, should honor His Name, for having a “name” is understood as containing the whole person, so if we wish to honor & protect the “Person” of God, we should honor His Name. He teaches us that we should worship Him as is fitting to us as creatures, and that we should do so regularly, putting aside our own pursuits to honor Him. With Commandments 4-10, God wants to guide us in our relationship with others, so that, by our choices, guided by reason and sustained by grace, we may re-establish harmony. Again, St. Irenaeus: Through foreshadowings of the future they were learning reverence for God and perseverance in his service. The law was therefore a school of instruction for them, and a prophecy of what was to come. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ taught: I did not come to abolish the law, but to fulfill it!
Again, it’s not just about the content of the 10 Commandments, but about the order of the content, namely, that we should put our relationship with God first. This is how the Decalogue is written: remember that love of God is first and our relationship with our neighbor follows after and flows from it. If you want harmony within, with your fellow man, seek harmony with GOD. Notice, also, the encouragements given; St. Irenaeus teaches: [God] sought to teach his people, always ready though they were to return to their idols. While Commandments 5-10 have no encouragements, because there’s a certain immediate retribution (i.e. a fear of my neighbor that would deter me from breaking these Commandments). Commandments 1-4, however, don’t have immediate retribution, so God warns them and explains to them why it is they should follow these commands, even with immediate punishment or reward. Concerning the following of the Commandments, St. Irenaeus wrote: This raised man to glory, for it gave him what he did not have, friendship with God. But it brought no advantage to God, for God did not need man’s love.
In response, we have today the beautiful words of the Psalmist, recognizing this wisdom:
The law of the LORD is perfect, refreshing the soul; The decree of the LORD is trustworthy, giving wisdom to the simple. The precepts of the LORD are right, rejoicing the heart; the command of the LORD is clear, enlightening the eye. The fear of the LORD is pure, enduring forever; the ordinances of the LORD are true, all of them just. They are more precious than gold, than a heap of purest gold; sweeter also than syrup or honey from the comb.
Again, St. Paul wrote: Christ is the power of God and wisdom of God. It’s obviously not just knowing of God’s plan – the wisdom of God – but carrying it out – the power of God. With that we turn to the Gospel. If the goal of redemption is the restoration of harmony, first with God, then – stemming from that first harmony – within, with our neighbor, and with all creation, then we need to put that wisdom into action. This is what Christ shows us. Speaking about the history of the Israelites during the time after the Patriarchs, St. Irenaeus wrote:
When this righteousness and love for God had passed into oblivion and had been extinguished in Egypt, God had necessarily to reveal himself through his own voice, out of his great love for men. He led the people out of Egypt in power, so that man might once again become God’s disciple and follower. He made them afraid as they listened, to warn them not to hold their Creator in contempt.
He’s arguing that the Israelites in Egypt, unlike their Fathers, needed Decalogue. They had forgotten God and the things of God. Sadly, even with the Law, the Temple, and the revelations of God to the patriarchs and prophets, the Jews of first century had reverted to that state of Israel during the Egyptian slavery: this righteousness and love for God had passed into oblivion. Christ wants to awaken them, and us to the central need of our love for our Father; it’s a call to return to the Decalogue, the path set forth by which we find salvation.
What’s the first part of the Decalogue? Love for God! As Adam and Eve looked to their own personal gain instead of their relationship with God, so, too, the money-changers and merchants were seeking profit instead of true worship. Just as the sin in our hearts needs to be removed, so they needed to be removed. It’s a matter of learning to love God again; that’s what Jesus showed them and us. What is it that the Apostles recall? Zeal for your house will consume me. In this passage, quoted from Psalm 69, the Psalmist, whom the Apostles recall, is suffering persecution despite his fidelity to God. How much more will Christ suffer persecution because of His perfect fidelity! Jesus is the one who knows perfect harmony with the Father because He enjoys it eternally. As the first-born among many brothers, however, He is teaching us, the “younger brothers,” how to behave in the Father’s house. He is teaching us how to live that harmony, but He isn’t just a good teacher; He’s making it possible in us and with us by the destruction of the Temple of His Body.
Our invitation during this holy season, this sacred time, is to recognize the ways we have let this righteousness and love for God pass into oblivion and be extinguished. By our prayer and penance, we are to remember that we are seeking that harmony with God, within, and with others. We are to conform our lives more and more to Christ, the leader & perfecter of faith, so that we might obtain that perfect harmony promised in the new world to come.