What makes a nation great? I realize that even asking that question will trigger some people to go all crazy and political… which says more about us as a nation as a people who have allowed political disagreements to get so personal -vile and repulsive to be honest. But if you’re still with me, and trust I’m not trying to get political – just listen and ask yourself that question again. What makes a nation great?
Peoples, leaders, nations have had different criteria for answering that question. Indeed you could point to conflicts and wars that on some level were trying to prove there being “right” and the other nation being “wrong.” Even in our present moment, with the global pandemic of the coronavirus, you’re seeing very different responses and reactions from nation to nation which in time, history will judge on a variety of levels of greatness (or lack thereof).
In the first reading today from the Old Testament book of Deuteronomy [Readings can be found here] , we get a different perspective, criteria for answering that question as we heard Moses declare:
‘This great nation is truly a wise and intelligent people.’
For what great nation is there
that has gods so close to it as the LORD, our God, is to us
whenever we call upon him?
Or what great nation has statutes and decrees
that are as just as this whole law
which I am setting before you today?
For Moses, for the Jews – this was at an interesting period in their lives and history. The Lord had freed them from slavery in Egypt, guided them through the Red Sea and was bringing them to the promised land. Yet their failures to remain faithful to the God who had been so good, so faithful had kept delaying the fulfillment of that journey. The entrance into the promised land would be delayed and the Jews found themselves in the wilderness. Despite that sinfulness though, which led to dire circumstances – no true homeland, no security, nothing to really call or claim as their own – God was still with His people. And Moses is reminding them that when the people stopped listening to their own selfish wants, needs and desires… when they stopped comparing themselves to others (which is always a sure fire way of robbing us of our joy) and instead focus on what they did have, on the blessings they had that could make the wilderness not such a desolate place… that could make this time of wandering not a mindless, waste of time where they felt they were being punished but rather a pilgrimage for them to grow in their faith where they knew and trusted and believed God was leading them on a journey to their promised land. All that could happen, would happen – with the shift of perspective that happens when they listen to God’s word through his messenger Moses.
What makes them a great nation is recognizing that the Lord God with them… He is close to them – whenever they call upon Him. He has made them a great nation, given them their identity as His chosen people by giving them the law, making a covenant with them which transcends any earthly border or temporal advantages that would define all the other nations.
For us as Catholic Christians, Jesus takes that even deeper. We have the fullness of God’s favor in Him. God isn’t just close to us… He has pitched His tent among us, remains with us, humbles himself to become so accessible that we can receive in the Eucharist – His very body blood soul and divinity into our very body, blood and souls in order to grow in holiness ourselves. Even at this time when many are feeling the absence of receiving communion as we’ve had to suspend public masses during this time of quarantine, that doesn’t change what Jesus has already done for us. Yes we can mourn the temporary loss of that Eucharistic nourishment, but we can’t let that cause us to forget, we have been transformed in our Baptisms, received His very Holy Spirit. More than a great nation – we have become through Jesus Christ intimate members of the greatest of families – We are God’s beloved sons and daughters. Our call now is not to prove our greatness, but share this good news with a frightened broken world by remembering how intimately close God our Father remains with us as we continue to call upon Him, trust in Him in our great needs.