Commandment to WHAT?!
Some of us, as we hear the Psalms between the other readings at Mass, may not even pay close attention: letting the words (and music) just wash over us like a warm sacred shower.
Today’s Responsorial Psalm (Ps 106:34-35, 36-37, 39-40, 43ab and 44) begins with a horrific slap.
They did not exterminate the peoples,
as the LORD had commanded them...
WHAT?! God had commanded GENOCIDE??!
As I have said before, many scholars attribute the severity of this command to purely human influences (a conscious and/or unconscious “spin” on God’s revelation by the people of Israel and its leaders).
Massacres of this sort were not uncommon in the ancient world nor are they unknown today: extreme acts of horrific deterrence (“Mess with us and we’ll not only kill you but your women and children as well”).
Such massacres and other atrocities are also committed in the name of ideological purity. The “killing fields” of Cambodia, for example, were perpetrated by atheistic communists as such a “purification.”
For their part, the people of Israel – the chosen people carrying the unique message of God’s presence in the world – had been living a precarious existence: surrounded and threatened by alien armies and cultures on every side. Extreme measures of self-preservation were sometimes the only option.
We should consider ourselves greatly blessed that the need for such terrible actions is as far away from us as it is.
Yet the fundamental failure of the people of Israel was not failure to commit genocide, but rather failure to remain faithful.
Wanting to “fit in with everyone else”, they threw away truth and embraced evil – because that was the way the world was.
As for us, genocide is not an option: it is unnecessary and evil.
What remains necessary is God’s fundamental command: to remain faithful, even when surrounded by disbelief, decadence, and other evils.
We need to keep ourselves appropriately distant from the ways of the world and bring ourselves ever closer to the ways of God.