In his farewell speech to the Israelites, who have been wandering in the desert for 40 years, Moses gives his final instructions as they prepare to enter their Promised Land. “Now, Israel, hear the statutes and decrees which I am teaching you to observe, that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land which the Lord is giving you.” Isn’t it interesting that they must take possession of the land which God is giving them but even more interesting is how they are to take possession.
The Scribes and Pharisees are far removed from the time of Moses, also from his warning to not add or subtract from the commandments he shares with the people. They have wrongfully taken possession of God’s commandments by adding and subtracting to them to suit their own purpose. They have closed their hearts to the spirit of the law, given to them to help them live loving lives in praise of God, and, instead, made themselves to be like gods (see Gen. 3:5).
There are two ways we can take possession of gifts and taking possession is important because it completes the act of giving. One way is to dissociate myself completely from the giver, as the prodigal son did, thereby freeing myself to use or abuse the gift as I choose. The better way is to respect the spirit in which the gift is given, as well as the intentions and love of the giver, and use the gift with the heart of a steward – not for me exclusively but in the spirit of the heart of the giver. It’s a tricky balancing act. In “Fiddler on the Roof,” Tevye points out that the key to maintaining this balance is Tradition. He is referring to “the commandments of the Lord, which I (Moses) enjoin upon you.”
God’s commandments are His gift to us by which we can take possession of all other gifts, especially life. St. Paul affirms that we should welcome the word… that is able to save your souls. Be doers of the word and not hearers only. It is in hearing that we receive God’s commandments and gifts and it is in doing, living them out in our daily lives that we take possession of them.