"When all else fails, read the directions."
There is an interesting thing that happens in our highly technical society. We go out and we buy some new piece of equipment for our home, and we take it home, and we plug it in, and we expect it to work, even though we have taken the inch-thick instruction manual out of the box and put it to the side. On the cover of the manual, in bold letters, it says "READ ME" -- but we figure that it is for backwards people -- so we just go ahead flipping switches, turning knobs, and making adjustments. Middle aged men are, perhaps, worse than all others in this habit.
Now, interestingly enough, even when we follow this procedure, we usually get the thing working. But, of course, its performance is probably not all that we paid for. Manufacturers today put a lot of effort into making their products, as they say, "user friendly," that is that we can usually figure out how to get them turned on and running. But often a lot of the extra features work poorly or not at all. The result is that we have a lot of VCRs with flashing timers, color TVs with purple people, and washing machines that mangle our nicer clothing.
The scary thing about all this is that many of us do the same thing in our moral and spiritual lives!
We read a Gospel, like today's Gospel, and we learn just a little bit about divine providence. We hear that Jesus calmed the waters when his disciples called out to Him in fear. And that's fine as far as it goes. God does make the wind and the rain and the snow, and He does put the beasts in the fields and the crops on the branches. He has created and ordered all things; and He keeps them in existence following His laws.
And while we know that God does sometimes reach out His hand and calm the waters at our request, or work some other major miracle; we know that most of the time God does not violate His own natural laws. So to speak, He "wrote the instruction manual," and the universe "follows the Manufacturer's instructions." For the most part, we cannot expect God to intervene so directly in our lives any more than we can expect the oven to turn on and off at the appropriate times to cook our dinner without our following the procedure to set its timer.
To a great degree, God's world is "user friendly." That is to say that we can figure out the most important things we must do without outside instruction. With simple human reasoning powers, we have figured out how to take advantage of His natural laws in order to keep ourselves clothed and fed. And with the same human reason, we know that we have obligations not only to ourselves, but to God and to our neighbors around us.
But like any other thing that we try to figure out completely on our own, there is the possibility of making mistakes in our interpretation of the facts. Man's relationship with God and with other people is more complicated than our natural understanding will account for. Fortunately, God has not kept His "instruction manual" secret from us. That's what St. Paul is talking about in today's epistle: God has given us instructions for the world around us in His Commandments -- He has revealed to us what we might not have been able to figure out completely and accurately for ourselves.
St. Paul lists just a few of the Commandments, but we get the idea anyway. God's Commandments are not just arbitrary rules imposed upon us like we might find in some game; even less are they some sort of punishment or divine attempt to make life more difficult. They are simply the "Manufacturer's instructions," given to us in order to make our lives run smoothly according to God's natural law.
3,000 years ago, King David wrote, in Psalm 147:
Rightly, King David knew that there was a connection between the prosperity of Israel -- the peace within its borders, the abundance of food, the health of its children, the favorable changes in the seasons -- that all of these things were somehow connected to keeping God's Commandments. Notice how privileged he felt to have received them under the Old Covenant of Mount Sinai:
He has proclaimed His word, His statutes, and His ordinances to Israël. He has not done this for any other nation; His ordinances He has not made known to them.
And we too have a right to rejoice with King David, for as Paul tells us the One who calms the winds and the waters has given these same Commandments to us under the New Covenant. They are, we might say, the "Manufacturer's instructions" for happiness here on earth with our neighbors, and for eternal joy with God in heaven.