Dueteronomy 4:1, 5-9 (NRSVCE)
So now, Israel, give heed to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you.
See, just as the Lord my God has charged me, I now teach you statutes and ordinances for you to observe in the land that you are about to enter and occupy. You must observe them diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, “Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!” For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him? And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today?
But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children
Both of today’s readings have to do with teaching. God taught Moses, and Moses taught the Israelites. Both Moses and Jesus tell us to teach “the statutes and ordinances” and “the things that your eyes have seen” to each other, to pass the faith on to our children. There’s one major implication here. If we are to teach the faith, we ought to know the faith. One can hardly be a teacher of something one does not know. I could not teach biology, for example, or interpretive dance, as I know nothing about those things. That means we must focus our minds and our hearts on learning the faith, so that we can teach others.
This doesn’t mean we all have to go enroll in a theology program at a university. Theological study is important, but it’s not what we mean when we speak of “learning the faith.” Christianity, and Judaism for that matter, is not merely a set of rules and abstract concepts that one can memorize and say “I know Christianity.” The faith is only learned through lived experience—that is, one can only “learn the faith” by practicing the faith. By this I don’t mean “teach by example,” though that is certainly part of it, but rather I mean there is no meaningful sense in which one can say “I know Christianity.” Through living the faith, we can say instead “I know Jesus.”
With that in mind, think about how difficult and uncomfortable it can be to talk about your faith in public, or even with family and friends. You might mention the potluck you went to at church, or the youth group you help with. But when it comes to actually having a discussion about Christ, we tend to clam up. Why is that? I think it makes the most sense to say that perhaps we don’t really know the faith like we should. Even moreso, I think most of us have a skewed understanding of what it even means to “know the faith,” making us think we know less than we actually do know.
A simple example of the latter would be to look at, say, a Baptist and a Catholic. Baptists are notoriously good at reading their Bible. I know some Baptists who can quote Bible verses all day, prattling off chapter and verse, putting verses into context, and always having a verse in mind for any situation. They really know their Bible, because diligently reading the Bible is a big part of how Baptists live the faith. We Catholics, on the other hand, are notoriously bad at quoting Bible verses, and so we tend to be more reserved when it comes to discussions about the Bible than a Baptist might be. But that doesn’t mean we Catholics don’t know our Bibles. Our liturgies are filled with Scripture, even if you ignore the daily readings. Our prayers, like the Hail Mary, are taken from Scripture. We may not be able to tell you where in the Bible these things are, but we know them. We know them through living the faith.
This is why Moses puts so much emphasis on observing the Law. It’s not about knowing the Law. It’s about living the Law, for you only come to truly know it by doing it. And it is only when you truly know something that you can hope to be a good teacher. So if we are to teach the faith to our children, we ought to focus ourselves on living it.