- Chapel of St John the Divine
- March 4, 2018
- 08:00 AM, 9:30 AM
March 4, 2018 Third Lent, B
Do you know why there are 10 commandments? We have 10 fingers. Memory tools. Well, that could be why. If we were sloths, there might be 6 commandments instead.
Do you know that there are different versions of the commandments? Not just the three in Hebrew Scriptures, but today—the Church of Rome has one way of setting out the 10, most other churches have another way of listing them. Same information, different presentation.
And our Jewish sisters and brothers look at them differently from the way we do. They emphasize what we think of as the first and last, and the others are, more or less, commentary on those two.
Do you know that mostly the Scriptures don’t call them “commandments” but the “Decalogue.” Deca means 10, logue means word—10 words.
These 10 words form a moral code that is a covenant between God and God’s people for all time.
They are not statutes, or laws, because there is no punishment given for disobeying them.
They show us God’s heart and give us guidelines for living with God’s heart in our lives—showing that we have God in our hearts.
Joan Chittister calls them “an adventure in human growth”….not to convict us but to transform us.
Like many other important parts of our lives, I think that these 10 words started out simply, easy to remember.
Over time more “stuff” was added to them and they became more complicated, wordier.
Here is how the first two are listed in our Prayer Book: “I am the Lord your God who brought you out of bondage. You shall have no other gods but me.” The second is “You shall not make for yourself any idol.”
This is what Jesus was lifting up when he drove the money changers and the animal dealers out of the Temple courtyard.
The people could not go to the Temple to worship God without following a whole lot of tradition that had been built up about worshipping God.
In ancient days, worship had to have an element of sacrifice. We know that the Aztecs in Mexico, among others, killed people to appease the gods, and we read that Temple worship included sacrificing animals to gain God’s favor.
I love how Sarah Dylan Breuer writes about this: “The sacrifices had to be unblemished: the Law required it, and so did common sense.
“Hey, you wouldn’t think of giving a chipped coffee mug to your kid’s teacher—why would you think it’s cool to bring “factory seconds” to Yahweh?
“And it’s not like no provision was made for the poor. (They could) offer a dove rather than a lamb. It just had to be an unblemished dove, and how much of a bummer would it be if you schlepped all the way to Jerusalem ..bringing a dove, only to find out (it wasn’t good enough) Selling animals suitable for sacrifice was a necessary service.”
The money changers were necessary, too, because in the Temple one had to use “Temple money” rather than Roman money. Roman coins had an image of Caesar—a graven image not welcome in the Temple.
All this was to continue a religious system that Jesus came to change. This is not God’s will, he said. What he did when he threw all those folks out was not just “cleansing” – he was transforming. Once the merchants were gone the system was still the same, it was just disrupted for a time.
What Jesus’ actions represented was a complete change, a whole new order of worship an d life with God.
Sacrifice of animals or people was not part of that new order. We call our Eucharist “a sacrifice of praise and thanksgiving” and, as they say in the cosmetics ads, “no animals were harmed” in our worship.
Long before Jesus, Micah brought this issue to Israel: “With what shall I come before the Lord, and bow myself before God on high? Shall I come before him with burnt offerings, calves a year old?….He has told you, O mortal, what is good; and what does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness and to walk humbly with your God?”
The system Jesus came to change had dismissed justice, kindness and humility. It turned sacrificial animals into idols, and into bribes to get God to do what the sacrificers asked.
God does not need to be appeased or bribed. God has already brought us out of bondage and, in giving us salvation, we have the freedom to live as his people –thankfully, joyfully, compassionately.
As we try to live this way, with God’s help, some of the other 10 words become easier to adopt.
We may find we can live without misusing God’s name, and saying “God” only in prayer. We may also understand the benefit of taking a day of rest, for our body and soul.
And in lives of thanksgiving, joy and compassion, we needn’t fear the last of the 10 words. “You shall not covet anything that belongs to your neighbor.”
Covet means wanting something that belongs to someone else. The original Hebrew word is actually desire, and desire is not necessarily a bad thing.
There is built into us a desire for God’s love. That is a good desire, but we often try to fulfill it by grasping at other things.
A desire for food is a good thing, and we can make it too much of a good thing, or we can ignore our desire, and die.
The problem arises when we desire something that already belongs to someone else—and we act on that desire.
When we act to get what we desire, if it is not ours to have, we covet, and we can get involved in the rest of the 10 words: murder, stealing, adultery, false witness.
To covet is to be greedy and to not honor and respect the other. To covet is to make ourselves more important
than anyone else. That is the basis for most of our human ills.
And the word about “honoring our parents so that our days may be long”—that doesn’t mean just saying “Yes
Mommy” or “Yes Daddy.”
It means respecting and caring for them in later life, in their “long days,” to give a tradition for our children to follow with us.
Do you know that our brain often fails to register negative commands? When we say “don’t” it can be a waste of breath! Put up a sign saying “wet paint—don’t touch” and see how many people reach out to feel the paint.
Like negative feelings that drag us down, negative words can be counterproductive, and negative laws just make us want to find ways to do what they tell us not to do.
So, can we find positive ways to talk about the 10 words, to help us really hear them and incorporate them into our lives? That is a better way for our brains to process them so that we hear what God is trying to say to us, and transform us, through them.
Chittister says that they are “words about praise, human responsibility, justice, creation, the value of life, the nature of responsibilities, honesty, veracity, desire, the simplicity of life.”
As Jesus says, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.”