Proper 22A; Pentecost 18; Exodus 2010/4/20
How do we live with one another?
The people of Israel, having been slaves for generations, were under the law of their masters the Egyptians. Once freed from their masters, how would they live? What would be the central organizing source that would guide their lives and guide their interactions with one another?
The Ten Commandments cover a lot of interpersonal territory, setting boundaries for what maintains the integrity between members of a society. Originally known as the Ten Words, the commandments cover a lot of territory as Spirit within them can be expanded to cover most everything as Jesus would later sum them up as “Loving your neighbor as yourself.”
The Commandments are in two groups: defining a community of individuals in relationship with their Creator and deliverer and defining relationships with one another. The commandments are bound in divine will and revelation—not human wisdom, which means they remain eternally valid and unaffected by temporal considerations. Let’s take a look at them.
One: Having no other gods but God, means that there are no other people, places or things that subvert our primary loyalty to God. We make hundreds of choices in a week. What criteria or authority do we use to make our decisions? We are often tempted to want things or situations more than we do God, and thus they can become gods to us.
Two: You shall not make for yourself a sculptured image or likeness of an object to which you bow down or serve them.
How easy it is to become attached to objects, as the golden calf story—where we spend more time and energy on the object that we do with God.
Three: You shall not swear falsely by the name of the Lord your God.
Swearing means to take God’s name upon the lips; falsely can be perjury in a court, or an agreement. Swearing can also mean using God’s Name frivolously without respect.
My father taught me this at a young age after a using the Lord’s name in vain. He asked me if I would like it if he went around saying Mark dammit, all the time. It hurt—like a knife wound cutting deep within me. I got the message for I was cut to the heart.
Four: Remember the Sabbath Day and keep it holy.
The day of rest, on which God rested is meant for us. I remember when I was younger and the stores were closed on Sundays. We spent the afternoons hanging out with the family or visiting, resting and playing.
After the stores opened on Sundays, people stopped relating to each other and started doing things instead like going to the mall. The mall replaced the home and family time evaporated. Rest turned into activity devolving into restlessness.
Our culture knows how to do but not yow to rest—so we lose out from the stillness of God in our souls because we give God no time to recuperate. Resting in God who is the place of true rest.
Five: Honoring our fathers and mothers involves respect so as to protect the integrity of the family for the sake of the stability of society. Honoring parents also means to develop into persons who contribute something positive to the world.
Six: Do no murder. Life belongs to God. Murder which infringes on God’s sovereignty of creation, is illegal killing that is against the law which does not include war and self-defense. Jesus expands murder into more subtle terms as words and actions that can destroy the spirit and life of another.
Seven: Committing adultery is theft of a marital relationship. It was so serious that the victim had no ability to pardon the offender. The commandment can be expanded to neglecting one’s spouse giving priority to other people or activity.
Eight: Stealing covers a realm of subjects from theft to kidnapping. Property rights were a part of life as an Israelite.
Nine: Bearing false witness, or lying, is addressed in a judicial setting for witnesses did not swear by taking an oath.
False evidence violates the petitioner and defendant, the judicial process, public trust in the whole judicial system and the stability of society. False witnesses in that day would receive the same punishment as the guilty individual. Lying is a sign of spiritual alienation. The fear of being shamed for being in the wrong and the consequences of it is greater than one’s desire to be honest and real.
Ten: Coveting focuses on the objects of one’s desires, which creates the craving to possess them.
Coveting reveals a lack of spiritual contentment, envy for what possessions and abilities others may possess. Comparing oneself with another is a form of coveting.
Of course, the Ten Commandments are laws. Laws are one thing. Having the will to follow them is another matter.
The Hebrews prayed to have the Commandments written on their hearts, so that they would be given the grace to follow them.
It’s when the people forget to pray to have the Commandments and God in the center of their hearts that the commandments are minimized and forgotten.
The consequences of drifting from God and the Commandments are evident not only in scripture but in our present day.
Write all your laws in our hearts we beseech you O Lord.