The Ten Commandments
Rules, rules, rules. Does anyone obey all the “rules” anymore?
Do the “rules” apply to me or just to other people?
It’s okay for me to drive and text because I am a good driver, but that person holding up the
traffic because of their technology, well that’s another matter.
What about my child’s “behavior” vs. another child’s? Those other children really need
discipline, but my child is just being “cute”.
It’s not my fault. Somebody else caused me to break that rule. Don’t blame me.
Years ago I was having a conversation with a man who was proclaiming the 10 Commandments as the centerpiece of his Christian faith. When I asked why he picked guidelines from the Old Testament and not the New Testament, he asked me what in the New Testament I would pick. I quickly responded: “Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you.” I will never forget his response: “Susan, the 10 Commandments are a lot easier to follow.”
To this day, I can’t think of the 10 Commandments without remembering my conversation with this man. He was being humorous and truthful at the same time.
When we study the first five books of the Old Testament, or the Torah, we are confronted with lots of rules and instructions for living. Just continuing to read in Exodus, we find even more ordinances for living. Sometimes there can be contradictory rules in the same chapter.
Many of us as children probably memorized the 10 Commandments and remember most of them to this day. Those commandments were picked from among all the words of instruction to give us a template for the Law. If we were to look more closely at each of those ten, we would find that most people interpret them through their own lens. We each have our own ideas about keeping the Sabbath, coveting, stealing, murdering, adultery, lying, and all the others. We don’t follow them to the letter, nor do most of us think we should. And we are not bad or faithless people.
Jesus found himself confronted by people asking questions about the rules, too.
One example is of the rich young ruler. “I have done everything right. Am I going to get to heaven?” Jesus’ reply shows the heart and soul of His message: “Yes, you got the rules, but you’ve missed the meaning.”
So, what do people who want to be faithful and good do? Can we just pick and choose whatever works for us? How do we make sense of the message of Jesus and all of the instructions in the Old Testament?
When we juxtapose the New Testament passages such as:
~ Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you
~ There is neither slave nor free, male nor female; all are One in Christ Jesus
~ If anyone says they love God and hate their brother or sister, they are lying
With the 10 Commandments and all of the other Old Testament rules, we are met with demands for living. We may be able to pick around the rules themselves, but we, as Christians, can’t get away from the meaning within them. Nothing is easy in these examples for sure, but they hold deep within them the roots of the message that God wanted us to get, and Jesus expanded.
The oldest prayer in the Judeo-Christian tradition is the Shema. The opening words are these:
Hear oh Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is ONE.
The “ONE” tells us about God. It is about God being One with all the joys and sorrows of living; One with the gamut of all fears and hopes; One with all of the positive and negative experiences of life. Just as God doesn’t let the rain and sun fall only on the just, but the unjust also, receive God’s bounty. We are called to be One in God’s love. That is the essence of real compassion. God calls us out of bondage, even obedience, into relationship. We can get the rules, but still fail to reach out to our brothers and sisters. My faith tells me that the intent and value of the Ten Commandments is to seek to know God and to love others. To take the rules, the “10” literally, without understanding the context and culture in which they were written, or to say we believe them just as they are, but adjust their meaning to our own comfort levels or interpretations is to miss the meaning.
Susan Anne Bennett
The Week of March 4