|“The Ten Commandments” Movie (1956)|
Lectionary Passage: Exodus 20: 1-3 (4-6) 7-8 (9-11) 12-17
Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me…You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name. Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy….Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
Things were hard. Here they were in the middle of the wilderness, hungry, tired, struggling, quarreling, and wondering what in the world they were doing here. Until now, they had no real identity, no purpose for being here, no point to life. But this is the point where that all changes. This is the point at which their lives and their long, horrendous journey become meaningful. And God gives them a covenant.
Now, contrary to the name of this post, I’m pretty sure that the Ten Commandments did not just drop out of the sky. It is much more likely that these specific laws were selected from among the gathered moral and social laws of generation upon generation. In essence, they grew out of a people’s understanding about God and their own relationship with God. The people are first reminded that God has already saved them before, bringing them out of slavery, bringing them into relationship with God. But you can’t help noticing that these commandments are formative of who one is before God and how one lives in response to God. The first four commandments related to one’s relationship with God and the remaining six have to do with the relationship between human beings. It is really very simple: You shall love the Lord God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. (with all that you are, with every essence of your being) And…you shall love your neighbor as yourself.
But in our modern-day society, there are those who have tried to make these words “law” in the judicial sense, simply by displaying them in courthouses or public buildings. But they are missing the fact that these are not laws to obey but the natural way that we are called to respond to the freedom of God. In fact, these laws, unlike many others, do not sanction a certain type of government or a specific king. Rather than dictating what we should do, they depict who we are as a people of God. They are less about behavior than they are about identity—who God is, who the people are, and who we are as people of God. It is about how we relate to God, how we relate to each other, and, even, how we provide sustenance and nourishment for our faith journey. And regardless of whether or not we believe they actually dropped out of the sky, they are like manna in the wilderness, providing sustenance and life. Think of them as declarations of freedom to become who we are called to be, rather than a set of rules or regulations that force us into becoming what someone else wants us to be.
Now, admittedly, I don’t think they belong on the courthouse lawn or on the walls of a schoolroom. I think they’re bigger than that and I don’t think they can be contained. They are, yet again, the very breath and essence of the God who dances with us rather than holds court over us to make sure we follow the rules. The Decalogue is, once again, God with us. And this Season of Lent is not about following the rules or being burdened with regulations. It is about experiencing the freedom of this God who dances with us—this one God, who, alone, drives our life with a Spirit of steadfast love and the integrity of respect; this one God who offers us rest and reflection that we might delight in Creation and that we might enjoy the best that it has to offer; this one God who knows that we can only understand the love we are given if we love in return, if we honor the ones from whom we came, if we honor life and love and all of Creation; if we are honest with ourselves and with each other, and if we want the very best for our brothers and sisters. In this way we will understand this God who offers us life and all that it entails. Hmmm…that’s fairly far-fetched for us. Maybe it WAS written on a tablet from the sky.