Third Lent: The Ten Commandments
A while ago, the Supreme Court of the United States made two momentously silly decisions. OK, they’ve made a lot more than two, (think Roe vs Wade, Dread Scott, etc. Actually, those were devastating decisions, nothing silly about them at all, just everything immoral.) The silly decisions I am referring to was when the Supreme Court was considering public displays of the Ten Commandments on the walls of two Kentucky courthouses and on the grounds the Texas Capital in Austin. The political correct crowd wanted the commandments removed saying that they were fostering Judeo-Christian morality. God forbid that morality and law should have any common ground! On the other side, the Christian Right argued that the commandments represented the Law of God and that God had a proper place in a courtroom or on public grounds. The Supreme Court ruled that the commandments on the walls in Kentucky had to come down, but the commandments on the grounds in Austin could stay up.
How silly! I don’t know who needs to get a life more, those on either side of the case or the members of the Supreme Court, although I have my suspicions. The commandments themselves have no power. Their value comes from how well they are followed.
And they are not always followed all that well.
It is rather natural, certainly human, for us to want to do everything as easily as possible. This includes the very actions we were created for: to know, love and serve the Lord. We tend to cheapen our following of God. We tend to cheapen the foundation law of God's covenant with us, the Ten Commandments. Just look at the first commandment. We cheapen the first commandment into, simply, don't practice
idolatry, as though we are inclined to offer incense to a statue in our homes. But the commandment is much more than this. It is a commandment not to put anything before God. The materialist is an idol worshiper. His god is his money, his stuff. A person caught up in promiscuity is an idol worshiper, his god is his body. The selfish narcissistic individual is an idol worshiper, his god is himself. The Jewish Temple priests of today’s Gospel were more concerned with the money they were making in the Temple than worshiping God in the Temple. Jesus accused them of making money their god, violating the first commandment. He threw them out of the Temple.
Look at the third commandment. We talk about keeping holy the Sabbath Day and note the obligation we have to celebrate the Lord's Supper on Sundays. But the question comes, would our Churches be crowded if we did not have that obligation? I hope that for most of us, the obligation to attend Church and receive the sacraments is secondary to our deep need to experience the real presence of the Lord in His Word, at the Last Supper, on the Cross, and in the Eucharist. Still, I am certain that some people only attend Church out of fear of a punishment if they didn’t attend.
Consider the fourth commandment, Honor thy father and mother. We tend to push this commandment down the throats of our children, but we often don’t realize that the commandment does not have a particular age limit on the parents who are to be honored. When I go into the nursing homes and see so many elderly who have no one there, but do have children, grandchildren and great grandchildren some where else, I have to wonder what those people think of the fourth commandment.
Recently there have been sad discussions on euthanasia, saying that people have a right to demand their own death when they are sick. Aside from the question of violating the fifth commandment, Thou shall not kill, I find horrible immorality in the fact that many of the elderly would be pressured to allow their lives to end so their savings would not be used up on medical care. Believe me, this is not far fetched. One time I was asked to speak to a woman in a local hospital about having a trachiometry performed so she could survive pneumonia. Her daughter had called me up and asked me to speak to her Mom. So I went to the hospital and reasoned with her: the doctors feel confident that you will live and that the tube will be able to be removed once you are cured. Then, the daughter came in. She was furious with me. She told me that I had no idea how much money her mother was spending on her health and that she hoped I’d tell her to just leave well enough alone. She wanted her mother dead so that Mom’s money would be available for other members of the family. You might want to consider this true story the next time you feel that euthanasia should be allowed. Obviously, the daughter didn’t think she was violating the fifth commandment and trying to kill her mother by convincing her not to have the procedure. I’m also sure that the daughter would claim that throughout her life she followed the fourth commandment. I am not so sure that she had a clue of what the fourth commandment is.
Consider the sixth commandment, Thou shalt not commit adultery. O no, Father isn’t going to talk about that now is he? Well, I have to tell you a number of years ago I was hearing the first confessions of our seven and eight year olds and a little boy told me that he committed adultery. I told him that he didn’t, only adults do that, that’s why it’s called adultery. OK, so I cheated, but I had a hard time to keep from cracking up. Anyway, people tend to only consider the sexual dimension of the sixth commandment. It is a lot deeper than that. Adultery is not just about sex. It is about putting others and things before the one we are committed to in life. Essentially it is a violation of a vow made to God and to a husband or wife.
Everybody wants religion to be easy. The Jews wanted signs so they would not have to take steps of faith. Many people today travel throughout the world looking for miracles to be the basis of their faith. The gentiles, the Greek philosophers wanted neat theories on who God is and who Jesus is. Many people today get caught up in rationalizing their way out of faith and morality. “We,” St. Paul says to the Corinthians, “offer something that is not based on rationalization nor on wonders. We preach Christ crucified.” (1 Cor 1:23). The crucifix both reminds us of Christ's sacrifice and calls us to join Him in sacrificing ourselves for Him and for His father's kingdom. This is not easy. This is, though, the way of the Lord.
The Ten Commandments call us to a way of life that is out of tune with much of society. Honesty, respect for parents, fidelity, respect for property, putting God before all else, giving Him a day a week, are all ways that we are distinct from others. To be distinct, to be separate for the Lord, is what we mean when we say, “We are called to be holy.” We live these commandments so that ultimately we might not be wrapped up in ourselves. We live these commandments in response to God's preference of us as his chosen people.
Memorizing the Ten Commandments or posting them on public property is not what the Ten Commandments are about. The Ten Commandments are a covenant made by Moses with God for us, the People of God. They are not outdated. They must not be minimalized. They are our way of responding to the covenant to be God’s people.