The Covenant of the Ten Commandments
This Lent the First Readings from the Old Testament or Hebrew Scriptures present various covenants between God and his people. We reflect on them during Lent to help us have a greater understanding of the New Covenant in the blood of Jesus which we celebrate at Easter. Two weeks ago we had the covenant of the rainbow that God made with his people when he promised he would never give up on his people. Last Sunday we had the covenant with Abraham when he trusted that God would provide after being told to sacrifice his son. The message was that God knows the inner turmoil we may have in our faith lives and gives us the strength to grow in faith even in the most difficult times of our lives.
This Sunday we are presented with the covenant made through Moses, the Ten Commandments. This covenant was so solemn that the Israelites kept the tablets of the covenant in a specially made beautiful platform and tent which they called the Ark of the Covenant. Eventually, under King Solomon, they would build a Temple to house the Ark and the precious commandments. What was so important to the Israelites was that these commandments told them what God wanted them to do for them to continue receiving his special care. They practiced the Ten Commandments so they could remain the Chosen People.
We also are called to practice the Ten Commandments as our response to God's presence, his choice of us. I would like to take a deeper look at a few of the commandments today.
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 two commandments. 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.
We talk about keeping holy the Sabbath Day and note the obligation we have to celebrate the Lord's Supper on Sundays. I am sure that before the pandemic there were people who attended Mass only because they were obliged to attend. One man told me that he goes to Church to keep God happy, as though Divine Eternal Bliss depended on his presence in Church. As you know, due to the pandemic the Sunday obligation has been lifted. Still, it is wonderful to see so many people attending Mass simply because they want to be there and need to be there. The obligation to attend Church and receive the sacraments is secondary to our deep need to experience the real presence of the Lord at the Last Supper, on the Cross and in the Eucharist. Many of those who are not able to go to Mass watch it on our YouTube stations and are not concerned with fulfilling an obligation as they are with praying on Sunday.
Consider the Sixth Commandment, Thou shalt not commit adultery. A number of years ago a seven-year-old in this parish told me he committed adultery. I told him that he didn’t, only adults do that, that’s why it’s called adultery. If he wanted to know anything more, he should talk to his mother. OK, so I cheated, but I had a hard time to keep from cracking up. Anyway, people 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 another to find God by giving his or her all to that person, or in the case of a priest or religious, those people, who are their way to God.
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.” 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 the society the media presents, and, to some degree, out of tune with our own 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.
The Ten Commandments are not outdated. Nor are they easy. But they are effective. By fulfilling this covenant we are responding to God's call to be his people.