All of us who have engaged in catechetical ministry know the challenge of teaching the Ten Commandments to children. If we expect students to memorize the 10 commandments before first Eucharist, that makes it even tougher. We are usually more “successful” if our goal is that they have a sense that there are commandments, that there are ten of them, and what the basic meaning is.
Most of us stammer when it gets to … Thou shall not commit adultery. One Sunday school teacher decided to try and see what her 3rd grade students might know about this subject; so, she asked. A little girl proudly raised her hand and said, “Adultery is when a kid lies about his age.”
Another teacher called out the number of the commandments and wanted students to respond with the commandment. When he said, # 10, a little boy raised his hand and said, “Thou shall not take the covers off your neighbor’s wife.”
I’ve always thought that if students could understand the 4th commandment as “Humor your mother and father”, the world would be a lot better off.
This weekend’s first reading (Exodus 20: 1-17) challenges us to hear the ten commandments with the ears and heart of a learner — as someone who is hearing them for the first time, rather than as people who think, too quickly, we have heard this, and we know all about it.
Is it ok if we are doing fine with 7 of the 10, ok with 2 of them, and well, rather poorly with one of them? Is this like school when a 70 is a passing grade?
This weekend, I want us to look at only one of the commandments —- the first one. It might be said, if we get the first one right, all others will come together.
I would think it is safe to say, that most of us skip through the first three commandments rather quickly when we “exam our conscience”. It might go like this:
1. You shall have no other gods besides me. We quickly respond: no problem. I worship the one God of Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.
2. Thou shall not take the name of the Lord God in vain. We respond: well, once in a while when I am really mad or frustrated …. and usually I think it rather than saying it.
3. Thou shall keep holy the Lord’s Day. We respond: most of the time, especially during Lent.
Let’s go back to Commandment Number One. God teaches us that he is a jealous God. AND, HE INFLICTS PUNISHMENT down to the third and fourth generation of those who break this law. Wow! Before talking about the punishment, let’s go back to the commandment itself.
ONE GOD — no thing or no one comes between us and God. No thing, no one is more important than God. No thing, no one controls our thinking, our yearnings, our planning, more than God.
Sure, this scripture/commandment calls us to make sure we are not driven to get more and more. This commandment does call us to balance our wants with our desires and not to get caught up in the consumerism of our world. Check.
Yes, this commandment does challenge us to deal with any addiction that controls us so that we are not free to choose — alcohol, drugs, gambling, pornography.
This is a time to evaluate if things or work or PLAY has become more important than our relationships …..our duty to family.
But …. just maybe … the false god that we need to deal with is the illusionary world we have created …..the world where I see things through my eyes only — in this unreal world, I rationalize to make my actions ok — I had/have a good reason for doing what I am doing. In this world of my mind, everything is filtered through what I believe to be true. In this world of imagination, I am numb to those things that might “crimp” my style or interfere with my plans. In this world of delusion, I become the false god — the object of my worship is seen each morning in the mirror of my bathroom. God is not really in control —- I am in TOTAL CONTROL …. I make my plans and my schedule and then I fit God in when I can.
Hear again: I AM A JEALOUS GOD. When God hold any place other than first place, trouble will follow …. and it affects others …. not because God is punishing them, but because my actions have negative impact or my inaction leads to bad consequences.
The drunken driver not only endangers himself …. but also all those in the car.
Parents who do not model good communication and conflict resolution — should not wonder when their children mimic their misbehavior.
Pastors who go about the “chores” of ministry as a job — need not wonder when parishioners do not seem to be committed to doing “extra”.
Wasting needed money on casinos will cause others to suffer the necessities of life.
Am I living to please God? Is there a deep drive within me to do good because God is expecting it of me? Do I do what I do to help another, but to benefit myself in the long run? Have I created a false god [carved an idol] of ‘MY WORLD’?
The Church itself cannot escape this reflection. Jesus’ behavior in turning over tables and driving the vendors out — should give all in leadership pause.
Those who were there were there for a (good) reason. Travelers coming to the temple needed to have something to offer in worship. But, perhaps it was not practical to bring something on the journey. So, the vendors could have provided a good service. BUT, the money changers who exchanged the legal tender of the Roman coin for the Hebrew money needed to purchase something, did more than provide a service — they extracted an unreasonable fee for themselves. Then, the vendors charged too high a price or sold an inferior product. So, a good service was being performed with a hypocritical spirit. Is our ministry in response to the need(s) of the people?
Are we a part of the legalism of the Church or the compassion of the Church?
Is our attention to prayer and the rubrics of worship balanced by engagement in the social gospel and civic involvement?
Does the spirit of worship flow from the temple into the public square?
The last line of the Gospel (John 2: 13-25) is quite telling: Jesus did not need anyone to tell him about human nature. He understood it (all too) well.
The ten commandments and the teachings of Jesus are offered to us not to limit us — but to help us reach not only our potential, but to help the community achieve its potential.
Remember the tv show “Father knows best” …. well, in truth, God our heavenly Father does know best. Let’s make sure WE ARE WORSHIPING the God who created us and not the god we have created for ourselves.