The Ten Commandments (Exodus version) will be a featured lesson in some churches this Sunday, and in looking at them once again I am reminded of the Sunday School and Confirmation classes that parsed each one for its unique pearl of wisdom and guidance for behavior. What exactly is stealing? Does kill mean murder or something else? How does coveting differ from ordinary sorts of jealousy? There was no end to it; we could go on for hours putting even the best casuist to shame.
It took some significant spiritual growth for me to realize that there are really only two commandments: Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength, and love your neighbor as yourself. Isn’t that what Jesus himself said? The first four commandments are simply variations on the theme of loving God and establishing some parameters to it. The last six are all about our relationships with one another, and, again, are simply variations on the theme of living with honest integrity with each other. Consider, for instance, the commandment not to kill. At first glance I can be quite smug about it never having even once killed anyone. But how many ways are there to kill? Can a cruel word kill some part of another’s psyche? I think it can and does. We can and do kill each other in bits and pieces a little bit at a time. To do that are we not stealing something that is not ours to take? Isn’t that a form of bearing false witness? You get the idea. They are all variations on one commandment, to love your neighbor as yourself.
That kind of thinking got me to appreciate the Ten Commandments so much more than I ever did as a teenager. I really don’t care whether they are ever posted in a courthouse of city hall. That is not where they belong anyway. But I do think it would be a good idea for them to be posted in each church where the people and their clergy can be brought to appropriate moments of reflection, confession and repentance.