Reflection: Sixth Sunday in Ordinary Time
Bishop John Shelby Spong, an Episcopalian bishop, tells of an incident he encountered one Sunday morning. He had gone to visit one of the parishes in his jurisdiction. There were about 100 people there. When it was time for the homily he came down among the people and asked, ”How many of you believe that the Ten Commandments are still important?” All hands went up. He said, “This is good to see. Since you all agree on their importance, who would now like to stand up and recite the Ten Commandments?” Every hand went down. No one accepted the challenge. But gradually, one by one, the group was able to name all 10 of the commandments.
You might be surprised to learn that Moses didn’t write all 10 of the commandments. They were not all chiseled out neatly on two stone tablets. We know now that observing the Sabbath Day wasn’t included until 600 years after his death. They were good guidelines for those times – are they still? Some people object to placing them in public places. Some people ignore them as being irrelevant to their lives in the 21st. century. What are we to think when Jesus says so strongly in today’s Gospel, “You shall not kill … and whoever says, ‘You fool,’ will be liable to the fiery Gehenna.” Or, “If your right eye causes you to sin, tear it out and throw it away.” Strong words! Were they meant to be taken literally? Of course not. Unfortunately, there are places in our world where the punishment for theft is still to have one’s hand cut off or to be stoned to death for adultery. But Jesus said, “Let the one who is without sin, cast the first stone.”
Jesus also said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” Jesus’ role is to reveal the real meaning of the Old Testament, to express what the law and the prophets wished to say in order to bring their message to fulfillment. Jesus deepens our understanding of the law, saying it is wrong to kill another person, but what leads up to it – anger, envy, mental illness – that’s where the problem starts so work on that. It’s wrong to steal someone else’s things but doing so starts with a lack of respect for other people and their rights. We may have enemies, but we are told to love them, not to seek revenge.
The key commandment that undergirds the Ten Commandments is one that existed in the Jewish community long before Jesus and is reinforced over and over again in his teaching. Remember that incident where a young wealthy man asked Jesus what he needed to be saved and the answer was, ”You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your mind. This is the first and great commandment. And the second is like it. You shall love your neighbor as your self. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Following the Ten Commandments starts with this admonition.
If we love correctly we are already following the commandments. One who loves another person will not do him/her harm. One who loves will understand and respect the rights of others. One who appreciates the gift of life will take care of it in themselves, others, and in all of creation.
Having said that, I know that there are times when loving God and neighbor can be very difficult. Just Friday, a former student of mine and her husband were stabbed to death by their own son. How do her sisters and other members of the family go about forgiving that young man? It will not be easy and may take a very long time, but that is what we are asked to do. Forgiving ourselves and others can be very hard to do, but it is the challenge loves calls us to aim for.
Last week’s theme was on being light and salt for the world. This week’s Gospel calls us to look deeply into ourselves, to search out attitudes and habits that prevent us from loving as much as we might so that our light will not grow dim and our salt not lose its flavor.