Laws! We know about laws, ones we keep to avoid a fine; laws that are commonsense practices for the common good – like obeying the rule to stop when a traffic light turns red, or a railroad crossing gate goes down; and rules we keep as a part of belonging to an organization –like Scouting, or the church, with laws that are meant to be helpful; but, let’s admit it, even those well-intended laws may be rules we work at finding ways to avoid keeping, or bend to suit us.
When my elderly uncle began to suffer from memory loss, his medical doctor signed the forms to cancel his driver’s license. That was too much for my uncle. He found a place where he could take a course and then an on-road test. The day came for the instructor to ride with him and observe his driving on roads near his home.
When he decided to stay in the middle of the road, the instructor pointed out that he belonged in the right lane, to which my uncle answered, “I always drive in the middle, because that is the way to wear out the tires evenly; when I see an approaching vehicle, I’ll move to the right.” Next, they came to a stop sign, and when he didn’t stop, his reason was no one was coming either way; the road was clear. Then he proceeded to drive 15 MPH in a 45 mile zone.
When they came to a stop, the instructor couldn’t wait to get out of the car, and then informed him he had failed the test, to the relief of the family who knew he was determined to drive by his rules and not the rules of the road.
It was only a matter of time before there was an accident maybe with tragic consequences.
Rules are for a reason; especially the ones we heard read to us this morning, the Ten Commandments, which – as a one-liner goes – aren’t suggestions but commandments, introduced with the words: I am the Lord your God – the credit line for the Ten Commandments which Moses is pictured delivering to the Hebrew people to be – not suggestions- but commandments to keep for the good of humans, for civilians to be civil.
Now, however, tablets and plaques and stone monuments that display the Ten Commandments in court rooms and public buildings are seen by some as a religious bias of Jews and Christians which, because they are, should be removed. The counter argument is that the Ten Commandments serve to help people value themselves and others, and commit to a life style that respects this earth-home and all who live in it. Scouting is a good example to show how the Ten Commandments help to make good citizens, regardless of a person’s religion or race or class.
For a fun time exercise, open a handbook, one for Boy Scout, the other for Girl Scouts, and list all the badges – or go on line to get the list; then match each badge to the Commandment it helps a Scout to learn to do. That’s the first part of the exercise.
The second is to watch the daily newscasts or read the daily paper and note all the toxic waste, all the polluted waters, all the fish kills, all the chemical smog and spills, all the violent acts, all the senseless shootings, all the sad statistics of girls carried off from a mission school in Africa to be sold as slaves or even worse - be killed; while at home we have abandoned children, abused spouses, over-crowded shelters and people living on the street. Hold on to the horror of all those sights and then see which commandment, if it were followed, would change that scene, would reduce the number of dehumanizing actions. That’s the second part of the exercise.
On one hand the Ten Commandments might be followed with the same enthusiasm of taking a dose of bitter medicine. They can seem to be like a parent’s order, “You can’t go play with your friends till you’ve eaten your vegetables.” Or, “Till you’ve cleaned your room.” Or whatever is the most dreaded thing to do.
On the other hand the Ten Commandments can be laws we love to keep, laws that have us joining the Psalmist in singing the longest song in the Hebrew hymnal, Psalm 119, or one of its lines, (vs. 97): Oh, how I love your law! It is my meditation all day long.
It is a song picked up by Christians in the Philippines when their villages were burned, their women ravaged, and their children killed by terrorists. Then they saw the order that is brought to public life, and how there is respect for others when a people commit to living by the Ten Commandments.
It’s the commitment we Christians are called to model as Jesus said He had come, not to abolish the Law, but to fulfill l it,…fill it with its fullest expression, and He made the ten easy to remember as He combined the first four commandments relating to God and the other six relating to humans, into one word: LOVE lived out as we love God by loving one another, with Himself as the example seen in His life, death, and resurrection, sights bearing the caption, “As I have loved you, love one another.”
A charge that we may question when today’s Gospel scene has us seeing Jesus with whip in hand, driving out the merchants selling sacrificial sheep and cattle, money changers converting the currencies of the world into the
the coins used in the temple- at an inflated price, and profiteers selling doves to the poor for an amount they could not afford to pay, businesses that angered Jesus to the point of shouting, Take these things out of here! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” - It had become a place where people could not feel at home with God, and the Ten Commandments had become a burden too heavy to carry and too costly to practice.
“Stop it all!” Jesus cried out, to make room for a place where the guilty meet a loving God Who lifts that weight and frees a person to love of God by loving those around them, and rejoice that the Ten Commandments are summed up in Jesus’ word: LOVE; haLOVE as He lived it and orders His followers to copy, and experience how in keeping the Laws, they become the Laws we love to keep.
A nursery school was walking to a local playground. The teacher told them the rules: hold hands, stay on the pavement, and, when they came to the traffic light, and it was red, stop and wait for it to change to green.
One child didn’t obey that rule. He let go of the hand he was holding and started to dart across the intersection, ignoring an oncoming car. The teacher, seeing what he had done, raced to come between him and the approaching car. As the driver came to a screeching stop, he knocked the teacher down, but she wasn’t hurt.She was able to get up and join the children.
Sheepishly the boy turned and ran back to the pavement, where the teacher asked, “Now do you know why we are to hold hands and wait for the traffic light to turn green?”
He said his “yes” with a firm grasp of her hand and a look on his face that told the teacher he now knew the rules she had made were for his good.
In a much larger sense the Ten Commandments are God’s rules for God’s children – meant to keep us safe.
No wonder Jesus was enraged at what He saw, and we should be too, whenever the place of worship keeps people from learning the Laws meant to show us how much we matter to God; how much we are loved by our Parent-God, and being loved, we will be God’s loving children.
The Ten Commandments, the laws we love to keep for in keeping them they bring us close to God and to one another, as close as Jesus was. Amen.