This week’s readings and gospel reflect the theme of the ten commandments. “Those who obey God’s laws will become great in the kingdom of God.” It has been said that the Ten Commandments given by God are meant to protect His children from self-destruction; they are not harsh rules meant to enslave and oppress. They give us our boundaries; the boundaries that make our hearts pure and prevent self-destruction.
Catholicism is a faith of rules and regulations. Some people misunderstand our relationship with the church and our relationship with God because they’re focusing on the commandments – the do’s and don’ts. If we understand the Ten Commandments properly, we will recognize them as an expression of the love between God and His people in the context of a covenant. A covenant is where there’s a sharing of persons, a sharing of lives, and an oath is sworn with terms to the covenant. The priority is the well-being of the community. The Ten Commandments guide us in right, God-honouring living. They help us to flourish as individuals and as the people of God. They also set us apart from the world so that people might see God’s character reflected in our lives.
As a child, I remember the beginning words of each commandment – the theme – “Thou shalt not” or “Do not”. A parent doesn’t say to a 3-year old, “Walk so as to preserve your life”; rather they say, “Don’t go into the street”. But as my faith grew, the negativity changed to a better understanding of rules to live by. Rather than, “Thou shalt not kill”, I see it as, “Never hurt anyone through your actions or words” or “Respect the dignity of every human life.” Someone once asked me how I could follow guides that were written thousands of years ago. “Messages are timeless”, I responded. Today we need to follow basic rights, save ourselves from the destructive force of self-centeredness, hatred and falsehood, in order to survive.
Think of the commandments as positive, encouraging guidelines. Rather than, “Thou shalt not commit adultery”, think of, “Be faithful in your marriage and faithful, respectful to yourself, your family and your friends.” “Thou shalt not bear false witness against your neighbour” could be seen as, “Be truthful in what you say and do, avoid running down a person’s character by gossiping or speaking lightly of his/her ability, integrity or honesty.” “Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife/goods” think of as, “Just be happy with the relationships you have. Don’t be jealous of other people. Be satisfied with the belongings you have and be grateful for what has been given to you.” We all need limits and parameters in order to live healthy and fulfilling lives. The Ten Commandments are not rules imposed on us by a despot who prohibits and forces, rather a loving Father who is taking care of his children. “Those who obey God’s laws will become great in the kingdom of God.”