Fr. Paul's Homily
Author, Leland Gregory, tell is that in 1631, King Charles I ordered 1,000 Bibles from an English printer named Robert Barker. In the translation, Barker inadvertently left out a single word in the Sixth Commandment; the word “not.” Readers were shocked to find out that God had commanded Moses “Thou shalt commit adultery” as opposed to “Thou shalt not commit adultery.” King Charles was not amused by this mistake and ordered all the Bibles destroyed, fined Barker 300 pounds sterling (a lifetime’s wages in those days), and revoked his printing license. Barker was out of business.
Not all the Bibles were destroyed; there are eleven known to still exist. Because of the infamous mistake, this printing of the official King James Version is referred to as “The Wicked Bible.” Would any of us want to leave out a “not” or two from the Ten Commandments!!? Maybe Yes! Let’s talk about the Ten Commandments.
First, we list them: 1) I am the Lord your God, you shall have no strange gods before you; 2) do not take the name of the Lord, your God, in vain; 3) Keep holy the Sabbath; 4) Honor your father and your mother; 5) You shall not kill; 6) You shall not commit adultery; 7) You shall not steal; 8) You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor; 9) You shall not covet your neighbors wife; 10) You shall not covet your neighbors goods. If you come from a Protestant background you might notice a slightly different numbering. In the Protestant version, the First Commandment is divided into two and the last two are combined into one; same commandments though.
The Ten Commandments have two sections: the first three concern our relationship with God and the last seven concern our relationship with each other. This matches with Jesus’ greatest commandments: “Love God with all your heart, mind and soul and love your neighbor as yourself.” In many cases our Love of God is a little cleaner, while our love of neighbor is more messy.
Luke Timothy Johnson has made an interesting observation about our churches. Johnson suggests that we compare the vestibule of a typical Catholic church in America to the front of the church. In the front, all is orderly and correct. Both furniture and art create an ambience of solemnity and reverence. The front of the church is to help our hearts be lifted up to God. In the vestibule of the church, another world thrives. There we find the mix of life: signup sheets for various trips and for spring flowers; volunteering for liturgical ministries; there too we find pamphlets on a variety of topics, and religious items for sale; blood pressure checks, name tags for pick up; drop boxes for Honduras eye glasses or medicine, or a special container for a periodic drive for food, shoes, blankets, any kind of need. Throw in a couple wheelchairs and the Blood Drive and we certainly have the mix of life. The vestibule is filled with the “Stuff” of life. It tends to be messier, louder and sometimes a little on the edge of chaos. The front of church is calm, beautiful, quiet; the vestibule busy, crowded, active.
The key is to unite the front of the church and the vestibule of the church in a creative tension so that each complements and transforms the other. In other words, the worship and honoring of God must also fill the vestibule and the chaos and busyness of life must also be a part of our worship of God. In terms of our lives, if God is not in our daily lives, we will be empty and lost; if our daily lives are not included in our worship of God, we will be bored and disinterested. Attentiveness to God and attentiveness to our neighbor must mutually feed each other.
My time in this homily does not allow for a review all of the commandments, but allow me to make a few observations.
The First Commandment, “I am the Lord, your God, you shall have no strange gods before you” was first given to the Israelite people to warn them about worshipping the many gods of the cultures that surrounded them. Monotheism, the belief in One God, had not touched most cultures yet, so the Jewish people had to be reminded to stay faithful to their God.
Today, this commandment is about the centrality of our relationship with God. We are not called FIRST into a moral code of conduct, or even laws about worship. Rather we are called into a RELATIONSHIP with our God, and as Christians, this is through Jesus Christ. How do we develop this relationship?
Well, how do you develop a marital relationship? Well, first you have to spend time together, talking and sharing about your life and what is important, and perhaps, where you experience pain or hurt. Second, you have to decide to make the relationship singular…not dating someone else. This exclusiveness relates to commitment and the desire to be truly there for each other. This doesn’t mean we do not have other relationships, but no other relationship will be a rival to this one central relationship.
So, going back to our relationship with God, can you see how we must spend time with God, and as with a dating partner, we need to share our hearts, our values, our experiences (both good and painful) through which the relationship grows. And we need to decide that no other relationship or possession or attitude, will take the central place of our relationship to God.
So, the First Commandment is indeed the FIRST, for it puts God FIRST in our lives.
Yesterday, as I prepared for this homily, I read an interesting observation about the commandment, “Keep holy the Sabbath.” While we often see this commandment as how we honor God, this writer suggested that it is really about how we honor ourselves. That may surprise you. Isn’t the Sabbath part of what we owe to God? Well, yes. But remember what Jesus said when he was criticized by the Pharisees for allowing his disciples to pick some heads of grain on the Sabbath. Jesus said to them, “The Sabbath was made for man, not man for the Sabbath” (Mark 2:23-27).
This was an amazing and liberating teaching by the Master. It was stunning for Jesus to say that the Sabbath was meant for humans, rather than for God.
But what does that say about worship on the Sabbath? Yes, God does mean for us worship on the Sabbath, but worship isn’t for God. God doesn’t need to be worshipped. But God knows that we need to worship. We need to praise.
Everybody needs a Sabbath . . . a time for rest and reflection. It is meant to be a time when we refrain from our regular labors to spend more time with family and relaxing. When the Bible was written, it was common for the average person to be forced to labor seven days a week. Sounds like today when many people feel forced to work all the time. But that’s not right! Everyone needs a Sabbath. Working all the time is also counter-productive.
So the Sabbath is for us to praise God and take some time for self and family. This is so important today when the hectic pace of life has destroyed any real sense of rest or peace. Nothing seems to protect our Sundays, so we have to draw some boundaries ourselves. What will you not do on Sunday? What will you do on Sunday that will provide more time for family and relaxation.
Of the seven commandments that are concerned about our relationship with others, I would like to focus for only a moment on the last two: to covet our neighbor’s wife and/or his possessions. These two are probably the least discussed of all the commandments, yet they are so relevant for today. To “Covet” is to want something with an intensity. It is when the desire is so great that we are moved to act beyond the boundaries of what is right and wrong.
In fact, these commandments touch upon what is in our hearts, while the other commandments touch upon our actions.
So, what is in my heart? Does my heart burn for something or someone that my desire begins to destroy the goodness of my heart? Do we have a desire for money that has contaminated our hearts and causes us to act in ways that are detrimental to our families or marriages? Does the envy of what others have or are, slowly eat into our hearts until they are contaminated with a deep bitterness and anger? Ah, how difficult it is to have purity of heart and generosity of spirit. The cleansing of our actions is difficult; the cleansing of our hearts is even more challenging.
But God wants all of us…body, mind and heart.
So my friends, let us not forget the 10 commandments. This week I challenge us to look at the 10 Commandments and see which commandments I need to focus upon. They continue to guide us. Let us listen to the wisdom of the ages found in the 10 Commandments.