“Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. You shall not murder. You shall not commit adultery. You shall not steal. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.” Our reading from Exodus today brings us the Ten Commandments. Let’s explore two of the commandments for guidance in how we live our lives, starting with Honor your father and your mother.
I learned from the theologian Joan Chittister in her series on the Ten Commandments (The New Paradigm Series Vol 2, Jackson, Mississippi: D. L. Dykes, Jr. Foundation, 2014) that in Judaism, “Avelut, the twelve-month mourning time prescribed for parents, exceeds the mourning time defined for any other relationship, including a spouse.” Chittister says, “The message is clear: the lives of those who bring us into the world participate in the co-creation of the world. They have a claim on our special care, on our reverence, and on our acknowledgment. Those who bore and raised us have a claim on society itself because, thanks to them, all of society is gifted.” Chittister notes that the commandment does not say, “love,” “cherish,” “adore” your parents. Rather, the commandment is to “honor.” This instruction to honor parents points us to all who raise us, to all who share their wisdom. They are participating in co-creation; they are guiding the next generation; they are shaping the future.
Rosalind Hughes, Rector of Church of the Epiphany in Euclid has a new book out: A Family Like Mine: Biblical Stories of Love, Loss, and Longing. “The book explores how her own faith journey was informed by her experience as a child of hearing stories of biblical figures whose lives of family and estrangement, loss and reconciliation, discovery and the deep mercy of God reflected her own feelings as a child of adoption.” At Diocesan Convocation in February, Rosalind talked about her book and pointed us to those bumper stickers that you see on the back of an SUV with stick figures of two parents, two children, perhaps a dog and a cat. She asked us, “What would Abraham’s family look like, stuck on the rear window of a Dodge Caravan? What about Jacob, and Leah, and Rachel, and their children? What of Ruth and Naomi? Esther and her uncle? What about Jesus – not as an infant, but as a grown man travelling the country with his family of disciples and followers of all sorts and conditions?” She reminds us, “The stories of the Bible cover all kinds of family dynamics, from that which we now consider traditional, through all kinds of alternatives, including single folks making family out of the friends they love, especially those who share their faith in the expansive and embracing love of God. It was that promise, that anyone could find herself and her family background understood and adopted by God, that made [her] fall in love with the Bible as a child, and that brought [her] to church to find out more.” “Honor your father and your mother” embraces all who raise us, all who nurture us and share their wisdom. Honor your father and your mother honors community.
Let’s move to You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. In the series on the Ten Commandments, Chittister teaches that two historical principles underlie this commandment. First, integrity is essential in our legal system. Included in the code of Hammurabi, one of the earliest and most complete written legal codes, is a rule “…that in the event a false accuser is unmasked he is to receive the very punishment to which he exposed the accused.” You shall not bear false witness. The second principle is that speech is a sacred act because what we say creates our world. Do we take life or give life? Do we tear down or build up? Lying not only erodes relationships, it erodes our self. With incessant lying, we begin to believe the lies. We lose touch with reality and separate ourselves from God. You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor preserves the self and honors community.
The commandments teach us how to live in this world. We build up and nurture community because individually, we are just that…one individual…just a glimpse of reality…one ethnicity, one gender, one religion, one personality, one set of skills, etc. We need each other to understand the whole of existence, to become whole…to expand our horizons and to care for one another.
As always is the case with God, the commandments are not condemnation, but invitation. From our Psalm:
The law of the Lord is perfect and revives the soul; … The statutes of the Lord are just and rejoice the heart; the commandment of the Lord is clear and gives light to the eyes. … More to be desired are they than gold, more than much fine gold, sweeter far than honey, than honey in the comb.
Just as parents discipline their children, gently, but firmly, setting boundaries for behavior, so that their children feel secure and loved, God gives commandments for living righteously, so that we live with inner peace and inner joy.
Our Gospel lesson today takes the message even one-step further. Jesus enters the temple and sees people selling cattle, sheep and doves. He is outraged and drives the vendors and the animals out of the temple saying, “Take these things out of her! Stop making my Father’s house a marketplace!” His reaction might seem a bit out of proportion for people making an alternate use of space. But, for Jesus, the vendors’ presence signals much more. His outrage sends a message: our faith is not transactional. Living the commandments is not our ticket into heaven. The commandments are the framework for understanding our life as a journey, an ever-present opportunity to evolve. Everyday there is something more for us: forgiveness and redemption, insight and knowledge, fulfillment and giving back. In this season of Lent, a time to reflect on our relationship with God, and how we live in this world with one another, might we reflect on how at times we resist community and how we might develop and mature through God’s Love? Amen.