Saturday, March 2, 2024

Jesus' Ten Commandments

As we are exploring the commandments of the Kingdom of God, it's interesting how Jesus topically teaches on each aspect of living, with an echo of the Ten Commandments and the Shema. Jesus says that He had not come to "abolish the Law but to fulfill it." So He taking what the people have been taught and is creating not a new law, but a new approach.  

The first three commandments given by Moses are about how we are to approach God.  We are to not have any substitute for God; we are to make no idols and we are not to use His name carelessly. 

To Jesus' Jewish audience, this is an absolute given. It is the foundation of Judaism, as found in the Shema: "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one."  (Deuteronomy 6:4).  Here the first three of the Ten Commandments are being reinforced: There is only one God; idols are utter lies when you worship the one true God, His name is sacred, and when we rest, we praise and worship Him, honoring Him and His beautiful creation. 

In the second half (I am doing this division to make a point) of the Shema, the remaining commandments of the Ten is echoed: "Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength."  If you love Him with your whole being, then out of that heart that bears His imprint, will come behavior that reflects our the intimate relationship with God. 

So, we will want to honor our parents; we wouldn't even consider killing someone, for they bear God's image; we wouldn't want to violate the sacred bond of marriage, for it is God's gift to us and reflects how He sees us.  We would not want to take anything that doesn't belong to us, for God is our Provider and if we run into conflict, we need to speak the truth. If we always want what we don't have, we are telling God, in essence, His provision is not good enough. 

While Jesus is not doing a one to one correspondence with the Ten Commandments, it is the common ground upon which He is crafting how the Kingdom of God operates. 

So, Jesus' listeners are intrigued when Jesus zeroes in on murder--the Sixth Commandment. Jesus is  going to the heart of the matter--how we treat one another.  Hatred, name calling and a callous attitude is tantamount to murder in the Kingdom. 

Now Jesus moves the Seventh Commandment--not committing adultery. Easy breezy, right?  

Oh, Rabbi.  I honor that one all the time. Yes, the neighborhood prostitute is distracting, and all those young girls at the well catch my eye, but I haven't slept with any of them!  A little dalliance in my head is no big deal.  I am not hurting anyone.  I am faithful to my wife, even though she is not the nicest person in the world.  I may not be either, but I do honor my vows.

In this Kingdom, not misbehaving isn't the way we model righteousness. Our righteousness is modelled in how we think, talk, ponder and ruminate. David said it well: "Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me." (Ps. 51:10)

Being good isn't good enough in this Kingdom--thinking good is just as important. So, in this Kingdom, our thoughts need just as much care and oversight as our behavior: 

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. If your right eye causes you to stumble, gouge it out and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to be thrown into hell. And if your right hand causes you to stumble, cut it off and throw it away. It is better for you to lose one part of your body than for your whole body to go into hell." (Matthew 5:27-30)

Rabbi, did I hear you right?  I can't even look?  I can't even have a dalliance in my head?  I can't even think about what could happen with this person if we got together?  That's no fun then.  I like looking.  I like pondering. Wow.  You can be a real kill-joy, Rabbi.

Our society is a living example of how thinking about someone else in a sexual way has lead to a  pornographic industry.  One thought can't hurt?  But it never stays at one thought.  For many people, one thought sets in motion an avalanche of behaviors that mock God's definition of love, marriage, sex and intimacy. 

Lust is the one appetite that can't be satiated. In fact, like greed, the more you get, the more you want.  Jesus is instructing us to realize how slippery the lust slope is.  Once started,  we go on and rationalize what we are doing, only to find ourselves wanting more. A vicious cycle kicks in, leaving in its wake broken relationships, abused people and an addiction that is very hard to break.

Jesus is suggesting a radical Kingdom principle:  If it doesn't honor God, it's an idol and you are to get rid of it. Gouge out your "eye" and cut off your "hand" to preserve your soul.  The Kingdom is beautiful and any compromise to that beauty will require a major spring-cleaning of your heart. Get rid of your idols.  David, after committing adultery with Bathsheba, wrote a powerful psalm, and he knew all too well the pain of having compromised his soul and his relationship with God:
Have mercy on me, O God,
according to your unfailing love;
according to your great compassion
blot out my transgressions.
Wash away all my iniquity
and cleanse me from my sin.

For I know my transgressions,
and my sin is always before me.
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight;
so you are right in your verdict
and justified when you judge.

Surely I was sinful at birth,
sinful from the time my mother conceived me.
Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb;
you taught me wisdom in that secret place.

Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean;
wash me, and I will be whiter than snow.
Let me hear joy and gladness;
let the bones you have crushed rejoice.
Hide your face from my sins
and blot out all my iniquity.

Create in me a pure heart, O God,
and renew a steadfast spirit within me.
Do not cast me from your presence
or take your Holy Spirit from me.
Restore to me the joy of your salvation
and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.

Then I will teach transgressors your ways,
so that sinners will turn back to you.
Deliver me from the guilt of bloodshed, O God,
you who are God my Savior,
and my tongue will sing of your righteousness.
Open my lips, Lord,
and my mouth will declare your praise.
You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it;
you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings.
My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit;
a broken and contrite heart
you, God, will not despise. (Ps. 51: 1-17)

Jesus is not asking for us to be perfect in the Kingdom of God.  He wants our hearts to be soft and tender.  He wants us to be willing to quickly repent when sin comes our way.  We don't rationalize our wrongs; we confess them and walk back into God's loving embrace.

The Kingdom of God requires diligence on our part, but Jesus also offers us the power to overcome. The Kingdom is not of works, but of God's mighty working. 

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