Beyond the Commandments

Beyond the Commandments

When the Bible tells the story of Moses bringing down from the mountain the stone tablets containing the Ten Commandments, it says that the people rejoiced because God had given them this wonderful gift: a wise guide to how to live in peace, justice and happiness.

Later they came to regard the Law as a heavy burden, even an impossible task, especially when more and more detailed regulations were added to the original commandments, and the emphasis was placed on keeping the letter of the Law rather than being in tune with its purpose.

Our readings today give us two messages about the commandments. The first reading reassures us that it is not an impossible task to live in God’s way, but a simple matter of choosing. We can tell the difference between fire and water, we know what is life-giving and what is destructive. We just need to base our decisions on listening to our conscience and choosing what is good. It makes it sound quite easy.

Jesus gives a much greater challenge in today’s Gospel passage, which is a shortened version, edited to make the point very clear in three examples. Some people thought Jesus was going to abolish the old Law but he insists that his followers have to go beyond merely keeping the commandments. The Law forbids certain actions, but Jesus warns us to keep control of the feelings and urges that can lead to those actions. It’s not enough to avoid killing people: we need to calm the anger that can burst out into ever greater violence. It’s not enough to avoid committing adultery: we need to have such respect for others that they never become an object of lust. It’s not enough to avoid breaking promises which have been sealed by a solemn oath: we should have such integrity that people can always trust our word without us having to swear an oath at all

Mere obedience to external laws will not lead to happiness for us or to peace and justice in our world. The real wisdom, as St Paul writes in the second reading, is in the revelation of God’s love for everything God has created. The commandments are guidance for how we should live, but what enables us to live in God’s way is knowing that God loves everyone and basing our decisions on recognising ourselves and all other people as beloved children of God.

Fr Chris


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