Beyond the Ten Commandments

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February 12, 2017 Click on the left end of the black bar to play/pause

February 12, 2017
Matthew 5: 17-37
Fr. George Smiga

It is sometimes said that the Ten Commandments are the heart of the Jewish-Christian tradition and that following the Ten Commandments is the way of faith. But, such a thought is certainly wrong. The Ten Commandments are the minimal requirements for both Christians and Jews. Anyone who does not obey the Ten Commandments would not only fail as a believer, but as a human being. All people must try to avoid murder, theft, lying, and adultery if any human society is to survive. So, we as Christians are certainly called to obey the Ten Commandments, but we must also recognize that we are called to do more than simply follow these minimal requirements.

Jesus expects us to be people of generosity, kindness, forgiveness, and sacrifice. Those are qualities that cannot be legislated. A daycare center was having trouble with parents picking up their children at the end of school day. The teachers, who had their own families, could not leave until the tardy parents arrived. So, they thought that they would solve the problem by instilling a regulation. Parents who were not on time to pick up their children would have to pay a fine. But this new regulation—rather than helping the matter—made things worse. Before the fine was set, parents were motivated to arrive on time out of kindness to the teachers’ needs. But once the fine was established, the whole matter became an economic exchange. Many parents were more than happy to pay the fine if it added flexibility to their day.

You can legislate a fine but you cannot legislate kindness. A commandment can prescribe a punishment, but it cannot lead us to what is ideal and good. This is why Jesus speaks the way he does in today’s gospel. He accepts the Ten Commandments and even names them: Thou shall not kill.  But Jesus wants his followers to know that they are called to more than just this minimal requirement. They are not only asked to avoid murder. They are asked to avoid anger, harsh judgment, and prejudice that fuel so much violence in our world. Developing these qualities cannot be legislated.  

You and I are challenged by the words of Jesus. We cannot be content merely to follow minimal requirements.  We might be able to say, “You know, I never killed anyone.” But do we bear anger in our heart against people who are different or who disagree with us or who have hurt us? Jesus is asking us to let that anger go. We might be able to say, “I never committed adultery.” But what is our commitment to our marriage? Do we try to understand our spouse? Do we compromise? Are we willing to seek counseling when communication breaks down? These are the deeper values to which Jesus calls us. We might be able to say, “I never bore false witness against anyone.” But do we speak out when someone’s character is demeaned in our presence? Do we remain silent when a family member or friend makes a decision that is disastrous to him or herself or to others?

The Ten Commandments are part of Jesus’ teaching, and we should obey them. But we should only see them as minimal requirements. Jesus is calling us to something that no law can demand. He is calling us to live our lives with hearts filled with justice, mercy and love.

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