Today I traveled to Kerry by bus to see Dad and sister Maureen. I’ll return on Fri or Sat depending on a possible bus strike.
Today’s Gospel is Jesus’ encounter with the Rich Young Man (Mk 10:17-27). His question for Jesus is ‘Good master, what must I do to inherit eternal life?’ Jesus responds with a representative list of the Ten Commandments: ‘You know the commandments: You must not kill; You must not commit adultery; You must not steal; You must not bring false witness; You must not defraud; Honour your father and mother.’ The following is a commentary on the Commandments from Redemptorist Communications written by Edel McClean and is entitled THE TEN SHORT STATEMENTS OF THE COMMANDMENTS COULD NOT BE MORE RELEVANT TO HOW WE LIVE OUR LIVES.
One of the criticisms most frequently thrown at Christianity is that it seeks to limit us, curb our freedom and prevent us living life to the full. But the assumption that the existence of rules equals a lack of freedom is nonsense. Which society has greater freedom – the one where people know they cannot kill each other or the one where murder is regarded as a normal part of life? The comedian Milton Jones writes: “People think of the concept of sin as being repressive and restrictive. And it’s true – you can drive a car a lot faster if you have no brakes.”
People do not celebrate being on the receiving end of violations of the commandments – being forced to work excessive hours, discovering that your partner is unfaithful, having something you love stolen, being slandered. These are intensely painful events and people everywhere recognise their injustice.
The ten short, precise and lucid statements of the commandments could not be more direct or more relevant to how we live our lives. Here we find instructions for where we focus our attention, what we do with our time, how we relate to family and neighbours, and how we use our possessions. Flick through the Sunday newspapers and every page is filled with stories relating to the commandments – how to make an idol of your appearance, who is having sex and with whom, who has defrauded, conflicts between generations, bloody civil wars. Listen to the tales of your own community, your own family, your parish. The tales that are told on the church steps are also tales of the commandments and their breaking.
The text of the commandments occurs twice in the Old Testament, in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy, and make up the ten rules given by God to Moses as a formula for how the newly liberated children of Israel are to live. The rules are not given to force God’s stamp on a people, but rather to allow the community to appreciate their newfound freedom. The people of Israel have been freed from slavery. But they are not truly free until they can break the bonds of sin that also hold them captive, preventing them from truly worshipping God. They can worship with songs and words, certainly, but, as Ignatius of Loyola put it, “Love ought to be made manifest more in deeds than in words.” God asks for the worship of a life lived well, in sight of God and neighbour.
The people of Israel didn’t take these commandments as a sign that God wanted to limit their freedom but as a gift from God who desired that his people flourish. God gives the commandments out of love for us. God desires that we turn away from that which causes us to live selfishly and destructively and instead move outward into living for God and for others. Living the commandments saves us from a narrowly lived and lonely life. We should view the commandments not just as a list of sins to avoid, but also as pointers to a way of living more joyfully. There’s an invitation here if we can just see it, to live more alert to the God who desires to lead us into the fullness of life.