Encountering the Ten Commandments for the First Time, Again.

This Sunday’s lectionary text is a very familiar one – even for marginal church attenders and those have no desire for church.   It is the first account of the giving of the Ten Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17).  We hear a lot about the Ten Commandments these days.  Especially where they should be or shouldn’t be displayed.  Everyone has an opinion.  Everyone is looking to control them.  But what does God have to say about the commandments that God gave?   These, after all, are created and given by God to humankind for our good.  In assuming this is an old and familiar story, are we missing how the commandments are life-giving?  In the fight for where they fit into our cultural life, are we missing the commandments purpose?

In my study this week, I’ve been challenged to see the commandments anew – as a life-giving gift that helps us lead a life that reflects the character and image of God.  If God is trustworthy, faithful, peaceful and desiring of relationship with creation, then we must live our lives in ways that resemble this.  Often, we read these commandments as negatives.  And they are written as such … “thou shall not…”  But the commands are parameters that are given for our benefit.  What if the class was challenged to write the commandments in the affirmative:  “Thou shall…”  or “You get to…”  or “Blessed are those who…”

In lieu of my own exegesis this week, (theological talk for critical explanation or interpretation of a text) I offer you all the following resources that shaped my study this week.  They are worth your consideration.  Two commentaries found online:

http://cep.calvinseminary.edu/sermon-starters/lent-3b-2/?type=the_lectionary_gospel  Be sure to scroll down to the Exodus commentary found after the commentary on the gospel lesson.

http://www.workingpreacher.org/preaching.aspx?commentary_id=2368  This commentary is more dense but worth wading into.  Among other things, it address our proclivity to control God rather than to allow God to guide us.

Finally, a reflection from Barbara Brown Taylor, found in the Feasting on the Word preaching commentary:

“Since the giving of the Torah on Sinai is celebrated during the Jewish festival of Shavuot, a wealth of story and tradition surrounds the first hearing of the commandments.  One midrash says that the people had little choice but to accept Torah from God, since God plucked up Sinai and held it over their heads, threatening to drop the mountain on them if they did not received the commandments.  In happy counterpoint to this legend, more and more religious Jews observe the first night of Shavuot by staying up all night to study Torah, Talmud and other sacred writings together.  They offer this annual all-night gathering, known as tikkun, for the mending of the world.”

If nothing else, stories and traditions like these remind Christian interpreters of the Ten Teachings that these teachings have been around a long time.  They are never our possession, any more than the God who uttered them is.  Instead, we stand among a people counted as God’s peculiar possession, set apart by holy speech and practice for the mending of God’s holy world.”  -Barbara Brown Taylor

How can the world be mended by our living in response to the Ten Commandments?