March 4, 2018

THE TEN COMMANDMENTS

The Rev. Ron Moe-Lobeda
March 4, 2018
Exodus 20:1-17; John 2:13-22

Our first lesson for today is our one opportunity in the 3-year lectionary cycle to take a serious look at what we know as the 10 commandments.  For the many years that I have been teaching confirmation, when we have come to the unit on the 10 commandments, I have asked the youth, “In your opinion, what is the purpose of the 10 commandments?”  Invariably, the answer that I get is that the 10 commandments are meant to tell us right from wrong.  That certainly was my understanding as I was growing up, with the additional caveat that I had better do my best to obey all of these commandments or I could end up going to hell.  Even with the promise of God’s gracious forgiveness that was offered to alleviate my guilt for breaking any one of these commandments, the threat of going to hell was a much stronger motivator for wanting to walk the straight and narrow than any notion of wanting to keep these commandments out of love for God or in response to God’s love for me.  Whatever the motivation for choosing to keep these commandments, the bottom line always had to do with me and my final destination after I died.

All of this emphasis changed for me when I attended a bishop’s convocation at which a friend of mine was one of the keynote speakers.  I had come to know Buzz Kahn when I was working at Camp Lutherland for the summer.  Buzz was the Director of the 3 Lutheran Bible camps in western Washington.  He was a Jew who had come to know and believe in Jesus as his Lord and Savior.  However, he brought to his faith a definite Jewish perspective and understanding about what was in the Bible.

In one of his presentations at this convocation, Buzz talked about the purpose of the 10 commandments from a Jewish perspective.  He explained that the 10 commandments were God’s gift to humanity as a guideline for how we are to be in right relationships—with God, with one another, and with all of creation.  When I heard this explanation, all of my previous perceptions about the purpose of the 10 commandments took a back seat to this new perspective.  No longer were these commandments only about me and my salvation, but rather were about how all of us are to be in right relationships with God, with each other, and with all of creation as a means of salvation for the whole world.  These commandments really are God’s blueprint about how we all are to be righteous together in God’s sight.

As one who supposedly came to fulfill the law and the prophets, Jesus certainly was guided by these commandments just like everyone else in his world.  Unfortunately in Jesus’ day, the religious leaders had turned these commandments into such a legalistic challenge that no one except the most devout religious pietists had any chance of earning God’s favor.  As far as Jesus was concerned, these commandments were not so much about individually earning God’s favor as they were about once again being in right relationships with the rest of humanity and thereby being righteous in God’s sight.

In this regard, Jesus taught that committing adultery also included everyone who looked at a woman with lust in his heart.  Murdering another person also involved being angry with someone and holding on to that anger in the form of a grudge or resentment in a way that was harmful to that relationship.  By healing people on the Sabbath day, Jesus repeatedly reminded folks that keeping the Sabbath day holy had much more to do with God’s justice and righteousness than it was meant to be a day for all of the ritual piety in order for an individual to earn God’s favor.  By telling the rich young man to share his wealth with those who were impoverished, Jesus certainly expanded the commandment about stealing to include the refusal of using one’s wealth to alleviate the suffering of those who were hungry, homeless, or impoverished.  Jesus may not have always done what his parents wanted him to do, but he certainly demonstrated the true intent about honoring his parents by making sure that his mother was cared for after he died.

Our gospel lesson for today is a perfect example about how Jesus chose to fulfill God’s commandments for the sake of right relationships rather than comply with the unjust practices that were sanctioned by the religious leaders of his day.  The sacrificial system that was required by the religious authorities as a way of earning God’s favor was a pretense for filling their own coffers to support their luxurious lifestyles.  According to this system, poor people who wanted to fulfill their religious duty first had to exchange their Roman coinage for Jewish coinage in order that the animals that they purchased to sacrifice would be bought with pure money.  Those who exchanged this money often would charge a high exchange rate so that they could make their profit.  Then the people would be charged an inflated price for the animals that they had purchased—again being ripped off of the little money which they needed in order to live.

Jesus took matters into his own hands as a public protest against this corrupt and oppressive system that deceptively was presented to the people as a way of remaining in God’s good favor.  Did Jesus break any of God’s commandments in the manner in which he went about this public protest?  That this public protest is recorded in all four gospels tells us that this event was a significantly defining moment in Jesus’ life.  By chasing the money changers and the animal sellers out of the temple courtyard, Jesus not only was advocating for those who were being ripped off, he also was trying to get these oppressors to see the error of their ways, to have a change of heart, and to change a system that would be more conducive to the right relationships that God desires among all people.

Some people love to use this event in Jesus’ life as an example of and proof that Jesus was prone to using violence in order to justify a righteous deed. With a homemade whip, he drove the sheep and the cattle out of the temple courtyard and he overturned the tables of the money changers—not exactly actions that would be considered harmful to human life, but certainly actions that were disruptive enough to cause the religious leaders to convene an emergency session in order to figure out how to get rid of this threat to their authority.  When they had asked Jesus by what sign or authority he was doing these things, Jesus’ answer was totally unsatisfactory to them and actually gave them more just cause to conspire how to put Jesus to death.

In the grand scheme of things, death was a small price for Jesus to pay if it meant demonstrating to all the world how the world could be saved from all of the oppression, corruption, and violence that infect our human hearts.  That’s why Jesus taught his disciples that their priority in this life was to seek the reign of God and God’s righteousness—meaning all of the right relationships that are outlined in God’s commandments.  Jesus also taught that the way for a person to demonstrate love of God was by keeping all of God’s commandments, which could be boiled down to two primary commandments—loving God with our entire being and loving all of our neighbors as we have been so graciously loved by God.

When Jesus disrupted the business in the temple courtyard, he was acting out of love for God and love for neighbor—even those neighbors who were the oppressors taking advantage of the people who were coming to the temple to offer their sacrifices.  The relationship between the money changers, the animal sellers, and the people wasn’t right.  The relationship between the religious leaders and the people wasn’t right.  A grave injustice and crime was being committed under the guise of religious piety.  However, out of love for everyone involved, Jesus had to do something about this injustice at the expense of his own life.

In this day and age, we are faced with more than our fair share of issues that would qualify as being oppressive, corrupt, and violent.  What once was an occasional rally, demonstration, or protest has become an almost daily occurrence.  Whether protesting the cutbacks at the Environmental Protection Agency, the domination by the NRA, sexual harassment against women, tax reforms favoring the most wealthy, the attack on the Affordable Care Act, the push for white supremacy, the escalation of the military budget, or the plight of homelessness, we all could hit the streets every day and barely scratch the surface in achieving the right relationships that Jesus came to establish and pursue.

However, we cannot give up hope for trying.  Jesus certainly didn’t!  When he was challenged by the religious authorities for his disruption in the temple courtyard, Jesus’ response was, “Destroy this temple, and in three days I will raise it up.”  Of course, Jesus was speaking about the temple of his body and placed his hope in the promise of the resurrection.  We have this same hope of the resurrection available to us each and every day of our lives—the promise that whatever we may encounter in this life will never separate us from the love of God in life or in death.  Such hope may come across as being foolishness to most people, but as far as we are concerned, if our trust in the grace of God to raise us up to a new life means anything at all, then this promise is enough to give us the faith and courage to take up our cross publicly and follow in the way of Jesus.  As we do so, may the love and peace of God that goes beyond all of our human understanding, keep our hearts and our minds ever faithful unto Jesus, our Christ.  Amen.