Reading Ramblings – July 24, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: Tenth Sunday after Pentecost ~ July 24, 2016 – The 10th Commandment

Texts: Exodus 20:17; Psalm 78:1-8; Colossians 3:1-4; Mark 7:14-23

Context: ** We continue in our alternate text selections for the remainder of the liturgical year, in order to preach through Luther’s Small Catechism. **

We conclude the Ten Commandments. For simplicity (and because I prefer the Jewish numbering/definition of the Commandments to the Western Church’s), I’m combining the Ninth and Tenth Commandments on coveting. Dividing Exodus 20:17 into two separate commandments makes absolutely no sense to me, but there you go.

For the person who wants to assume that the Commandments have to deal with actions, the physical act of murder or adultery or theft, this final Commandment stands to correct us. The Law begins internally, not externally, with our thoughts and feelings, not the movements of our bodies. And it seems to me that coveting is a convenient word for those internal issues. Martin Luther in his Large Catechism asserts that this/these Command(s) are given “not for rogues in the eyes of this world, but just for the most pious, who wish to be praised and called honest and upright people, since they have not offended against the former commandments”.

Exodus 20:17 – We are not to covet – to overly esteem or overly desire – anything that isn’t ours. This focuses on the wrongful desiring of things that are not ours – a desiring that disregards the rights and protections of our neighbors so carefully delineated in the previous Commandments. Is it wrong to desire something? It depends on what it is and how we’re desiring it. Are we desirous of our neighbor’s husband? That’s problematic because he’s her husband, not ours, and we need to work against those inappropriate feelings. Do we really like the latest model of Ferrari and wish we could have one? That isn’t necessarily covetous, unless we’re specifically desiring the particular Ferrari of a particular person, wishing that it was ours and not theirs. We are not free – even in our hearts and minds – to seek after what belongs to someone else.

Psalm 78:1-8 – We as the people of God are called to tell the good deeds, the glorious works of God. It is our privilege to know these. We have heard them from those before us in the faith, but we are sometimes not so inclined to speak them, so that they become “dark sayings from of old”. What is it that we should talk about? How God initiated a relationship with his people, revealed his Word to show them how to live, commanded these things to be taught to future generations who would continue to teach it to successive generations. Why is this so important? “So that they should set their hope in God and not forget the works of God but keep his commandments; and that they should not be like their fathers”. The speaking of God’s great good gifts to his people in history and geography is a means of leading and affirming people in their faithfulness in him. The alternative is to look away from God’s goodness, to not trust him and to put trust in ourselves or one another or the false gods of this world.

Colossians 3:1-4 – Those who are in Christ should direct their thoughts differently. We aren’t to be led into covetousness by the advertisements and assertions of the world around us. We are to focus our minds intentionally elsewhere. Our minds are to be focused on what is coming, what awaits us – firmly anchored in our faith and trust based on what God has done in our past (Psalm 78) in Christ. This is where our hope is. It isn’t on the type of car we drive or the size of home we own or the tags on our clothes or the prestige of the restaurants we go to or the non-GMO labeling of the foods we buy (or don’t buy). Why? Because we don’t even know ourselves!

Our culture has figured this out. Advertisements seek to create a sense of lack or suffering in us that their products can fulfill. We’re sold drugs based on illnesses we may or may not actually be diagnosed with. We are always being told by the world who we are. But who we are is in Christ – it is hidden and no amount of earthly goods or services can reveal that to us. It can only be revealed in the day of Christ. It will be revealed in the day of Christ, and our glory will be revealed in his glory.

Mark 7:14-23 – We want to focus always on what we do. Show me what I’ve done wrong, we want to say. Pin me down and prove my guilt before I’ll accept it. And even then, I’ll come up with a reason that I think justifies me. Jesus won’t allow us such comforts though. He goes directly to the source of our sinfulness and it isn’t our bodies and our actions but rather our hearts. Everything begins there, whether it works itself out through our bodies or not. Whether anyone else can see it or suspects that it’s there.

Although covetousness is included in the list of offenses Jesus states here (since it is formally a Commandment), it also lines up well with the intent of the last Commandment(s). Our sinfulness isn’t defined by what we do, but who we are. We can’t help ourselves. We can discipline ourselves, so that our sinfulness rarely works itself out in a visible, observable way. This is good and important! But we can’t fully stifle the sinful impulse. The flare of anger that is the sin of murder. The flare of lust that is the sin of adultery.

So our attentiveness to external cleanliness is important in terms of the proper functioning of society, but if we think that it matters to God, we’re mistaken. God knows our heart. He sees the sin that nobody else does. All of our actions aimed towards justifying ourselves before God are therefore irrelevant. Worse than irrelevant – prideful, hypocritical, dishonest.

This leads Christians to assert that the Levitical dietary restrictions are renounced by Jesus. Not that Jesus did not abide by them, but that they are no longer binding on followers of Jesus Christ. Jesus’ teaching here, combined with Peter’s vision in Acts 10, lead Christians to say we no longer need to abide by the Levitical restrictions. This is confusing to many people – Christians maintain the Ten Commandments but we ignore most of the Levitical laws, particularly in regard to what we eat and how we dress. Those Levitical laws that Christians follow are linked in some way to the Ten Commandments and the witness of Scripture as a whole.

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