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11. The Great Commandment

Now when Jesus saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him, and he began to teach them…. “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven” Matthew 5: 1-19

And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.” Luke 10: 25-28

When I was young in my faith, I thought that Christ’s coming negated the need for the Ten Commandments. But I was mistaken. The Lord set down his law and his requirements on stone. The Lord does not break his word; his word is the Word. Who will be called least in the kingdom of heaven? He who sets aside any of these commandments. And who will be great in the kingdom of heaven? He who practices and teaches them.

Is a newborn baby brought into this world perfectly innocent or totally selfish? This, I would warn my high school students, is a trick question. One of them is going to quickly say, “perfectly innocent!.” But a student who has had a newborn in their homes as a sibling will say, “totally selfish.” Then I get to say, “Yes, both of you are right.” We are conceived and born into a sinful, broken world, but we also, each of us, are born in God’s image. Our dual nature is very strong and wars within us. Like a coin, we each have two sides. I love to ask my students for a coin. We turn off all the lights except for one and I hold up the coin so that one side in facing the light and the other is in darkness. “This is us’” I say, “We face both the light and the dark. Do you want to go towards the light or walk in the darkness?”

When we are young, our parents’ job should be to nurture us and raise us up to be decent people: “Don’t hit the dog, don’t kick your sister, don’t throw your toys...brush your teeth, don’t talk back, make your bed, your homework, set the table, treat your mother with respect,...obey your elders, don’t drink, don’t smoke,...This list of “do’s and don’t’s” is external to our children.

But if we as parents are even remotely successful in our childrearing, at some point in our children’s lives, we should be able to say, “Remember what we have taught you, remember who you are, go out into the world and do well and good.” Do well: be emotionally and spiritually healthy. Do good: do good and noble and right things with your life. Our list of external “do’s and don’t’s” should give way to an internal desire that is now a part of our children’s inner beings. When our children are old enough to leave our homes, to seek their own lives and futures, we should be able to stop instructing them in particulars of conduct and simply say to them, “Go with our blessing.”

When our children are young, we have a duty to protect them but also to raise them up to a standard. We have a moral compass that guides us in forming these precious children. That moral compass comes from within us and our children have it as well. This is the image of God that resides in each of us. This part of us that is of God is apparent if we have allowed the Holy Spirit to reside within us. If we haven’t accepted the reality of God, we face the world alone as we war within ourselves. God’s presence, his Presence, is our breath of peace in a world that is often devoid of peace.

If we fail in this awesome and awful responsibility, we fail our children and dysfunction results. And brokenness, and lack of compassion and empathy are allowed to take a foothold in the sanctity of our family’s precious homes.

Old Testament

And God spoke all these words: “I am the Lord your God, ... “You shall have no other gods before me. “You shall not make for yourself an image in the form of anything

in heaven above or on the earth beneath... “You shall not misuse the name of the Lord your God, ... “Remember the Sabbath day by keeping it holy. ... “Honor your father and your mother, ...

“You shall not murder. “You shall not commit adultery. “You shall not steal. “You shall not give false testimony against your neighbor. “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house.”

When the people saw the thunder and lightning and heard the trumpet and saw the mountain in smoke, they trembled with fear. They stayed at a distance ...Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid. God has come to test you, so that the fear of God will be with you to keep you from sinning.” The people remained at a distance... Then the Lord said to Moses, “Tell the Israelites this: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have spoken to you from heaven: Do not make any gods to be alongside me; do not make for yourselves gods of silver or gods of gold.” Exodus 20: 1-22

This is God’s holy list of “do’s and don’t’s,” delivered to the chosen soon-to-be nation of Israel, that stiff-necked people, the holy family’s hope of redemption for their broken, perverse creation. God had come to test them, to convict them of their sin:

Moses turned and went down the mountain with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands. They were inscribed on both sides, front and back. The tablets were the work of God; the writing was the writing of God, engraved on the tablets. Exodus 32: 15-16

When did humanity first know of sin? This is a question I have often asked my high school students. Usually someone will offer up: “When Moses gave them the Ten Commandments.” But sometimes someone will say, “When Adam and Eve ate the apple from the Tree of Knowledge.As soon as they tasted the apple, Adam and Eve, and all humanity, lost their innocence and gained knowledge. What is knowledge? The Hebrew phrase translates it to be “good and evil.” Think about that. Now we knew not only good, as the Garden of Eden and God was and is only good, but also evil, that thing that had already broken the created heavens by the rebellion of the fallen angels. Now with Eve’s and Adam’s disobedience, humanity is a mix of God and sin, good and evil.

The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat fruit from the trees in the garden, but God did say, ‘You must not eat fruit from the tree that is in the middle of the garden, and you must not touch it, or you will die.’” “You will not certainly die,” the serpent said to the woman. “For God knows that when you eat from it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it. Then the eyes of both of them were opened, ... Genesis 3: 3-7.

Here’s an interesting question. If Adam and Eve had not tasted the apple when they were tempted into disobeying the Lord, what would their future in the Garden of Eden have looked like? Would the Lord ever had shared the Tree of Knowledge’s fruit with his two beloved and Spirit filled creatures ? Would he have taught them all of his knowledge of the creation and all his wisdom and thus raised them to become his adopted children in Eden? The relationship between the Lord and these two immature beings is the thing that was corrupted by the tempter in the beautiful pure garden, a place where the Lord and his created beings could dwell together. Think about where we dwell on this earth. It is in our homes, that place where we most desire and need love, peace, joy, and rest. This is what was taken from God and these two beautiful, new creatures.

Humanity fell very quickly into its sinful nature. By the time of Moses, God desired to remind his chosen people what the Garden of Eden had looked like, what their lost home had been. He desired to convict them of their sin so that they would desire to reconnect with him. But the Israelites believed that their lost home was in Egypt, as captives to a brutal overlord. With the Ten Commandments, God is trying to remind them of his kingdom of heaven. The kingdom of God is like…

Our system of law is based on the Mosaic law given to Moses by God and told in the book of Exodus. Can you imagine letting a murderer go unpunished in our courts? May a robber keep his stolen goods after his trial? Think about this from the view of the holy Trinity; open the eyes of your heart and try to see through their supernatural eyes. The holy law must be satisfied. The Trinity is nothing but good and pure and perfect. There is no place for sin or imperfection in their home.

Just then a man came up to Jesus and asked, “Teacher, what good thing must I do to get eternal life?” “Why do you ask me about what is good?” Jesus replied. “There is only One who is good. If you want to enter life, keep the commandments.”...“All these I have kept,” the young man said. “What do I still lack?” Jesus answered, “If you want to be perfect, go, sell your possessions and give to the poor, and you will have treasure in heaven. Then come, follow me.” When the young man heard this, he went away sad, because he had great wealth.

Then Jesus said to his disciples, “Truly I tell you, it is hard for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you, it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for someone who is rich to enter the kingdom of God.” When the disciples heard this, they were greatly astonished and asked, “Who then can be saved?” Jesus looked at them and said, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” Matthew 19: 16-26

With man this is impossible! But, thank God, praise be to God, with God all things are possible. Jesus, the Christ, is requiring that the commandments written on stone become internalized and written on the heart. The Old Testament Jewish requirement of external circumcision of the life giving organ of the male genitalia gives way to the New Testament’s internal circumcision of another life giving organ, the heart. The first organ gives us life, the second, sustains that life both physically and spiritually.

Hearing that Jesus had silenced the Sadducees, the Pharisees got together. One of them, an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.” Matthew 22: 34-40

Here it is, the Great Commandment. Jesus, the Son of Man, reveals his authority and his very identity to the very keepers of his Father’s law and they refuse to hear him. They will not allow the eyes of their hearts to be opened; they will not let their hearts be circumcised. They were so very stiff-necked and so very hard-hearted.

The 29:11 Story

Jesus Christ’s Great Commandment follows the cross bead. It is silver and brings all of God’s precious but impossible commands into one perfect holy truth. What good things must we do to get eternal life? We are commanded to love God, love ourselves and love each other.

The silver bead of the Ten Commandments is within the story of Moses. It follows the white bead of God in the Cloud, promising His Presence to go with the childish, immature, chosen Israel while she is being disciplined to grown up in the desert.

My Story

I have another Habitat for Humanity story. After William died, I got to go on several high school trips with my other two children as a chaperone. Habitat for Humanity is a Christian organization that builds houses for families in need. It’s all volunteer labor and the pride of building and accomplishing something is exciting as the week progresses. This particular build was in New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina. The house that we were building was for a single mother with three children. Habitat requires that the new owner put in “sweat equity” instead of financial equity. This mom had been to her new house several times that week to help us build.

One day, one of the leaders brought out a set of color magic markers. “Please take a moment today to bless this house for this little family by writing a message on one of the framing boards. Remember, this note to this family won’t be seen but it will be a part of the foundation of this home.”

Later that day, we adults were walking around and reading the kids’ messages. One of our male students had drawn a crude picture of a penis. Such a silly but disrespectful thing done by an immature child. That evening, after a lovely dinner of Cajun food prepared for us by volunteers, we assembled our little team of students in the small chapel. Remember, the families that made up my children’s school practiced every major religion so talking directly about Christ and the Great Commandment was not allowed.

“What have we been building this week? Who is this house for? Have you met her yet? Have you seen her working this week? Who else will be living with her in this house? We keep calling this thing we’re building a house, but to her and these children, it’s going to be their home. Let’s go around the room and everyone give us a small reflection for what makes a house a home.

“Where my family lives…where my mom cooks us dinner…where my bedroom is…where we all sit together and watch tv…where I’m most comfortable…where I reset every day…”

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