By Fr James Murphy
In the first reading from the Book of Exodus we heard the account of God giving the Ten Commandments to the Israelites. I would like to discuss them in this homily. While I admit that much of what I have to say should be familiar and has been said before, it is good to remind ourselves, from time to time, of the commandments given to us by God, and to interpret them in the context of the modern world.
The Ten Commandments were given to Moses by God on Mount Sinai as part of a COVENANT between Him and His chosen people. A covenant is a solemn and binding agreement between two parties which can never be broken, only violated. The covenant made between God and His chosen people on Mount Sinai began when He took them out of slavery in Egypt in the 13th century B.C.. The Exodus from Egypt created a special bond between God and His people. The Sinai Covenant, which contained the Ten Commandments, was the formal recognition of that bond.
Thirteen centuries later, through His son Jesus Christ, God extended this bond to include all peoples. By dying on the cross and rising from the dead Jesus renegotiated the Sinai Covenant on behalf of all humankind. And so, although 33 centuries old, the Ten Commandments are as binding today on all Christians as they were for the Chosen People, because they form part of God's original covenant or solemn agreement with us.
The Ten Commandments are a series of laws which impose obligations directly upon us. They command us to perform certain actions which God considers desirable, and to refrain from behaviour which God considers harmful.
The first three refer to our relationship with God. I am the Lord your God, you shall not have strange Gods before me. All of us need to constantly remind ourselves of this commandment because it is all to easy in the modern world to believe that we do not need God. We should always remember that the technological advances of our time are the results of the freedom and gifts given to us by our creator. We should never allow any human activity to replace God in our lives. In the second commandment God asks us to treat His name with respect, and in the third He asks us to keep the Sabbath day holy. To keep the Lord's Day holy is indeed one of the great challenges facing the Church at the present time. There are many good reasons for responding to the challenge, not least the wellbeing of ourselves and our families, but above all, because it is part of the solemn agreement between God and ourselves that we do so.
The remaining seven commandments deal with our relationship with each other. All of them are necessary for the good of society, yet they are being observed less and less in today's world. Honour your father and your mother. Children are obliged to obey their parents and continue to respect them through out their lives.
Violence in our own country, and through out the world highlight for us the results of ignoring the fifth commandment, Thou shall not kill. No one for any reason has the right to deliberately take the life of another person. Violence is always senseless and wrong and has no part in the covenant relationship between almighty God and ourselves.
The sixth and the ninth commandments are closely related. Thou shall not commit adultery, and thou shall not covet thy neighbour's wife. As God intended it sexual relationships should express the ultimate love that a man and woman have for each other. Our sexuality should always be loving, rather than selfish in nature, and it should never be the source of abuse or hurt for anyone. The sixth and ninth commandments make this clear.
The seventh and the tenth commandments are also related. Thou shall not steal, and thou shall not covet thy neighbours’ goods. At the moment there are alarming levels of crime in our country. Stealing is always wrong. We do not have the right to take other people's property without their permission.
Finally the eighth Commandment, Thou shall not bear false witness against thy neighbour. It is perhaps the commandment least commented on, and yet it is one of the most important. It is gravely sinful to destroy the character or reputation of another person because it is almost impossible to restore it. Before we speak ill of someone else we should ask ourselves two questions: Is my information accurate? And even if it is accurate is it necessary to broadcast it? If we answered these questions truthfully and charitably, perhaps we would speak ill of each other less frequently.
The Ten Commandments sum up the basic social and moral requirements for Christians today. They define the very heart of the covenant relationship between God and ourselves, and they exclude the kind of actions and intentions which are offensive to God.
When we disobey the commandments we commit sin and we distance ourselves from God. But through the sacrament of reconciliation we can repent for our sins and restore our good relationship with Him.
The Season of Lent is a time for repentance and reconciliation. It is a time to admit our faults and failings and to tell God that we are sorry for our sins. It is also a time when we make a special effort to live better. On Ash Wednesday when the priest put ashes on our foreheads he said, "Repent and be faithful to the Gospel." This evening/morning let us ask Almighty God for the grace to do this by obeying the Ten Commandments.