Today we read more of the commandments God gives the people of Israel through Moses on the mountain. We recognize the familiar “thou shalt nots,” and the passage ends with a scene of thunder, lightning, a trembling mountain, and people cowering in fear. They say, “Don’t let God speak to us, or we will die!” Moses assures them that they do not need to be afraid of God, but the fearsome image remains.
We can be turned off by long lists of “do not do this” or streams of negative statements, no matter how good the ideas may be for our well-being. When it comes to scripture, sometimes our avoidance of “not to-dos” is paired with religious guilt—does this mean I’m a bad person? How can we connect with passages when we personally do not struggle not to murder or not to steal? Perhaps this is an opportunity to reimagine these scriptures in their “positive” versions. Such a rewriting might help us dig deeper into the heart of what the commandment is saying to us across the ages.
“You shall not murder”: Work to pursue life-giving things; advocate for those being crushed under oppression; uphold peace and love.
“You shall not commit adultery”: Uphold yourself with fidelity, honor, and trustworthiness.
“You shall not steal”: Be satisfied with all you have, and give generously.
“You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor”: Speak with truth, integrity, justice, and joy.
“You shall not covet”: Instead of seeking the next new thing, thank God for what you have.
Loving God, help us to be centered in gratitude, love, hope, joy—life-giving things. Help us to engage more fully with you and your words. Help us to pause and reflect more deeply on how you are speaking to us today. Amen.
A common theme this week is the danger of self-absorption. When we are young, we may struggle to understand the importance of rules because we think that our individual freedom is the highest good. God gives the Israelites commandments to guide their relationships with God and others. These laws will help them thrive because God knows what is best for us. The psalmist understands this: The laws of the Lord are good and sweet. Self-absorption might also lead to pride. Paul shows that a true understanding of the gospel means laying aside our rights in the knowledge that God will reward us. In a parable about the rejection of the prophets and Jesus, servants seek to seize a vineyard for themselves, unwisely ignoring that the owner will eventually reclaim what is his.
Read Exodus 20:1-4, 7-9, 12-20. Recall your earliest experiences with the Ten Commandments. How do they continue to shape your understanding of God’s expectations?
Read Psalm 19. How does the natural world call you to follow God?
Read Philippians 3:4b-14. Whom do you emulate? What would it mean for you to emulate Christ in life and in death?
Read Matthew 21:33-46. When have you participated in or witnessed the rejection of one who could be God in disguise? How might things be different if you had recognized that person as a potential cornerstone of your community?
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