Like many teachers of Christianity, I've occasionally been asked why I don't limit my teaching to just the Ten Commandments. "They're the only thing we're going to be judged on when we die," the questioner usually states, "so why mess around with anything else?"

Sunday's second and third readings supply the answer.

People who ask this question have no concept of how our understanding of the Ten Commandments has evolved through the centuries (Ex 20: 1-17). They think the interpretation they learned in preparation for their first experience of the Sacrament of Reconciliation has been the only interpretation given these laws over the 2,700 years that they've been part of our Sacred Scripture.

Evolving

There are many signs of that evolution. Though some might note the difference between "Sabbath" and Sunday, few realize "the name of the Lord" which we're forbidden to take in vain isn't God, but Yahweh. Fewer still understand that adultery means only adultery and not fornication. And rare is the person who knows "You shall not steal!" actually refers to stealing people, not things.

Neither we nor our Jewish brothers and sisters obey the Ten Commandments today exactly as they were interpreted by the original authors of Exodus and Deuteronomy. The laws still read the same, but our minds don't conjure up thirty centuries ago. Morality evolves.

That's why it's important to appreciate the huge leap in moral evolution which occurred in the minds and hearts of Jesus' first followers.

Though Jesus expected His disciples to adhere to the Ten commandments, it quickly became evident to them that such adherence was simply "entry level" faith. After His death and resurrection, they discovered it was essential to follow Him, not laws. And the only way to be fulfilled in life was to imitate Jesus' dying and rising.

Nowhere does Paul state this insight better than in the second reading (I Cor 1:22-25). "We proclaim Christ crucified," he reminds his community, "a stumbling block to Jews and foolishness to Gentiles, but to those who are called, Jews and Greeks alike, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God. For the foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength."

New view

All Jewish laws, traditions and institutions are given a new interpretation after Jesus' resurrection. As we hear in the Gospel (Jn 2:13-25), Jesus' followers even regarded the temple differently once "He was raised from the dead."

BY the end of the first Christian century, His disciples had liberated themselves from the geographic limits of the Jerusalem holy place. Whenever Christians heard the word temple, they no longer thought of the destroyed stone and mortar edifice which Solomon had originally constructed, but of the risen Jesus: the temple which had been destroyed and raised up in three days. Jesus had replaced and superseded everything the temple had formerly symbolized.

Of course, we must remember that the dying and rising which Jesus' earliest followers imitated revolved around His total dedication to whatever God asked of Him. That's why John reminds his readers that Jesus was consumed with "zeal for your house." He completely gave Himself over to all that God demanded.

It's only when we imitate Jesus' total giving of Himself to God and those around Him that we begin to notice things in the Ten Commandments which we've never noticed before. As a matter of fact, we eventually begin to notice new things in everything else that happens around us. Because Jesus lives, we evolve.

(03-23-00)