Since most of us were baptized as infants, we
were never offered a formal opportunity to give ourselves completely to God. Thats
one of the reasons the Ten Commandments dont mean for us what they meant for those
who originally received them.
The late Rev. Dennis Mc-Carthy taught that these special ten
regulations make sense only when we stop referring to them as commandments and start
calling them responsibilities.
They never were intended to be dictates from heaven, applying
to all people, objects to be placed in lobbies of city halls and courthouses. They were
part of a covenant which God entered into with a specific group of people: the Israelites.
Beginning in the 50s and 60s, Father McCarthy and
other scholars returned these regulations to the covenant context from which religious
people through the centuries had removed them. He reminded his students, for instance, of
the importance of the first sentence in the first reading (Ex 20: 1-17): I, Yahweh,
am your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery.
In ancient covenant terminology, this small verse is called
the historical prologue. Its presence is essential for understanding the rest
of the covenant. No one during the Exodus period entered into a treaty or covenant unless
a relationship already existed between the parties before they created this new contract.
In the case of Yahweh and the Israelites, the relationship began when Yahweh offered
freedom to a band of Hebrew slaves.
Not only was their liberation something these former slaves
would never forget, it was also why they trusted Yahweh enough to agree to take on the ten
covenant responsibilities we hear enumerated in the rest of the passage.
Just as all human relationships demand changes in our
behavior patterns, so the ancient Israelites were expected to change their behavior
because of a relationship with Yahweh that began even before Moses led them out of Egypt.
This change eventually crystallized into the covenant responsibilities.
Ignorance about the relationship-context of the
Ten Commandments also leads us to miss some of what Paul and John say in the other
The Apostle simply reminds his Corinthian community of
something they already know, since they already have a relationship with the risen Jesus
(I Cor 1: 22-25). The foolishness of God is wiser than human wisdom, he
writes, and the weakness of God is stronger than human strength. Such
statements arent rooted in a book-knowledge of God; they come only from personal
We find something parallel in the Gospel (Jn 2: 13-25).
Accustomed to living our faith without any dependence on the Jerusalem temple, we
cant imagine what it must have been like for Jesus first followers to lose
that link with God.
They originally were all Jews. Much of their religion
revolved around the ritual and prayers performed in that sacred place. But once Gentiles
began to join their numbers, the temple became a problem. Gentiles were forbidden under
pain of death to enter it. And soon, because of their teachings and their association with
Gentiles, even Jewish Christians were barred from entering its precincts.
Given this anti-Christian background and the eventual Roman
destruction of the temple in 70, all four evangelists narrate Jesus
cleansing of the temple, though none as violently as John.
John offers a new temple theology: Jesus is now the temple
through which His followers come into contact with God. Were no longer concerned
with buildings. A person centers our faith. Once again, were dealing with a
Religion is a lot less demanding when relationships
arent part of it. Theres just one problem: Faith is impossible without them.