‘You must worship the Lord your God,
and serve him alone.’ (Matthew 4:10)
Lent should be a time of spiritual renewal in which we ought to prepare ourselves for ministry in the world, like the Lord Jesus did before us, as he prayerfully fasted in the wilderness ahead of his public ministry. So I thought it might be good and useful for us to spend some time looking at the Ten Commandments together; and to shake the dust off form this core text of the Scriptures that many have forgotten or consider redundant.
The list of the Commandments opens with a short introduction in which the Lord first reminds us about his relation to us. He says,
‘I am the Lord your God,
who brought you out of the land of Egypt,
out of the house of slavery’ (Deuteronomy 5:6)
In saying this, God shows himself as saviour, as the powerful redeemer who breaks the bonds of slavery for those who believe in him. And this important reminder allows us to interpret the rules that follow, not as a mass of incomprehensible regulations limiting our freedom, but as the divine framework ensuring our flourishing as human beings, and our attainment of eternal life. Because God is the liberator of his people, he is not in the business of imposing laws as yet another yoke of slavery; rather he establishes the commandments so that we might find true freedom in following them.
The First Commandment,
‘You shall have no other gods before me’ (Dt 5:7),
may be initially thought just as a blanket ban on other gods. But, this is not all that the commandment requires from us. Instead this calls us to firmly centre our faith, love, and hope on God, with the intention of serving him alone. So, even though we do not believe in other gods, we ought to make sure we do not fall to the temptation to worship and serve something other than God, thinking that that something will bring us happiness and fulfilment. Maybe we have let material things to become our (inalterable) points of reference in life; be it an addiction, money, or possessions… Or maybe we have allowed other realities to replace due worship of God; things such as superstitions and indifference towards religion (which is always popular!). But in all these things, today’s gospel shows us what it means to keep this commandment whilst being faced by temptations; food, personal safety, and power can never come between us and obedience to God, because he alone is worthy of our service.
The Second Commandment,
‘You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God’ (Dt 5:11),
could be easily interpreted just as a ban on blasphemy and swearing. But in reality, what is prescribed here goes beyond simply ensuring respect for God and preventing people from cursing him outsight. Instead the second commandment calls us to use carefully, and prayerfully, one of the most precious gifts God gives to those who believe in him – the gift of believing in his name. In the Scriptures God reveals his name, in an intimate way, only to his people; but even then, his name is only used in the context of worship, prayer, and blessing, because to speak God’s name means to confess and to call upon the constant, unchangeable being, …faithful loving and just, without any evil (Cf. CCC 2086) who is above all that exists. Likewise, the name of Jesus is most Holy, as St Paul says, ‘at the name of Jesus every knee should bend’ (Philippians 2:10), and similar respect should be observed when talking about the saints.
A positive way to express this commandment could be ‘You shall honour the name of God as Holy’. Because this name and the realities connected to it are “set apart” and cannot be used in trivial matters or, as we do so often, as an exclamation. But there is more, remember how Jesus said in the gospel a few weeks back, ‘Do not swear at all… Let your word be “Yes” if you mean Yes” or “No” if you mean No”’ (Cf. Matt 5:33-37). This is because to take an oath falsely, or to make a promise I do not intend to keep, in the name of God is to ask God to be witness to my lie, bringing dishonour upon him.
Far from being redundant, the first two commandments should help us reflect on what it means to be in relationship with God. Do we perceive what is being asked of us as Christians to be a burden? or do we consider serving God as a loving response to him for calling us to be his people?