The Second Table — Turned Toward the Neighbor
12Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you. 13You shall not murder. 14You shall not commit adultery. 15You shall not steal. 16You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor. 17You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
Matthew 22:34-40 When the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they gathered together, and one of them, a lawyer, asked him a question to test him. “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” He said to him, “ ’You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind.’ This is the greatest and first commandment. And a second is like it: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.”
Summer got here. We just passed the summer solstice which happened just before noon last Saturday. Next came the feast day of John the Baptist on June 24, which undoubtably everyone commemorated….You understand the significance? In John 3:30 John wrote: “He must increase, but I must decrease.” So as days start to grow shorter we celebrate John the Baptist. Of course, come the winter solstice, right after December 21 we celebrate Jesus. Like the feast day for John the Baptist the Roman Catholics call it Christ Mass. It’s surprising how many people actually think Jesus was born on December 25. It’s just another way that over the centuries our faith tradition has found it possible to use the events of nature to declare the good news. And now, in its proper order comes the Fourth of July. It is our National Holiday.
What answer do you think you’d get from most people were you to ask them “What are we commemorating on the Fourth of July. Do you think you’d get more than a blank stare? In Philadelphia on July 4th, 1776 the Declaration of Independence was signed. It changed the world forever. Some men stood up and signed their names to a document that branded them as traitors. There was courage among them but also fear. They joked to help break the tension. Plantation owner Benjamin Harrison of Virginia was a huge man and he turned and to Elbridge Gerry, a prosperous Massachusetts merchant he said “I will have a great advantage over you, Mr. Gerry when we are all hung for what we are doing. From the size and weight of my body I shall die in a few minutes but from the lightness of your body you will dance in the air an hour or two before you are dead.” I guess you could call that gallows humor. When later Benjamin Rush of Pennsylvania wrote John Adams of Massachusetts he recalled what he referred to in his letter as ‘the pensive and awful silence which pervaded the house when we were called up one after another, to the table of Congress to subscribe what was believed by many at the time to be our own death warrants… Why were these people willing to risk their lives? What did they want? They wanted to be free. They were determined to be free…free to run their own country and write their own laws. In their day, that just wasn’t the way the world worked.
As we’ve been looking at the Ten Commandments we’ve seen how a liberated people are to live. Remember the words in the preamble, I guess I can call it a preamble as well as an introduction. In Exodus 19 the Lord called to him (Moses) from the mountain, saying, “Thus you shall say to the house of Jacob, and tell the Israelites: 4You have seen what I did to the Egyptians, and how I bore you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself. .
Then God spoke all these words: in Exodus 20: 2 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; Again, it’s past tense. I brought you out, out of Egypt and out of slavery. It is the story of freedom but God already dealt with the “freedom from” part. Now he tells them what “freedom to…” looks like.
How do you conceive of freedom? Is it as an end in and of itself? Is it unimpeded access to any choice, as in always keeping your options open? Since 2006 we have endured thirty-three mass shootings. Of the 143 guns used more than three quarters were obtained legally. The arsenal included dozens of assault weapons and semi-automatic handguns with high capacity magazines. Jeffrey Weise used a .40-caliber Glock to slaughter students in Red Lake, Minnesota. James Holmes did to, along with an AR-15 assault rifle. Adam Lanza chose a Bushmaster semi-automatic to massacred 20 school children and six adults. Is intentionally intimidating people by brandishing your Glock in a public place and declaring your rights what freedom is about? Freedom is not when the powerful take whatever they want, but when we respect the property and space of others and when we do our best to help them maintain it and retain it. Freedom is not when the strong dominate the weak, but when the bodies and lives of all — from the impoverished, to the handicapped, the vulnerable, to the elderly — are protected and their rights are respected. Freedom is not the endless satisfaction of every impulse, but the commitment of people to each other.
These laws are not to make our lives into self-help projects, but rather to turn one neighbor towards the other in a shared spirit of community. The point of the law is not self-improvement, but neighbor-improvement. Jesus said that: “You shall love your neighbor as yourself” is the second greatest commandment. Jesus was quoting Leviticus 19:18b.
The purpose of the law is not “your best life now,” but rather “your neighbor’s best life now.” God in God’s meddling grace unweaves all the fibers of hateful and fearful creation and then reweaves them into a renewed and repaired creation. God says to us, “For as long as you’re here you are to love your neighbor.”
We respond, “OK, God, we understand that love is the best way but…. But, how do I love my neighbor?”
God says, “OK, let me be a little more explicit. Make sure everyone gets time off each week, take care of the elderly (they may not be your parents but they are somebodies and they are your neighbor), don’t kill, don’t steal, don’t have sex with someone else’s spouse, don’t hurt your neighbor with your words, don’t desire your neighbor’s stuff. That’s how you love your neighbor.”
So is this just a revered antique that deserves being preserved on a plaque on the court house grounds? What’s this don’t kill thing – God certainly wouldn’t have included public executions of notorious felons? God certainly would make exceptions for military personnel engaged in protecting our national interests.
And who are we kidding about not stealing. Financial institutions do it all the time. So do corporations that use slave labor and child labor and steal income for undocumented workers. And what about corporations that intentionally defile the environment because they can do it legally? And we couldn’t be more complicit as we celebrate the Dow Jones report and cash our dividend checks.
And sex. My goodness, it seems to be open season on bed swapping, at least if you catch the life and times of persons in the entertainment world who, by the way, have a huge influence over the almost mature in our country. And hurting people with words…you can’t have missed the level of what masquerades as civil discourse today. Just turn on to AM radio stations or venture into the vast wisdom shared by talking heads on television intent on shaping the opinions.
I said this two weeks ago, but it bears repeating. The law isn’t about you. It’s about your neighbor. And God loves your neighbor so much that God gives you the law. And God loves you so much, that God gives your neighbor the exact same law.
In other words, in the second table of the Decalogue we find good news. Good news for truly free people. Good news for us and for our neighbor.