Lesson 11: Final Words

The words in the TorahJews speak of the 10 as the 10 Words rather than the Ten Commandments. The first word is “I am the Lord your God” and the second, “You shall no other gods before me.” The rest follow naturally, both those on coveting gathered into the 10th word.

Their understanding is helpful in a number of ways. It makes clear that words are means of grace. God comes to us in words. He relates to us through words. The Ten Words and all of the 613 laws that appear in the Torah are God’s way of showing us to how to live.

Jews do not believe the idea is to obey the laws so we get into heaven after death. They had no concept of life after death in those days. The words give meaning to our present life. They teach us what it is to be human, how to live out the image of God that identifies our true selves.

This is especially critical in our time when too many people prefer to use weapons rather than words and too often use words as weapons. They use words to injure rather than to heal, to attack rather than to guide. Rather than teach the commandments as a way to live together by respecting others, they use them to judge and separate people.

Theologians are fond of saying the Church’s primary role is to proclaim the Word and practice the sacraments. It has become increasingly clear this involves more than religious talk at worship. The Church is to remember how God spoke in the past, but also to provide words to help people respond in love to sin and evil in the present.

You can see how important this is when the best that many of our leaders can do in response to mass shootings is to tell us not to be afraid but to continue doing what we have always done, for instance go shopping. In contrast, the LGBT community in Orlando, Mother Emmanuel AME Zion Church in Charleston, and the Amish in Lancaster County provided words that brought healing. They repeatedly said the only good response is love, love, love, and forgiveness, forgiveness, forgiveness. We all do well to discern the difference for their creative words led to hugs and the removal of racial symbols, not guns and riots.

Pope Francis is another good example. His carefully chosen words have become part of the language people use in healing a broken world. “Who am I to judge?”, “The Church is a field hospital,” and “God asks us to be gentle” inspire redemptive and transformative loving acts.

In the same way, the Ten Commandments provide words we use in building a loving community. Sometimes even without conscious thought, the commandments influence our decision making about appropriate actions.

Next week, I plan to begin a new series on the sacraments. One of my friends describes them as living words.

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