Summary: Second of a two-part series on the Ten Commandments and their meaning for our lives


“Almost all people at all times have agreed (in theory) that human beings ought to be honest and kind and helpful to one another. But though it is natural to being with all that, if our thinking about morality stops there, we might just as well have not thought at all. Unless we go on to the second thing-the tidying up inside each human being-we are only deceiving ourselves. You cannot make men good by law; and without good men you cannot have a good society.”

Those words from C.S. Lewis are sadly true. If we could be good by wanting to be good, then Jesus could have stayed in His heavenly place forever. The six commandments related to human relations are perhaps harder for us to abide by than the previous four relating to our relationship with God. After all, they are much more visible, much more public. Sometimes it seems that we have the impression that we are to observe the commandments; as in, we see them, we read them, we know they exist, but we seldom feel that we are to physically keep them.

My Jewish study Bible says that the fifth commandment is a counterpart to the honor due God; it forms a bridge between duties toward God and toward humans. Honor thy father and mother is a grown up commandment. While we expect it from our children, they learn it from us. To honor goes beyond honor. There can be no injury, no unkind speech. This commandment mandates kindness, respect, and obedience.

The Brothers Grimm wrote a rather telling tale about a little old man with trembling hands and feeble eyes, whose table habits became increasing offensive to his daughter-in-law, until one day she objected to her husband about his father. She and her husband took the old man to a corner of the kitchen, set him on a stool, and gave him his food in a big bowl. Now he was no longer troubling them by spilling his food.

One day, in his trembling, he dropped the bowl and broke it. Now the daughter-in-law lost even her moderate civility. “If you are a pig,” she said, “you must eat from a trough.” And they made a little wooden trough, and he ate from it. One night they noticed their 4-year-old son playing with blocks of wood. When the father asked what he was doing, he said with a smile, “I’m making a trough to feed you and Mama when I get big.”

For a while the man and woman just looked at each other, not saying a thing. Then they cried. Then they went to the corner and led the little old man back to his place at the table. They gave him a comfortable chair, and put his food on a plate. And never again were they really, deeply troubled by the food he spilled or by the dishes he occasionally broke. They had learned that, in honoring a parent, they had planned their own future.

When we honor parents we really honor God, because all three had a hand in our creation. The honor that we show our parents will come back to us, through our own children and their ability to honor people in authority. Family patterns are often repeated, for good or for bad, if there is no effort made to change them. If you want to be sitting alone someday, waiting for a phone call or visit, just let your children see you neglect your elderly parents.

Next we face the most offensive behavior between human beings – murder. The meaning behind this Hebrew word – ratsach – is not the same as to kill, for it excludes warfare and corporal punishment. This is murder, whether intentional or accidental. It includes all ways in which life can be destroyed or shortened, so you be the judge. Murder may not be limited to the body, but may involve the soul or spirit.

As children are tried to fend off harsh words or insults by saying, “Sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me.” Deep down we know that’s not true. I would prefer a nice clean break that would eventually heal to a wounded heart that may never recover. Words can hurt, they can devastate, they can maim, and they can never, never be withdrawn. You can remove a bullet, an arrow, or a shard of glass, but once a word is aimed and fired, it stays lodged forever. The greatest emotional pain I ever endured was the result of just one little word.

Because we are connected, one person’s death diminishes us. Each violent death reported on the news should remind us of our own mortality, and cause us to mourn. During times of war, casualties are inevitable, but those deaths should not be treated like statistics. Each one was someone’s child, possibly someone’s parent or spouse, and their death will affect great numbers of people. Life is not only precious when it is our own – all of life is precious.

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