Summary: 23rd Sunday after Pentecost - Proper 25 - Series A
23rd Sunday after Pentecost (Pr. 25) October 23, 2005 “Series A”
Grace be unto you and peace, from God our Father and from our Lord, Jesus Christ. Amen.
Let us pray: Dear Heavenly Father, Creator of the universe and author of life on this planet we call earth, we humbly give you thanks for all your many blessings upon us: for all that you provide to sustain us from day to day; for the fellowship we share with one another; and especially for your gift of redemption which we receive as a result of our faith and baptism into Christ’s death and resurrection. Through the power of your Holy Spirit, help us to love you above all else, and to witness to our faith in you, by loving our neighbors as our selves. This we ask in Christ’s holy name. Amen.
I found it interesting, even a bit shocking, when I went to seminary and discovered that some of the things that I had been taught as a youth, especially during my confirmation classes, may not have been accurate. For example, I remember having to memorize the “Ten Commandments,” as Luther presented them in his catechism. Yet at seminary, I learned that Luther may have made a mistake in numbering the commandments.
Apparently, Luther considered the first commandment –“You shall have no other God’s before me” – to include “You shall not make any graven images.” Other denominations, and most Biblical scholars, consider these two statements to be two separate commandments. Luther chose to separate “You shall not covet your neighbor’s house,” from “you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife or his servants or livestock,” as the ninth and tenth commandments, which other scholars consider to be inclusive. Since there is no Biblical reference to the “numbering” of the commandments, I came to the conclusion that Luther probably was in error.
However, Luther did offer us a tremendous insight into the significance of the Ten Commandments, especially as he explains them in his Large Catechism. Although Luther believed that every commandment had merit and expressed God’s will for our lives as we seek to live in relationship with him, he noted that there was a specific order to the commandments, with the most important being the first.
Thus, Luther concludes his explanation of the first commandment “that we should have no other gods before the one true God,” by saying, “we had to explain it at length since it is the most important For, as I said before, where the heart is right with God and this commandment is kept, fulfillment of all the others will follow on its own accord.”
Then, when we reach the 4th or 5th commandment, depending on how we might number them, the emphasis of the commandments change from our relationship with God to our relationship with our neighbors. Here again, Luther begins his explanation by stating that, of these remaining commandments, the first and greatest is “honor your father and mother.” And his point is this, if we don’t learn respect for our parents and those in authority in our own home, how can we respect and care for those outside our home. That certainly makes sense to me.
Then, as we move out from our home, follow the other commandments. The most important possession a person has is their life, thus, “you shall not kill.” Then follows our neighbors spouse, “you shall not commit adultery.” Nor should we take our neighbor’s possessions, or their honor or reputation. And finally, we should not covet – to seek to acquire what belongs to another, even though it may be legal. In other words, we should respect our neighbor in every way.
To be honest with you, recognizing the order of the commandments, that they were organized beginning with the most important, helped me to learn them, and to learn their importance. Of course, such recognition of order and ranking of importance to the commandments was not a new concept. In our Gospel lesson for this morning, some Pharisees approach Jesus and ask him, “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?”
Now note that Matthew indicates that the person asking the question was a lawyer. In our culture, the legal profession is, for the most part, separate from our religious institutions. However, for the Jew living in Jesus’ day, the Pharisees and the Priests often served as judges over disputes among the faithful. And if we consider the first five books of the Bible, we discover that Moses expanded upon the Ten Commandments with all sorts of rules and regulations designed to interpret these ordinances for daily living. In fact, by the time of Christ, there were 613 religious commandments, 365 prohibitions, and 248 positive precepts. I hope my confirmation students, who think they have a rough time memorizing the original “Ten,” feel a little relieved by this bit of information.