Before the Commandments

March 7, 2021; Exodus 20:1-17; 3rd Sunday of Lent

Our country is in the midst of a hot debate of how to back out of this pandemic which has ruled our lives for the past year. With the vaccines, the number of cases of COVID-19 is dropping, and Americans are divided on how soon the mandates of mask wearing and social gatherings should be relaxed. Some governors are moving quickly. Others are taking a more gradual approach. But the thing in common across these differences is that we want to get these mandates off our backs as soon as possible. We want to go to the places we want to go and see the people we want to see as we did before COVID-19. You and I resist rules and regulations. Americans, like most people, do not like others telling them what to do.

So here is why today’s first reading from the book of Exodus can be helpful to us. This reading gives us the most famous list of rules that we possess: the Ten Commandments. Even more importantly, this reading tells us that there is something prior to and more fundamental than the Ten Commandments. Before God lists the commandments, God says “I, the Lord, am your God who led you out of the land of Egypt, that place of slavery.” God is telling us that before the commandments were given, there was the powerful action of God’s grace. Before the rules were inscribed, there was the prior gift of God’s love.

This reading tells us that as we struggle under the demands of rules and regulations, it is important to remember the larger purpose that they are meant to serve. As we try to follow God’s commands, it is important to appreciate the prior gifts that God has given us.

God commands us to honor our father and our mother and indeed all the members of our family circle. Yet it is difficult to honor a spouse who is caught up in his or her own issues or to respect an aging parent whose mind is beginning to slip. But if we could remember the blessing, the gift, that the people in our family are to us, if we could remember the love that moved us to commit ourselves to our spouse in the first place, if we could recall the faithful care our mother provided to us as we worked our way through school, it would be easier to follow God’s commandment. Honoring the people in our families is more simple if we can remember how they are a blessing of God to us.

God commands that we should not covet our neighbor’s goods, but there are times when we a jealous of others because they have things that we do not have. Yet if we could remember the true blessings that we already possess—our home, our job, the comfort of our lifestyle—it would be easier for us to be satisfied. When we truly appreciate and are thankful for the gifts we already possess, it is easier for us to follow God’s command not to covet more.

It is a nuisance to put on a mask every time we leave our house or to limit our time to only certain people and places. But if we could remember the wonder of our own life and the life of others, it would be easier to live under those demands. If we could truly be in touch with the mystery of how I am alive and I have been able to live so many years, it will be easier for us to submit to the regulations that government imposes to protect life during this pandemic.

We live in a world of rules and regulations, and often we strain against them. That is why it is crucial to remember that behind those rules there is a greater purpose. Behind those mandates stands a God who has given us life, family, and all the good things we possess.

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