One Commandment Survives its Broken Tablet

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Comedy is funny because it tells the truth. And though finding comedy in the Bible can be difficult, Mel Brooks mined the Old Testament for comedy gold in his “History of the World, Part 1.” In one scene he reimagines Moses delivering the commandments on stone tablets. He steps out on Mount Sinai with three stone tablets, announcing:

“Hear me! All pay heed! The Lord has given unto you these 15” … then he drops one of the tablets … “TEN! Ten commandments for all to obey!”

Prophecy can be a thankless job, as Jeremiah realized. His job was to convince humanity that God’s laws must be written on their hearts of flesh, not on tablets of stone. His message was not received well, as Jeremiah attests in Sunday’s first reading (Jer 20:10-13):

“I hear the whisperings of many: ‘Terror on every side! Denounce! Let us denounce him!’ All those who were my friends are on the watch for any misstep of mine. ‘Perhaps he will be trapped; then we can prevail, and take our vengeance on him.’”

Jeremiah, being human and sinful himself, hungered to see God exact vengeance on his persecutors.

“Let me witness the vengeance you take on them, for to you I have entrusted my cause,” he prays.

Death came to Jeremiah, as it did to his enemies and to every living creature. But according to St. Paul’s letter to the Romans (Rom 5:12-15), before Moses delivered those commandments, our death sentence was delivered without a finding of guilt.

“For up to the time of the law, sin was in the world, though sin is not accounted when there is no law,” he wrote. “But death reigned from Adam to Moses, even over those who did not sin after the pattern of the trespass of Adam.”

Paul taught that with Jesus, the NEW Adam, grace overruled the death sentence for our transgressions. This happened, Paul continues …

… “so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through justification for eternal life through Jesus Christ.”

So let’s sum up: Ignorance of the law never meant humanity was innocent, but it freed us from guilt until those 15 … 10 stone-inscribed commandments reminded us of our responsibilities as God’s children. Our innocence was made possible with the incarnation of its perfect example. That living example of innocence taught us he is God’s word incarnate, and we are called to open our hearts so God’s law of love can be written on them for all to see through our own words and deeds.

In Sunday’s gospel reading (Mt 10:26-33), Jesus teaches us, as he did his apostles, never to fear humanity’s death sentence because God’s word never dies as long as it lives in us and we share its abundance with others.

“What I say to you in the darkness, speak in the light; what you hear whispered, proclaim on the housetops. And do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul.”

It is pure innocence, not professed purity, and quality of observance, not quantity of observances, that can free us from fear of death. The resulting courage is a contagious grace that can give new life to others. Our hearts may break in the process of living, but Jesus inscribed only one law on them. The law of love is always legible and alive, no matter how broken we become.

–Tom Andel

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