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The Ten Commandments': A way to spiritual renewal

Moses holding 10 commandmentsby Barbara Berry Bailey

A confirmation classmate described the Ten Commandments as “God’s list of do’s and don’ts.” Two “do’s” and eight “don’ts.”

Confirmation classes are far in our rear view mirror. So we forget that the original purpose of all the laws, statutes and ordinances was to establish good order for not only surviving but thriving in the new land into which God’s people Israel were entering. We also understand the law as a mirror that shows us our brokenness and keeps us ever-mindful of our dependence on God’s grace through Jesus Christ.

Over the centuries, some of these ordinances have totally lost their meaning for us. For example, take Leviticus 19:23-25: “When you come into the land and plant all kinds of trees for food, then you shall regard their fruit as forbidden; three years it shall be forbidden to you, it must not be eaten. In the fourth year all their fruit shall be set apart for rejoicing in the LORD (ritual eating only). But in the fifth year you may eat of their fruit, that their yield may be increased for you.” What happened to three years’ worth of food? The fruit of the trees fell and fertilized the soil, which made it rich—but three years’ worth of wasted food?

For many Lutherans, our encounter with the Ten Commandments was not the Hebrew Scriptures. Rather, it was by way of Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. Yet we still see them as “don’ts.” However, if we embrace God’s intention for thriving and wholeness, it adjusts our lens when we look at them. With that in mind (and soul), let’s examine the Ten Commandments, not only as biblical edict, but to see how they can enhance our spiritual practice.

The first three commandments deal with the individual and his/her relationship with God. The remaining seven deal with our relationship within the community. Wholeness of life is dependent on relationships in both dimensions. So, let’s look at the Ten Commandments juxtaposed as biblical edict and spiritual practice...

The Rev. Barbara Berry-Bailey is the manager of companion education in ELCA Global Mission.

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