Reconciliation Lectionary: Exodus 20:1-21

mary-the-penitent.jpgThe Ten Commandments. Today the cornerstone of Mosaic Law has become a banner for the culturewar. Might I presume you readers know your commandments, even if they are not posted at the county courthouse? Check verses 2 through 17 if you need to.

For this post, I thought I would just offer a brief reflection on the last four verses of this passage. Check the passage in the RNAB here, as it is a bit different from what the Church gives in the Rite at number 105:

When the people witnessed the thunder and lightning,
the trumpet blast and the mountain smoking,
they feared and trembled.
So they took up a position much farther away
and said to Moses,
“You speak to us, and we will listen;
but do not let God speak to us, or we shall die.”
Moses answered the people,
“Do not be afraid, for God has come only to test you and put his fear upon you
lest you should sin.”
Still the people remained at a distance,
while Moses approached the cloud where God was.

What is the best motivation to avoid sin? With children, we can often put fear into their minds: you cross the street without looking and you’ll get hit by a car. Or it can be rather vague but still menacing: disobey me and you’ll get it! There’s that nebulous set of consequences for doing something wrong in the eyes of authority.

With sex, I suppose the consequences were once more or less natural. Engage in sex outside of marriage and you’ll be stoned, or made to wear a scarlet letter, or be publicly shunned. More recently, it was sexually transmitted diseases for men. And for women, that, plus the public shame for having either a reputation or a child. I wonder if the revilement of the pill isn’t due in part to the freeing of sinners from most or all of the consequences of their behaviors. Of course, today, we have higher divorce rates to put the fear-o’-God  into people.

In this passage, I notice that Moses doesn’t reassure people very much. They protest they’re keeping God at a distance no matter what he says. And that’s too bad.

Anybody ever experience the Ten Commandments as a reading for the Rite of Penance? I’ve seen examinations of conscience based on it. I’m not sure how effective they are. My pastor preached last night that he could run down the checklist of Commandments and it seems pretty easy: haven’t killed anyone, haven’t committed adultery, haven’t coveted and stolen.

In my thinking this reading illustrates what not to do with commandments and keeping God at a distance. “Don’t be afraid, God is just stirring up fear.” That strikes me as being on a maturity level with an older sibling saying, “Dad and Mom are just trying to scare you with silly stories.” Often the consultation continues, “Here: have a cigarette. It won’t really stunt your growth.”

Well, Moses isn’t really encouraging them to sin. But the Israelites remain skeptics.

For a Scripture reading, I suppose I’d prefer a list of virtues and a firm challenge to live up to my calling as a child of God, a brother of the Lord Jesus. Or perhaps some reader sees a bit of redemption in this reading. Would you use it?

About catholicsensibility

Todd lives in Minnesota, serving a Catholic parish as a lay minister.
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