Leviticus: The LORD said to Moses, “Speak to the whole Israelite community and tell them: Be holy, for I, the LORD, your God, am holy.  Thus, “You shall not bear hatred for your brother/sister in your heart. Though you may have to reprove your fellow citizen, do not incur sin because of him/her. Take no revenge and … hold no grudge against any of your people. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. For–I am the LORD.”
Gospel: You have heard it said: An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth…and love your neighbor and hate your enemy, but I say to you, (you can) love your enemies and pray for (them)…..(acting anew) as children of your Heavenly Father.

Today we start our preaching series on The Ten Commandments, done by most of the clergy here in key homilies up through to Good Friday. We even have a prop at the pulpit for it.

There are Ten Great Commandments, as given first to Moses way back over thirty-three centuries ago, and the first one says: “I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt not have strange gods before me.” This first one is the greatest of the Ten Commandments, and it’s the hardest to live. Jesus did give a New Testament update application into it, too. He taught: “Love God with your all… and love your neighbor as yourself with it, as a practice of your inspired love.” That’s from Mark 12. From that Scripture we note how a learned scribe replied to Jesus’ explanation. In paraphrase form, he spoke: ‘Well said, Master. You took the key Hebrew “Shema” teaching (of Love the Lord Who is  One) and you interestingly put it together with the Leviticus Jewish teaching of loving others! You have a fascinating vertical and lateral dimension to the faith life: 1/ A Love of God and of being loved by God, and 2/ A love of sharing one’s self out healthfully to others, as with the good love received to our self from God.

As today’s gospel says, about the First Commandment’s power in practice, Jesus taught that this great love of God in a person can lead to great love shown forth, as in startling charity acts, unconditional giving, and even one’s loving an enemy, by returning love for hate, rather that hate for hate, and prayer, rather than scorn. Yet that is possible only if with the 1st Commandment and God’s love at the core in the believer. It’s a tall order from God to keep, and one that, we know, the rich young ruler turned down, as in Mark 10’s story. God’s Love is to be either accepted to be lived toward a whole heart, soul, mind and soul practice—or not. The First Commandment is an invitation to say yes to Love.

Besides the love message of it, the next point to understanding the First Commandment is how it is clearly a message about living in freedom and responsibility to the One True God.  As it was originally described in the Torah (the Jewish Law), it is framed by God this way to them. “I am the Lord thy God, Who brought you out of slavery in Egypt.” This Hebrew intro text to the Law is in the context of freedom, not so much as “rule giving.” Take big notice of that. The exodus people received this message in the timing of deliverance and freedom out of slavery. They were set free not to go into restrictive rules and constrictive life, but to find the blueprint for life to live free and into the original human design by God. These were His Ten Basic Ways to be human, and to avoid trouble and slavery to sin. The Commandments start as a message from a loving God Who is making special contact with them, so as to guide the people ahead to blessing.

If one reads the whole Exodus or Deuteronomy text, then God comes off as sounding like One Who expects to have their attention now, after being good on His promises to lead them out from under the Egyptians. They saw the signs and wonders of His Presence. Now God is to show how He remains interested in loving them, with new promises and covenants to make, in a homeward bound manner. As it sadly goes in the human dilemma, the people in the story would still put up resistance to God, even after all that was happening to their favor. It still continues to happen today, as it did way back then, that humankind puts up a sinful non-trust or compliance to Him.

Here’s the thing of that First Commandment of Love and Freedom; it puts responsibility on the receiver’s response It basically asks us, like it did the original recipients: “Do you see Who Loves and Leads you? If so, then why would you still turn to other gods (small g) and idols and imitations and replacements for the Divine Love? Note something significant in the tone here of the First Commandment: God is in a good jealous way for us. He is a Lover Who has been put off, again, unfairly, but Who will not give up, but wants ever to win our love. It’s that kind of good jealousy in the opening of the Law here. The preacher Charles Spurgeon once explained: “Have you ever loved someone so much that you could not bear to see another with that person, (of whom would be harmful to them?) That is God’s good jealousy (for us) …He desires so much of our time, love and energies that He cannot bear for us to be with another (who is bad).”

On our part, we are called to give response to such a God—the Lover of our being, The First Commandment is all about our giving back special love and attention and glory to our One True Lord God.  God has first loved us. In just response, we are to love the Lord God as our Utmost Personal Love, as to be of our Highest Concern, as recognized as our Gatherer and our Guide and Truth. God is to be our Unilateral Interest , that our Maker may have primacy in every aspect of our being. It is what true and deep Love requires—this kind of deep acceptance in the soul.

Before the love from God can really and greatly spill over to bless others, like of the Word’s message today, God must be God to us.

Hear the Commandment again-“I am the Lord thy God. Thou shalt not have strange gods before me.” In that phrase of “I’ll have no other strange gods before Me,” Our Lord is saying,  as in I don’t want strangers as put in place or stead of the Love I have for the midst of you, to your core and center. The message there is how God is a good jealous saying: Only the One True God belongs in there, in your soul. Me. After all, you folks are not designed to live on some other ‘power.’

He would say to a motorcycle racer, would you put milk in the tank and engine, rather than gasoline?  He would say to an eighteen wheeler highway trucker, would you put pepto bismol in the tank instead of proper diesel fuel—as its design? Or to an auto racer, would you choose prunes and their juices in the tank, as favored over some serious high-octane petrol?   [Prune juice isn’t good—too many pit stops!]

In Commandment Number One, God and His Love is what’s meant for us to live by. In Commandment Number One, it’s not really about rule-making by God, but His helping of us to read the label on humanity: “Meant to live in, for and with God.”  [And: this side up!]

The Commandments are those “ten words,” the decalogue, of the basic ways for humankind to best life, following an original blueprint of life for us. The first words are I AM the Lord. As in, I Am the Author of Life, The Inventor of humankind and all life. Why would you think there is another? Why do you look elsewhere? Why do you resist? It is Love and Freedom which I offer out to you!                                (!!!!!!!!!!)

When they asked the Savior about the highest commandment, Jesus said (as taken from Matthew 22), “You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind” (Matthew 22:37). In essence, this Decalogue is of the category of love. Will you love God? That’s what it’s all about!  [Not the hokey pokey—that’s not what it’s all about, though in a wedding dance song, it says “it’s” what it’s all about.]  What truly is life’s meaning? It’s about the love of God, and God’s love to us.

As you and I near the beginning of the 40 days of Lent, think of when Satan tried to tempt Jesus to worship him (which would have broken the First Commandment); Jesus refused in obedience to this law: “You shall worship the LORD your God, and Him only you shall serve” (Matthew 4:10). Memorize that line of Scripture and use it the next time you are tempted in the same.  Jesus made other statements that clarified that God should be first in our lives (as in Matthew 6:24, 33 “Seek Ye First God and His Kingdom and righteousness” or go look into Luke 14:26). Say in prayer: I will follow the course set by God.

The First Commandment—to have “no other gods” before the true God—is clearly still to be obeyed by Catholics and our other brother/sister Christians. We are to look for ways to say to God: I love you, Lord. As we do so, we find freedom and some self-responsibility in practice.

That’s your thought to take home about The First Commandment.Lastly, in a review, of a second “take home” point to ponder—our God is a God of good jealousy Who wants to win our heart over, like He did of Peter. Emily Dickinson wrote some lines of a poem on this matter:

“God is indeed a jealous God —He cannot bear to see That we had rather not with Him—But with each other play.”

And a young ethicist writes: If jealousy is rooted in self-centeredness, it is clearly the wrong kind of jealousy. A jealousy that springs from concern for another’s well-being, however, is appropriate. — Paul Copan. It connects to the First Commandment’s better entry point on God’s Love, His Good Jealous Love.


###  Extra   Cutting room floor of the homily.

I think of an example of Jesus in His Resurrection appearance with the apostle Peter. Yesterday (Feb. 22nd) was the Chair of St. Peter feast, so it’s timely as an home stretch to my points on love. Jesus asked Peter “Do you love Me?” three times. Three times back Peter says, “Yes, Lord, I love you. I affirm it.” Then it dawns on the fisherman: ‘Hey, I have just been delivered from my three awful denials of Christ. Hallelujah!’ That third time when Peter is asked the love question, it says that he was a bit puzzled by it, as he stood on the Galilean shoreline of Capernaum besides his old fishing vessel, and he answers the Master: “Yes, Lord, You know everything, You know that I love you.” Here I think Peter is affirming the 1st Commandment in his life, but Jesus will challenge something of its deeper practice in him now. I can imagine Jesus following up the love  questions with: ‘As you love Me, Peter, then may I ask of why you are back to this same place, where you used to work as a fisherman? If you love Me, then can I ask you to give Me to My pleasure? For I don’t need you to catch fish for me, for fish I can make plenty of, as you saw in a miracle, but what love I need of you is to go build My church, care for it, and love Me in it—for I am founding it, and I need you to go fish for souls of men! Will you love Me by giving your heart to Me in that way, My own heart’s pleasure?’

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