After a stunning Sunday homily from Fr Dominic Jacob on the cleansing of The Temple, I decided to return to the beginning of Sunday’s scriptures and even by Tuesday I haven’t quite found my way out of the commandments.
Three relate to God: the first three in fact. One relates to others: the honouring of father and mother. And the rest relate to ourselves. For whilst we might kill and steal others, and do all those other things with or against others, it is ultimately ourselves that we are harming.
To put it another way three of the commandments are to do with failure to love God, one is directly to do with failure to love others – those parents again! And the rest, our failure to love ourselves sufficiently, so that we kill or steal or commit adultery or sap another’s reputation in false witness, or covet.
We all know how easy it is to do these things. We have been tempted to the sort of anger which explodes in hate and which could actually kill. We have desired something so much that we have not thought of the morality. We have desired someone so much that we barely recognise ourselves. We are so keen to justify our position that we simply and effortlessly lie.
We delude ourselves that happiness can be found in a thing and there is no justice unless we have that thing. And this attiude is always a failure to love ourselves, as God made us, in His image and likeness. It is the greatest human tragedy.
Into this human tragedy steps Jesus. God’s Son. He loves us, teaching us to love God and giving us the yardstick of love of neighbour as ourselves. He implies that if we fail to love ourselves then it will be impossible to love neighbour, for we will hate the self that we see in neighbour. He shows us the most foolish sign of love so that when human strength and even life itself is spent, his new life will be the very strength by which we will live. And he invites us to make space for that life. To clear out the rubbish, the hatred of self, the petty attempts to justify ourselves. He looks into us and He always gives us the strength, the grace to keep the commandments if only we would work with Him.
But to what end? Am I not free to do what I would want to do? No, this is no freedom, this is slavery! And ours is the freedom to keep the commandments and live.