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Why the Commandments Are Good

Our gospel reading and the first reading for this 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time (Year B) speak of God’s commandments. We think in terms of 10 commandments. The Jews list 613 commandments with the 10 being the most important and applying to everyone. With so many commandments, where does one begin?

I think this is the frame of mind that leads “one of the scribes” to ask Jesus, “Which is the first of the commandments?” We should desire and strive to follow all of them but where do we begin?

Jesus replies by quoting from Deuteronomy 6:5 (part of our first reading today), “The LORD our God is Lord alone! You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this: You shall love your neighbor as yourself” (“love thy neighbor” is found in Leviticus 19:18).

Jesus’ answer might seem surprising. While love is mentioned in the First Commandment, it is not prescribed as one of the the Ten Commandments (see Exodos 20:1-17 and Deuteronomy 5:6-21).. Well, let’s think about that.

What is our attitude towards the commandments? Do we see them as rules to follow because we fear God? (see also my video presentation, Are They Rules or a Way of Life?)

In our first reading today, “Moses spoke to the people, saying: “Fear the LORD.” Are you afraid of God?

I am not afraid of God. I fear disappointing God. I fear punishment of my signs. However, I am not afraid of God.

Why?

Because I know God loves me.No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends” (John 15:13).

Then why does Moses tell us to “Fear the LORD“? Generally when we use the word “fear” it refers to being scared of something. In this sense, I do not fear God because I know He loves me. However, if you look up the word “fear” in the dictionary, there is another meaning. “Fear” can mean “reverence” and “awe.” God is all-knowing and all-powerful. God is infinite. God transcends the things of this world. God is greater than anything we can imagine. Thus, we stand in “awe” of God. Thus, we “Fear the LORD.”

God is beyond us yet He chooses to love us. He gives us commandments that are for our good not his. Thus, we should be motivated to keep “all his statues and commandments” not because we are afraid of God but because we stand in awe of God and his love for us. God gives us commandments that lead us to “grow and prosper” and that lead us to “long life.” (For more on how God’s commandments are good for us, see my article “God’s Commandments.”

Returning to Jesus telling us that the two greatest commandments are to love God and to love our neighbor, ask yourself how well do you love? The first three of the Ten Commandments speak of how we show our love for God. The remaining seven commandments speak of how we show our love for our neighbor.

Do you love God? Do you love God will ALL your soul, mind, and strength? Do you love God in everything you say and do or is there something you are holding back on?

It is not always easy to love our neighbor. Sometimes they do something that hurts us. We must keep loving them. I know it is not easy to love someone who has hurt you. Have you ever done anything to hurt them? Still we may find it hard to forgive them. Then, we do well to remember the words we pray in the Lord’s Prayer, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.” If we want God to forgive us, we must be willing to forgive others.

What about loving God? That’s easy, right? The problem is sometimes the temptations of this world can give us an immediate pleasure that is hard to know with God. While the physical pleasures of this world are immediate, what God offers is eternal.

Remember, God loves you.

Peace,

Fr. Jeff

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