So, a well-known, formerly powerful local politician is arrested and pleads guilty to various acts of political corruption including bribery, misuse of campaign funds and filing a false tax return.
A prominent professional athlete rails against the rude, tasteless and obscene things written on the Internet about his daughter, a senior in high school, after it was announced that she had been accepted into college.
Two high-profile local criminal trials are taking place simultaneously in the region: one dealing with the Boston Marathon bombings of two years ago, and the other with a murder involving a former member of the New England Patriots.
A twenty-five-year-old man is arrested and charged with felony assault after severely beating another man unconscious in a broad-daylight attack.
The local Islamic School is vandalized when someone spray-paints racial slurs and expletives around the main entrance of the school.
There are many other recent news stories I could add to the list and, without a doubt, by the time this column appears there will be.
But, what do all of these events have in common? In each and every case, the offenses being reported involve the breaking of one or more of the Ten Commandments. For example – Thou shall not steal; Thou shall not bear false witness; Thou shall not kill.
Regrettably, we don’t hear much about the Ten Commandments any more. Is it just a coincidence that as the Commandments have been scrubbed from our classrooms, courtrooms and public squares they have also disappeared from the public discourse? We shouldn’t be surprised, then, that there’s so much corruption, violence and vulgarity in our society today. After all, we’ve ignored God’s law that serves as the foundation of the criminal law; we’ve deleted the rules of engagement that regulate our life together.
But the Ten Commandments are over 3,000 years old. They were given to a foreign nation in a distant land. They addressed the specific needs of the time. So, are they still relevant? Do they still apply to our age?
Pope Francis recently talked about the importance of the Ten Commandments. He said: “The Ten Commandments are a gift from God. The word ‘commandment’ isn’t fashionable. To today’s persons, it recalls something negative, someone’s will that imposes limits; that places obstacles to our lives.”
The Holy Father went to explain God’s motive for giving us the Commandments: “The Ten Commandments come from a God who created us out of love, from a God who established a covenant with humanity, a God who wants the good of humanity . . . The Ten Commandments show us a path to travel and also constitute a sort of moral code for building just societies that are made for men and women.”
In other words, the Ten Commandments have three important purposes.
First, they help us to fulfill our potential as human beings as children of God made in His image and likeness. Each of us has an immortal soul, a spark of divinity within us. Each of us is destined for eternal life.
But how do we know what to do? How do we decide between right and wrong? Left to our own devices we are sure to get lost, sure to wander from the path. The Ten Commandments keep that from happening. The Commandments are the original GPS – God’s Positioning Signposts.
Second, the Commandments keep us from getting hurt and they regulate our daily interactions with one another. If you’ve ever gotten into trouble with the law, it’s probably because you’ve broken the Commandments, the foundation of our criminal and civil law. And if you’ve ever had a falling-out with your parents, spouse, neighbor or boss, perhaps it’s because someone violated one of the Commandments – with angry words, in spreading gossip, or by lying and cheating, for example.
I remember hearing of a teacher quizzing her students about the Ten Commandments.“Which Commandment teaches you how to get along with your parents?” the teacher asked. “The Fourth,” replied one young lad. “Honor your father and your mother.” “Very good,” she said. “But which Commandment teaches you how to get along with your little brother?” “The Fifth,” he said. “Thou shall not kill!”
Third, the Commandments, as the Pope points out, help to build a just society. They provide some protection for the weak and the vulnerable. They help to level the playing field. They ensure that everyone is playing by the same rules. A football game has rules that are enforced by the referee. If a player breaks the rules he’ll be penalized. It’s like that in the spiritual realm too. In that league God is the ultimate referee. Break the rules and you’ll be punished.
In short, if we really hope to eliminate corruption, crime and violence from our world and nation, our state and local communities, we’ve got to return to the basics, we’ve got to heed the Ten Commandments. And if we want to avoid condemnation and enjoy the gift of eternal life, we need to learn and keep the Commandments of the Lord.
In the Prophet Jeremiah we read these words of the Lord: “I, the Lord, alone probe the mind and test the heart, to reward everyone according to his ways, according to the merit of his deeds.” (Jer 17:10)
It’s that simple. God will reward our just deeds and punish our evil deeds. The Commandments help us to know the difference.