By FRANCIS REMKIEWICZ
Christians should recognize the topic for today’s column. Those of other faiths should recognize similar teaching in their own faiths and those of no particular faith but perhaps humanistic in ethics and morals should still recognize the principles espoused in the topic we will discuss. For the most part there is a little something in this column for everyone.
In the Bible, God delivers to Moses and Moses to the Israelites, a basic moral code. These are essentially ten rules that even most societies, let alone faiths, are built upon. If you like you can read The Leviathan by David Hobbes and he will explain what the world would be like without these ten commandments. In that work Hobbes’ basic premise is without a moral code to guide society life is a short ride to hell, assuming no train wreck before you get there. In Hobbes’ own words “life is short, nasty and brutish”. And one more thing to consider, the English legal system, from a strictly humanity point of view, is built upon these. And from the English system the American system of jurisprudence is derived.
To begin with I need to disabuse every one of the notions that these are ten of the best suggestions ever written down. Religious leaders, mystics, ascetics, philosophers, and lawgivers have all tried to explain, modify, soften, or otherwise simplify or complicate these ten commandments but no one has ever denied them.
It is, much to the frustration of many, commandments, not polite or cute or noteworthy suggestions. Nor can one pick commandments 1, 3, 6, and 10 to follow and skip the rest. Furthermore, these are not subjective values that for example, you must follow but I get to do what I want. They are both for each of us and for everyone and for this day and every day.
Now, many will say, “those laws are too restrictive, too negative, too hard.” For me, I do not think that is true. Laws free you to do the things you would rather do anyway. And sure, there are a whole bunch shalt not, or cant’s or better not or else and it would seem like that was exactly the case. But for Christians at least, the Christ simplifies and replaces the don’t with the dos.
Christ was asked by the Apostles, “What should I do to gain salvation? Jesus’ answer was, “Love God with all your heart, all your mind, and all your soul. And the second is like the first. Love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets.” Simple, one would think. Not so fast. And Jesus not only talked the talk, but he also walked the walk. Christ gave us example after example of how to do this. Christ met the Samaritan woman at the well. A five-time divorcee, would be woman of ill-repute, currently living with another man. This woman gave him a drink of water and Christ gave her new life. The apostles were aghast that Christ would even talk with her and yet he worked a miracle with her. She immediately became a disciple.
Jesus tells the story of the good Samaritan. A guy gets robbed and beaten on the street. Three good guys walk past this bloodied and battered man lying in the street. All three are fine upstanding men in the Jewish community. Attend synagogue, follow the law. But all three guys couldn’t care less about this poor beaten man. A Samaritan, a pariah of Israel, picks the badly wounded man and drops the man at a nice hotel. Gives the hotel owner a wad of cash, tells him to use the cash to take care of and nurse the traveler back to health. So, who is the good guy in the story?
Ever read the “beatitudes”? Christ holds up the poor, the depressed, the heart sick, those less fortunate in society and then tells them they all have a place in the kingdom. Jesus gives us all an example after demonstration after example of what he expects. What does he expect? It is so simple. Christ expects us to treat every human being with dignity, with respect, and most of all, with love.
It is 2,023 years (give or take) after Christ gave us the new way of living, the new way of looking at God and our neighbor. The question I ask myself is why have we not made more progress? Why are there still so many people in desperation? What have we been doing all these years? Let’s be clear, it is not one person or one nation’s failure. It is the failure of hundreds of generations. We ought to be helping one another daily yet we continue to ostracize those who do not look, or act like us. Is there that much joy in raising ourselves up by tearing others down? Are we really loving our neighbors by finding the divisions instead of the unifying issues. Are we Christian by allowing others to suffer? If an itinerant preacher can help the forlorn, why can’t we do the same? Christ’s command to love one another as Christ loves us is not a suggestion. And not only did Jesus talk the talk but he walked the walk.
I will end this column with a brief story. Two people are walking along the beach. The beach is covered in starfish. Literally thousands of starfish. We all know that starfish cannot survive very long outside the ocean. As the two folks are strolling, one of them is picking up the starfish one at a time and then flinging that one starfish back into the ocean, its life has been spared. The accompanying person grabs hold of the arm of the other just before the next starfish is thrown into the ocean, and asks, what the other is doing? The first person responds with, “I am saving the starfish.” The questioner looks down this long straight stretch of beach covered with thousands of starfish and says, “You cannot possibly think you can save all these starfish.” The reply was astonishingly simple. The youngster said, as the next starfish went skipping in the waves, “Yep, but I saved this one.”
Each of us is won over to righteousness, one person at a time.
Francis (Frank) Remkiewicz is an area resident and contributes a monthly column focused primarily on faith and religion. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. Opinions expressed are those of the author.