Vessels of Order
The Ten Commandments1
Then God spoke all these words: I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of the land of Egypt, out of the house of slavery; you shall have no other gods before me.
You shall not make for yourself an idol, whether in the form of anything that is in heaven above, or that is on the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I the Lord your God am a jealous God, punishing children for the iniquity of parents, to the third and the fourth generation of those who reject me, but showing steadfast love to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.
You shall not make wrongful use of the name of the Lord your God, for the Lord will not acquit anyone who misuses his name.
Remember the sabbath day, and keep it holy. Six days you shall labor and do all your work. But the seventh day is a sabbath to the Lord your God; you shall not do any work—you, your son or your daughter, your male or female slave, your livestock, or the alien resident in your towns. For in six days the Lord made heaven and earth, the sea, and all that is in them, but rested the seventh day; therefore the Lord blessed the sabbath day and consecrated it.
Honor your father and your mother, so that your days may be long in the land that the Lord your God is giving you.
You shall not murder.
You shall not commit adultery.
You shall not steal.
You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or male or female slave, or ox, or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor.
When all the people witnessed the thunder and lightning, the sound of the trumpet, and the mountain smoking, they were afraid and trembled and stood at a distance, and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, or we will die.” Moses said to the people, “Do not be afraid; for God has come only to test you and to put the fear of him upon you so that you do not sin.” Then the people stood at a distance, while Moses drew near to the thick darkness where God was.
When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.“
“Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.”
“Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.“
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
“Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.“
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”
“Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.“
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.”
“Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.”
Order, like holiness is often a word we do not appreciate unless we are the ones calling the shots. Order, like plumbing, is something we tend to appreciate best when we notice it the least. Disorder, on the other hand, brings mess, hurt, and ultimately destruction. No one wants that. Most of us struggle to find an evasive third option where we can retain at least a basic semblance of order with the most control ourselves.
We often use “spirituality”3 to help us make sense of all the disorder we experience in life. Through acts of retreat we escape to find order elsewhere. By meditation, for example, we try to escape the external disorder in our lives and focus on creating internal order. Sometimes our attempts at creating internal order require an environmental change as well. These often become acts of worship. Some kinds of spirituality lose the internal/external balance and focus instead on imposing order on everyone else in order to make the world more confortable for its practitioner.
God takes our need for order and desire for control and stands them on their heads. In the Ten Commandments, God puts the responsibility of living ordered lives upon the Hebrew people first, before they go out to tell any other community how to live. Once they are sent out, they go out as agents of justice, not for the purpose of making converts. In fact, it is in trying to make converts outside of their own nation that brings about some of their worst trouble. By the first century C.E., some of the prominent Jewish scholars and leaders thought that Israel would have been better off staying among their own people and separated from the rest of the world.
Jesus however brought a new correction to their course. Through His exposition on the Law of Moses, Jesus shows that we are called to live orderly lives, but our order is meant to brush up against the disorder of the world and in so doing, bring it healing. We are indeed vessels of order, but we are vessels of grace also. We are light and salt and when we separate ourselves away from the world completely, we lose our purpose. However, being stuck in between can be the most painful place to stay. Here we see the joy of right order and harmony, and the frustration and hurt of discord all at once. I believe somewhere in the midst of this struggle is the heart of what it means to bear our cross with Jesus.
Where do you go to find order and meaning?
How do you share the order and harmony you experience in life?