I run in the path of your commands for you have set my heart free (Psalm 119:32).
As I sit down to write this I’ve just spent the past hour watching my daughter throw a Lacrosse ball against a concrete wall. Her coach gave her a series of exercises that amounted to 325 throws. The point of the exercises: to master the basics by means of repetition.
Today we begin a series of reflections that will lead us over some familiar ground. In the weeks to come we will linger with that body of material from the Hebrew Scriptures known as the Ten Commandments. Our aim differs little from that of my daughter’s Lacrosse exercises. We will be getting back to basics, mastering fundamentals by means of repetition.
Sounds simple enough. There’s plenty to be said for getting back to basics. There is much good to be derived from repetition.
But if the repetitions are somehow flawed all we do is grow increasingly comfortable with our errors. Doing 325 throws against the wall is good, unless the form of the throw is defective. Then the only thing learned is how to do a poor throw. The same risk confronts us as we turn our attention to the Ten Commandments.
It’s no simple task to untangle the knot of misconceptions wrapped around the Ten Commandments. These ten statements - often called the ‘Decalogue’ or ‘ten words’ – have accumulated a thick crust of faulty associations. If nothing else, common portrayals of the tablets have shaped our imaginations. Two matching pieces of stone, thick and heavy, domed at the top, typically showing parallel lists designated with large Roman numerals.
Somewhere along the way, between Mount Sinai and wherever you are right now, the Law became a list. And then the list became a load. The list told us what to do, a means by which we could measure our moral aptitude. To the extent that we fell short of what the list required it became a burdensome load.
So for the weeks to come we will work with a different image. We will explore God’s law as a path.
There’s nothing new about this. In fact, to speak of God’s law as a path is to return to what the Hebrews understood from the get-go. For proof take a look at Psalm 119. This Psalm is the longest single chapter of the Bible, 176 verses of leisurely meditation on the Law of God. Over and over again the Law is spoken of as a path. “I run in the path of your commands for you have set my heart free.”
We begin with an invitation. You are being invited to run in the path of his commands, and in doing so you are being called to a truly free life. What kind of path are you on today? How did you come to find it – and where is it taking you?
God’s law was meant to be a gift, not a burden. Tomorrow we’ll take our first steps on the path that leads to the life we were meant to have.
Grant us grace, O God, as we begin these days of exploration. Your word “is a lamp to our feet and a light unto our path.” Lead us by your law to the life you for which you made us, we ask in Jesus’ name. Amen.