Exodus 20, Psalm 19

October 6, 1996 by Tad Mitsui

Today”s Scripture lesson introduces the Ten Commandments for the first time in the Bible. Unfortunately the laws that begin with "Thou shalt not" are not very popular nowadays, because they sound repressive and seem to stifle joy of life. It is important to remember, in this context, that it is not God, who are responsible for making the laws instruments of oppression. It is people who have abused the laws as a means to exercise power and exploit others. It was not God”s intent to make laws to oppress us. The law was a way of God to make us independent and free. God gave us laws as a way to free us from slavery. Let us take a look at the second commandment, "You shall not make yourself an idol." as an example.

No one worships a piece of stone or wood in this day and age, of course. But if you look carefully, you will be surprised how many people are still practice idol worship. When you interpret the idol as something that enslaves you, you will be surprised to realize how serious the power of idols is, keeping many people in slavery of one kind or another, even today.

An idol is something that should not dominate your life, but it can trap you like a few notes of melody that does not leave your head. Worse still, it can totally control your life. When that happens, this commandment snaps us out of such a nightmare and frees us. "Do not let anything that is below your dignity control your life." So what are some of the idols in our lives? Francis Bacon, a 16th Century English philosopher, made an interesting list of civilized people”s idols. It is not an exhaustive list, but it is a convenient list, as a starter for our reflection. He listed four idols, and called them the idols of "cave, theatre, market, and tribe."

First of all, the idol of the cave is created by people who can not see anything outside of their own life. In Japan, the same notion is found in an expression, "A frog who lives in a well." For that frog, a tiny little sky he sees from the bottom of the well is the whole of the outside world. The dark wet hole and a bit of water held in it are the whole world for him. He is trapped in the well, but he does not know that. Some of us can behave and think like that, when we do not see anything beyond what we know. By refusing to believe that what you see is all there is in the world, you become free to go beyond a little world of our own and discover a much wider world of God”s creation.

Secondly, the idol of theatre keeps us in bondage in a belief that whatever is entertaining and popular is absolute and must have its way. Women no longer suffer from corsets made of whale bones, but the same principles still keep them in bondage. What you wear must be must be in fashion and pleasing to look at. You are made to feel inferior, because you do not look like fashion models or because you only have the clothes you bought five years ago. It does not matter even if they are very comfortable to wear. The same principles ensnare men, also. When you believe in the idol of theatre, everything you do and say must be pleasing and acceptable to others, no matter how wrong it is. You completely lose your own creativity and identity in order to be acceptable and pleasing to others.

Thirdly, the idol of the market makes you believe that the life is about money and profit and nothing else. If there is no bucks at the end, you feel that you life is wasted. Of course, market place and the bottom line are important components of our life. They provide the means of exchange of material goods that are essential for our survival. But some people have made money and profit their ultimate goals of life. They even made God as the servant of the bottom line. They lose faith in God when they fail to make money. We must remember that we can be free of obsession with cash. There are many people who have managed to be freed from the idol of market place, and have found the way to live a contented life despite modest financial achievement.

Finally, the idol of tribe makes you reject people outside of a little world of your own. We believe that our family, community, and our country are often the very reason for our existence. Our language, our culture, traditions, food, and even idiosyncrasies are the essence of our identity. They are very important, for sure. But some people take those things too seriously and do not accept others who are different, and deny the legitimacy of their ways of living. Then you are limiting your life to a small world of a cave where your own kind live, not only that you are being unjust to those people who may be different from you. Those who believe in the idol of the tribe believe in it absolutely. Therefore, they don”t recognize that other people also are the children of God and have rights to live according to their ways of life. This idol worship is often exercised in a form of racism. And we must know that such belief and practice are an insult to God”s creation. Besides, it”s fun to taste foreign food and dance to a different music sometimes.

I hope that now you know why the prohibition of idol worship is freeing not restricting. It is a means of love of God to free us and make us independent. The most basic principle of our life according to our belief in God of Jesus Christ is love; love of God and love of our neighbours. All the laws must help us to love and to free us from the arbitrary measures that exploit us and repress us. If any human laws and rules enslave us and oppress us, remember that our Lord Jesus gave us freedom from such laws by becoming an outlaw himself. It cost him his life. The symbolic meal which we share today is the reminder of that defiance of love.

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