Too often we bring our narrow thinking (ie something as black OR white, good OR bad, right OR wrong, this way OR that way) to the complex and broader realities of human character, behaviour and interaction.
I often meet people who emphasise the importance of the ten commandments and obedience to the letter of the law. Then there are many others who prefer to stress the social teaching of the church seeing care for the poor as the priority.
Is one emphasis more correct than the other?
Jesus never dismisses the ten commandments but instead calls for fulfilment of this law written on tablets of stone in the words and actions of believers.
In my experience either starting point can lead to the other. One who seeks to faithfully live by the letter of the law of the ten commandments will grow to become one feeds the hungry. And the one who sees the needy through the eyes of Jesus will grow in desire to live in harmony with the written law given to Moses and the teaching of the church.
For many people these Lenten weeks of preparation for Easter are a time of extra effort to overcome sin (usually defined as a breaking of the letter of the written law). While this is commendable, we often focus too much on overcoming a particular sin forgetting that our focus must be on Jesus Christ who gives us both the desire and the ability to be free of sin. Jesus is the higher power who frees us from all that imprisons us.
I have found that my efforts to overcome sin usually result in an unhealthy focus on a sin. When I focus on Christ open to his gaze of mercy and forgiveness I experience the action of Jesus as saviour actually saving me from my sin.
And then there are times when my desire to be free of sin is weak and my ability to notice the gaze of Jesus is limited because I am looking away in shame or resistance.
In those times a good starting point for personal growth is to reach out to someone in need, perhaps taking a minute to send a text or a few minutes to make a phone call. You might be surprised how the temptation shifts when I fill the temptation space with an act of kindness towards someone in need.
- Think of a sin which you are struggling to be free of. Now decide that for the next 24 hours you will focus instead on practical care for those who are in need. During this time notice what effect this has on your desire to sin. You might be pleasantly surprised by the results.