Tag Archives: Ten Commandments

Christ Withdrew to the Desert

“Christ Withdrew to the Desert”
A reflection on Matthew 14:13
Monday of the Eighteenth Week in Ordinary Time
©️2021 by Gloria M. Chang

When Jesus heard of the death of John the Baptist, he withdrew in a boat to a deserted place by himself. The crowds heard of this and followed him on foot from their towns. When he disembarked and saw the vast crowd, his heart was moved with pity for them, and he cured their sick. When it was evening, the disciples approached him and said, “This is a deserted place and it is already late; dismiss the crowds so that they can go to the villages and buy food for themselves.” He said to them, “There is no need for them to go away; give them some food yourselves.” But they said to him, “Five loaves and two fish are all we have here.” Then he said, “Bring them here to me,” and he ordered the crowds to sit down on the grass. Taking the five loaves and the two fish, and looking up to heaven, he said the blessing, broke the loaves, and gave them to the disciples, who in turn gave them to the crowds. They all ate and were satisfied, and they picked up the fragments left over—twelve wicker baskets full. Those who ate were about five thousand men, not counting women and children.

Matthew 14:13-21

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Christ, the Living Stone

Ten Commandments, licensed by Oren neu dag under CC BY-SA 3.0.

Third Week of Lent, Wednesday

Deuteronomy 4:1, 5-9; Matthew 5:17-19

Now therefore, Israel, hear the statutes and ordinances I am teaching you to observe, that you may live, and may enter in and take possession of the land which the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. In your observance of the commandments of the Lord, your God, which I am commanding you, you shall not add to what I command you nor subtract from it.

Deuteronomy 4:1-2

The two stone tablets of the Law given by God to Moses on Mount Sinai contained everything humankind needed to live a holy and blessed life. Rabbis, scholars, and faithful Jews down the centuries meditated on the law “day and night… like a tree planted near streams of water” (Psalm 1:2-3). 

The Ten Commandments are profoundly relational in essence. The rabbinic tradition teaches that the “first tablet” concerns our relationship with our creators, both divine and human (worship of God and honor of parents, who are co-creators), and the “second tablet” concerns our relationship with our neighbors. Ethics and social justice (horizontal relationships) flow from metaphysics (the vertical relationship of Creator and creation, mirrored in the parent-child relationship). The foundation for fraternal justice, human rights, and dignity is the imago dei: human persons are made in the image of God.1

The Decalogue contains the first ten commandments of the 613 commandments given by God to the Jewish people. According to Hebrew scholars, all 613 are reducible to the Ten Commandments, and the Decalogue itself is reducible to a single precept.

A Gentile asked Rabbi Hillel (c. 110 B.C. to A.D. 10) to teach him the entire Torah while he, the inquirer, stood on one foot. The rabbi answered, “What you yourself hate, don’t do to your neighbor. This is the whole law; the rest is commentary.”

Rabbi Akiva (c. A.D. 50-135) summarized the Torah with Leviticus 19:18: “Love your neighbor as yourself.”

Jesus proved himself to be a first-rate rabbi in a conversation with a kindred scribe:

One of the scribes, when he came forward and heard them disputing and saw how well he had answered them, asked him, “Which is the first of all the commandments?” Jesus replied, “The first is this: ‘Hear, O Israel! The Lord our God is Lord alone! You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.” The scribe said to him, “Well said, teacher. You are right in saying, ‘He is One and there is no other than he.’ And ‘to love him with all your heart, with all your understanding, with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself’ is worth more than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

Mark 12:28-33

Love of God and neighbor are two sides of a single coin (the dime of the Decalogue). The imperishable law (Psalm 119:89) is “sweeter than honey” and a life-giving balm (Psalm 119:103). To become a walking, living Torah was the aspiration of a true son or daughter of Abraham.

Jesus, who grew up hearing and chanting the Torah of his beloved people, had the utmost reverence for the law and the prophets. 

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets. I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. Amen, I say to you, until heaven and earth pass away, not the smallest letter or the smallest part of a letter will pass from the law, until all things have taken place.

Matthew 5:17-18

In the Sermon on the Mount, the new Moses delivered the heart and kernel of the Mosaic law, summed up in the Golden Rule:

Do to others whatever you would have them do to you. This is the law and the prophets.

Matthew 7:12

In the Mosaic tradition, law keepers are children of God. Conformity to the law is love of God and neighbor. Jesus raised the bar higher than any teacher before him. No rabbi had ever said, “Love your enemies” (Matthew 5:44). Rabbi Jesus said, Be perfect, just as your heavenly Father is perfect,” or in Luke’s version, “Be merciful, just as [also] your Father is merciful” (Matthew 5:48; Luke 6:36).

The nation of Israel produced some of the wisest sages the world has ever known. Kings and queens of foreign nations flocked to Solomon’s temple and palace to hear the wisdom of Israel as Moses predicted:

Observe them carefully, for this is your wisdom and discernment in the sight of the peoples, who will hear of all these statutes and say, “This great nation is truly a wise and discerning people.”

Deuteronomy 4:6

Yet Jesus baffled his audience with a new vision of “righteousness” beyond that of their most illustrious members:

I tell you, unless your righteousness surpasses that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven.

Matthew 5:20

Jesus baffled and eluded the world right up to the Cross and even to the present day. Without the Holy Spirit, who can understand him or even say, “Jesus is Lord”? (1 Corinthians 12:3)

The Golden Rule engraved on tablets of stone
Revived in the valley as a breathing bone.2



1 The Jewish, Catholic, Orthodox, and Protestant traditions have different enumerations of the commandments given in Exodus 20:1-17. See New American Bible (Revised Edition) footnotes. The rabbinic tradition, of which Jesus was a part, gives the following order:

  1. I am the Lord your God
  2. No idolatry
  3. Do not take God’s name in vain
  4. Honor the Sabbath
  5. Honor your father and mother
  6. Do not murder
  7. No adultery
  8. Do not steal
  9. Do not bear false witness
  10. Do not covet

2 Ezekiel 37:1-14.

Water and Spirit

Christina DeMichele, Christ Enthroned in His Creation (Used with permission)

Tuesday of the Second Week of Easter

John 3:7-15

“How can this be?” Nicodemus asked Jesus (John 3:9). How can a person be “born of the Spirit?”

The youthful Mary had also asked the angel Gabriel, “How can this be?” (Luke 1:34)

In the Gospel of Luke, Mary received the forthright response, “The holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you” (Luke 1:35).

Gabriel’s answer did not explain how in the scientific sense, but it named the agent of the miraculous Virgin birth. “Therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God” (Luke 1:35). 

Nicodemus received a less clement response:

“You are the teacher of Israel and you do not understand this? Amen, amen, I say to you, we speak of what we know and we testify to what we have seen, but you people do not accept our testimony.

John 3:11

Written in the last half of the first century, the Gospel of John was composed in the milieu of the tension between the early church and the synagogue. The shift to the plural, “you people,” seems to express a sorrowful gulf between Jesus and the community of teachers represented by Nicodemus.

The Torah is a window onto eternity. Nicodemus was expected to recognize the face of God and the works of the Spirit of God, given all his learning.

If I tell you about earthly things and you do not believe, how will you believe if I tell you about heavenly things?

John 3:12

The “I” of the Dabar/Logos/Word spoke “in the beginning”—Bereshitthe first word of the Torah. The entire book of Genesis is a record of God’s covenant love with humankind. The Lord God Almighty of Israel gave to Moses the gift of the Ten Commandments to guide his people in living a holy life on earth, paving the way to “heavenly things.” Through his mouthpiece, the prophets, the Lord God described himself as a king, shepherd, prince of peace, potter, father, lover, husband, mother, hen, Spirit, wind, breath, rock, fortress, tower, and more. By means of vibrant and colorful earthly images, God painted a splendid portrait of his character for Israel. 

Nevertheless, making the leap from the Torah to Christ was by no means self-evident. Nor is this dialogue with Jesus in the dark of night easily comprehended. Nicodemus speaks for all persons, past and present, in his perplexity. A survey of biblical commentaries on this passage reveals an abundance of varied and divergent interpretations. Nicodemus’ “How can this be?” continues to reverberate down the centuries. 

No one has gone up to heaven except the one who has come down from heaven, the Son of Man. And just as Moses lifted up the serpent in the desert, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, so that everyone who believes in him may have eternal life.”

John 3:13-15

Jesus identified himself with the ladder of the holy patriarch Jacob-Israel (Genesis 28:12). The Greek verbs for ascending and descending in John 3:13 and the Greek Septuagint version of Genesis 28:12 are identical. 

Jesus also identified himself with the likeness of the poisonous serpent that healed the children of Israel in the desert (Numbers 21:9).1 Moses’ original action of “setting” the serpent on a pole becomes in the Messianic light an exaltation and glorification2 of the “Son of Man,” a self-referential term from the Psalms, Ezekiel, and Daniel that Jesus frequently used. The promised Messiah has come to heal the brokenhearted and bind up the wounded, and to send his Spirit to renew the face of the earth (Isaiah 61:1; Psalm 147:3; Luke 4:18; Psalm 104:30: Genesis 1:2).

The angel Gabriel’s answer to the Blessed Virgin Mary is the answer for all her children, the brothers and sisters of Jesus Christ her Son. For the Woman whose womb waters were overshadowed by the Holy Spirit is a living symbol of the watery Womb of God the Father.

And the earth was tohu vavohu (without form, and void); and darkness was upon the face of the deep. And the Ruach Elohim (Spirit of God) was hovering upon the face of the waters.

Genesis 1:2 (Orthodox Jewish Bible)

From the Virgin Father’s Womb to the Virgin Mother’s womb, the creation and recreation of Adam and the earth are accomplished by “water and Spirit” (John 3:5).

We join Nicodemus in his journey from the nighttime of obscurity to the dawning light of faith in the resurrection of the Son of Man on the third day.


1 See related post: Christ and the Bronze Serpent

2 See New American Bible (Revised Edition) footnote to John 3:14.