I’ve heard it said that the Ten Commandments are no longer relevant and that they are “perfect requirements” that cannot by obeyed by us imperfect human beings. I was reminded of this sentiment as I listened to the Scripture readings at Mass yesterday, Wednesday, March 3. These readings tell us that we CAN and MUST obey the commandments despite the fact that we are imperfect.
First was the Old Testament reading from Deuteronomy Chapter 4, where Moses was instructing the Israelites with regard to the “statutes and decrees” of the Lord. He said: "However, take care and be earnestly on your guard not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live, but teach them to your children and to your children's children." And then the New Testament reading from Matthew, Chapter 5: "Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments and teaches others to do so will be called least in the Kingdom of heaven. But whoever obeys and teaches these commandments will be called greatest in the Kingdom of heaven."
God did not say that the commandments will become irrelevant and that they cannot be obeyed by imperfect human beings. To me, it is quite the opposite. Let us examine the commandments one by one.
It is possible to not have "strange gods" before the one true God. If you truly have faith in Jesus, then you will not let your accomplishments and possessions, or anything else, to take hold of you and take the place of God in heaven. It is possible to not take the name of God in vain. I know plenty of people on this earth from whom I will never hear such expressions as "god damn it" or "Jesus Christ" when they are frustrated or angry. It is possible to keep holy the Sabbath. If love for Jesus and his Church consumes you, then you will go to Mass on Sunday, use this day as a day of rest, and refrain from unnecessary servile work. It is possible to love and honor your parents and all in authority. This is perhaps the easiest of all the commandments, though at times and in some situations, it may seem difficult. It is possible not to kill. This also means to not get angry, to not fight, to not assault others in any way, etc. Imperfect people can strive to be kind and patient, and they can succeed in this with real effort.
It is possible not to commit adultery. I know plenty of people that do not seek sex outside of marriage and always avoid occasions of such sin. They lead a chaste life. Many people falter here, but it is possible to obey this commandment despite imperfection. It is possible not to steal. Most people do not make any attempt to rob others of their material possessions or of their identity, etc. It is possible to not bear false witness against others. I know plenty of people who hold honesty in high regard. It is possible to not covet a neighbor’s wife. To me, one’s wife is like one’s blood relative (e.g., mother or child, etc.). A neighbor’s birth mother cannot become your birth mother if she isn’t already your birth mother, etc., so it doesn’t make sense to covet them. Same with a neighbor’s wife. It is possible not to covet a neighbor’s goods. It is not necessarily a bad thing to be poor. It is such people that Jesus came especially to serve.