In Torah commentaries rabbis always point out the unequal proportions of the Decalogue. The first four Commandments (concerning our obligations to God) take up ten extended verses, while the ensuing six (about mortal relationships) occupy a half dozen clipped lines. It should be noted that in Jewish tradition the Commandments are numbered differently. Because the two forbidden “covetings” at the end are combined as one prohibition, the first four Commandments are counted as follows: 1. God alone is the God of Israel (vs. 2-3); 2. Idols and images are forbidden (vs. 4-6); 3. False oaths using God’s name are forbidden (v. 7); 4. The sabbath must be kept holy (vs. 8-11).
God’s singularity, as well as the holiness of the divine name and the day of rest, are clearly weighted with more significance than the obligations we have toward one another: parents, neighbors, and fellow citizens. In Hebrew, in fact, the weightiest Commandment is the one regarding the sabbath day, if sheer word power is the measure. To get the sabbath right paved the way to getting everything right.
That is why the use Jesus made of the sabbath was the most shocking part of his ministry. He used the sabbath for the sake of his neighbors and fellow citizens—even strangers and outsiders! He used God’s day for the welfare of people. It turned the traditional understanding of the Law inside out and on its head. If we listen to the responsorial psalm of the day, we hear a refrain that echoes through the Psalms, not to mention the books of law, prophecy, and wisdom. God’s law is perfect. You can trust it. You can bet your life on its clarity and purity. Many righteous people resonate with that idea. Submitting yourself to the dictates of law—whether the laws of the land or God’s laws or interior convictions—is a most uncomplicated way to live. It removes ambiguity and indecision from the picture because, in a sense. . .