When Jesus Invented a New Commandment

testament closeup

Copyright JoelK75

Mark 10:17-31/Proper 23B/Pentecost 20

“You know the commandments:
‘You shall not murder; 
You shall not commit adultery;
You shall not steal;  
You shall not bear false witness;
You shall not defraud; 
Honor your father and mother.”

One of the first things many young Christians learn to recite is the 10 Commandments. My wife, in fact, can still sing the ditty her Sunday School teachers used to help her memorize them.

Ever notice, though, that Jesus kind of rewrites the 10 Commanment here? One of the commands Jesus recites wasn’t actually handed down on Mt. Sinai. Kind of odd, given that Jesus was a Jewish rabbi and all. Surely, Jesus knew the Decalogue.

Do not defraud. It sticks out like a leprous thumb. It is meant to be noticed. It signals the disease in the man seeking the answer to ensuring eternal life.

The term Jesus uses doesn’t simply mean to extort money. Rather, it refers to the intentional holding back of wages for labor. It means not paying workers in full, or perhaps, fraudulently underpaying workers in ways that kept the workers poor.

And it just so happens that the man asks the question is a wealthy landowner, likely with a vast network of farms. Considering the economic model of the time, which regularly relied on tenant farming and could not have survived without an impoverished class to work the fields, it seems unlikely that the landowner could have amassed such wealth  without  defrauding his workers.

Perhaps Jesus adds the erroneous commandment to the Decalogue to see if the landowner will own up to his moral failures, to decide whether he can even see the error of his own ways. And when the landowner cannot – he has kept every single commandment since he was a small boy! – Jesus asks him to amputate the cancer that is slowly consuming him and eroding his conscience.  If his hand causes him to sin, cut it off, as the saying goes.

You see, his wealth hadn’t just defrauded others. It had defrauded him, too.

Like the man who sold everything to purchase the one, priceless pearl, Jesus tells him to sell everything – his home, his lands and farms – and, then, to come and follow. The selling of possessions isn’t part of the following, noticeably. It is what must happen to clear the way for following. It is the thing blinding the man to himself and to the cries of the people he has inadvertently made poor.

O God, I confess that the way I live defrauds people around the world. The food I ate, picked by underpaid hands. The clothes I wear, sewn with the stitches of sweatshop wages.  Forgive me for using the churn of daily life to provide a perfect cover for defrauding others. Help me to seek ways to live justly, even if it is inconvenient. Help me to see the ways in which I deceive myself so that I might stay comfortable.

___

Click here for another take on this week’s Lectionary: The Rich Young Rulers of America and the Good News that Makes Us Sad.


About David R. Henson

David Henson received his Master of Arts from Graduate Theological Union in Berkeley, California, after receiving a Lilly Grant for religious education for journalists. He ordained in the Episcopal Church as a priest. He is a father of two young sons and the husband of a medical school student.

  • Ntorbett

    Yes, exactly! And living in the “first world,” we are all in the rich young man’s place. Thank you for this!

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson David R. Henson

      If you haven’t read the link at the bottom, I think you’d love that. Especially since it starts: “I am the rich young ruler.” :)

    • http://patheos.com/blogs/davidhenson David R. Henson

      If you haven’t read the link at the bottom, I think you’d love that. Especially since it starts: “I am the rich young ruler.” :)

  • http://www.facebook.com/ronald.degrove Ronald L DeGrove

    I am well versed in the Bible and especially the Gospels. I have used this passage many times in teaching and writing about Christian values and ethics. I am ashamed to say I had never made the connection to the “New Commandment”, thank you for pointing this out to me.

  • kalim

    I want to share this sentences From Risalei Nur collection by Said Nursi

    Be certain of this, that the highest aim of creation and its most important result are belief in God. The most exalted rank in humanity and its highest degree are the knowledge of God contained within belief in God. The most radiant happiness and sweetest bounty for jinn and human beings are the love of God contained within the knowledge of God. And the purest joy for the human spirit and the sheerest delight for man’s heart are the rapture of the spirit contained within the love of God. Indeed, all true happiness, pure joy, sweet bounties, and untroubled pleasure lie in knowledge of God and love of God; they cannot exist without them.
    One who knows and loves God Almighty is potentially able to receive endless bounties, happiness, lights, and mysteries. While one who does not truly know and love him is afflicted spiritually and materially by endless misery, pain, and fears. Even if such an impotent and miserable person owned the whole world, it would be worth nothing for him, for it would seem to him that he was living a fruitless life among the vagrant human race in a wretched world without owner or protector. Everyone may understand just how wretched and bewildered is man among the vagrant human race in this bewildering fleeting world if he does not know his Owner, if he does not discover his Master. But if he does discover and know Him, he will seek refuge in His mercy and will rely on His power. The desolate world will turn into a place of recreation and pleasure, it will become a place of trade for the hereafter.

  • Suzyandrews

    Not being a Greek scholar, I hadn’t picked up the definition of defraud – I thought it meant ‘Do not steal’ – and not giving what is owed is stealing, isn’t it?

  • Nvr4geturtowel

    Jesus was truly the first social activist!

    He was for the common man– the man facing most problems that never cross the minds of the higher class.

    And what’s strange, is there’s a lot of ties between the sentiments of today and the historical sentiments.

    It reminds me of this video I recently came across– it’s a cute little song about how Jesus and his followers actually Occupy Jerusalem.
    Anyways, here it is: http://youtu.be/a6akkb_afqs
    Which, it has a point.

  • Joe

    I’m sorry to comment on this old post, but it is touching on something I’ve been thinking about for a while. For example, in church yesterday I was totally distracted throughout the service by one of the first things that was said: a prayer that we should honour God. But what does it mean to ‘honour God’? Is it even possible to honour God whilst living lives which are built on unfairness, oppression and greed?

    It seems to me that there are two answers: first, that no, it is not possible to honour God in our situation and hence all of our religion is talking to ourselves. That Christianity is for the weak, the forgotten and the oppressed and that unless we are part of those groups, we are part of the problem and therefore opposed wholeheartedly to the works of God that we see expressed in Jesus. And that in our wealth we can never be united to God, can never honour him.

    Second though, is a less ‘theological’ but more practical answer: that to be placed in a position of such wealth and beauty and knowledge and to be too po-faced to take full advantage of them is to spit in the eye of the God of good-things.

    It strikes me that even those of us who are inclined to believe that the Christ message was more about the former than the latter are nonetheless most likely to slip into the latter – and then to somehow create a theology that indicates our good fortune is from God (usually using terms of blessing).

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