Christianity and the Problem of Human ViolenceChristianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 52: The Third, Fourth, and Fifth Commandments
from Guide to Kingdom Living

True Christian living requires us to live according to Kingdom standards which bring Heaven to earth.

Christianity and the Problem of Human Violence: Part 52: The Third, Fourth, and Fifth Commandments

By Stephen R. Kaufman, M.D.

The Third Commandment prohibits taking the Lord’s name in vain. I think the reason for this is that we must respect God, as a child respects a parent. As I will discuss in a later essay, Jesus taught that we must be as children to enter the Kingdom of God. If we took the Lord’s name in vain, we would not be showing the respect and deference due a parent. If we don’t abide by God’s law, then we will be left to establish the law among ourselves. This is problematic, because we are mired in mimetic rivalries, and our laws (if uninspired by an ideal that points to God) will tend to exacerbate rather than relieve these rivalries. In other words, laws without a notion of divine goodness and righteousness tend to become mere tools for oppression and abuse as people act out their mimetic rivalries and resentments.

Regarding the Fourth Commandment, to keep the Sabbath holy, I speculate that it serves several functions. It reminds people of God’s creativity and goodness. Also, the Sabbath has historically been a time of prayer, reflection, and study, which would normally be overlooked if there were no injunction to put aside the many other demands of daily life. Some people wish for more hours to the day, but I strongly suspect that they would only fill the time with more activities and responsibilities and find themselves as time-stressed as they are with a 24-hour day. The only way we might relax and learn from study and reflection is if we were ordered to do so, and this is the value of the Sabbath rest.

Nonetheless, Jesus healed on the Sabbath, and for this “the Jews” criticized him (John 5:5-16). Jesus answered, “My Father is working still, and I am working.” (5:17) I regard this as demonstrating that, while the Sabbath is reserved for prayer and reflection, work that helps heal a broken world, that fulfills God’s ongoing creativity towards a world of love and peace, remains permitted. Jesus said, “Think not that I have come to abolish the law and the prophets; I have come not to abolish them but to fulfill them.” (Mt 5:17)

Mimetic theory offers insights into the value of the Fifth Commandment, to honor one’s parents. First, such respect parallels our call to honor God, the ultimate creator. Second, our most intense rivalries often take place within the family, and honoring one’s parents helps to reduce potentially explosive conflicts. As children grow, there is increasing rivalry with parents for power and control. Also, parents generally try to reduce conflict among siblings, and honoring parents encourages children to respect the parents’ desire for familial peace.

How might one reconcile the commandment to honor one’s parents with Jesus telling a disciple to not bury his father, “Follow me, and leave the dead to bury their own dead.” (Mt 8:22; [see Luke 9:57-62])? This surely shocked many people, because the Jewish community expected a loyal son to bury his parents. What Jesus was trying to show, I think, is that our principal responsibility is to honor one’s living parents, not their lifeless bodies. Let those who are spiritually dead, who have nothing better to do, bury the dead. Those spiritually alive in Christ have more important work to do in their service to God.*

Next week, we will explore Commandments 6-10 from the perspective of mimetic theory and the scapegoating mechanism.

* I wish to thank Rev. Frank Hoffman for helpful comments about this passage.

Go on to: Part 53: The Sixth Commandment
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