Deuteronomy 5:1-19; Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16
Good morning. When I was in college, I was a member of a fraternity. One of my fraternity brothers was a guy named Frankie. Frankie was this little Italian guy from Queens and he was quite a character. One of Frankie’s best qualities is that he really, really likes people. That doesn’t mean that he won’t bust your chops from time to time, but once you know him, it’s easy to tell that Frankie likes you—or even loves you.
Frankie can connect with just about anyone, and for the most part, that’s a great thing. Guys like that helped to hold the house together in times of stress. But occasionally, Frankie’s ability to connect was something of a double-edged sword.
Every fall the incoming freshmen had the opportunity to check out all the fraternities on campus. This period was called rush, and at the end of the fraternity rush period, each house would extend invitations to the guys that they thought were a good fit for that fraternity. This is called the bid meeting—a bid is a formal invitation to join or pledge a fraternity.
Now remember, Frankie seemed to like everyone he met. That meant that at a bid meeting, he would argue that we should give a bid to just about every freshman who walked into our house, even if no one else had met a person, Frankie would say, “He’s a good guy.”
Frankie wasn’t the only person who would describe people that way, and he could usually explain why he thought someone was a “good guy.” But many of our other brothers were not as good at defining what made someone a “good guy.” It got to the point where we actually banned the words “good guy” from our bid meetings because the phrase was utterly useless.
I mean, everyone has a different definition of the word, good. Sometimes I wish we could ban the words “good person” from church! Instead of something vague and subjective, tell me something that invites a deeper conversation:
· Dorothy is so kind.
· Chris is so diligent and dedicated.
· Barbara is so dependable.
· Susan is such a faithful steward.
· Paul is so generous.
· Sam is so enthusiastic.
Those descriptions paint clearer pictures, but if I’m still not getting it, I can ask you to tell me a story about Dorothy’s kindness, or all the ways in which we depend on Barbara. Every kid in the youth group can tell you how enthusiastic Sam is. The only question you might have is, which Susan am I talking about?
I think there’s some kind of connection between our vague notions of what makes a “good person” and our shallow understanding of the Ten Commandments, in which we look at the commandments as a checklist of behaviors. In that shallow understanding, a “good person” is someone who goes to church, acts friendly, and doesn’t commit murder, adultery, or theft. That’s a pretty low bar. By that definition, most of us qualify as good people.
But honestly, there aren’t many voices calling out for more murder, theft, or adultery in our society. Nor did anyone in ancient Israel stand up and shout that murder, theft, or adultery were good things. Still, a little context is useful.
Remember, in ancient Israel, property was life. These were rules for the health and welfare of the entire community. Also, this was an honor culture. If I do something that harms you, you are compelled to seek vengeance against me.
If I steal some of your sheep or oxen, or worse, some of your land, then I inhibit your ability to provide for your family. If I did that to one of yo