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Fr. Benz: The 11th Commandment

Homily by Fr. Jim Benz, pastor, St. Cletus Parish, 22nd Sunday in Ordinary Time (August 30, 2015)

It’s amazing nowadays how quickly technology changes. One doesn’t have to be too old to know what this is: it’s a VHS video cassette, and it’s how people used to watch videos in their homes before the advent of DVDs and DVRs. This one happens to the Disney classic Dumbo. Nowadays people are getting rid of their VCRs in favor of DVD players. Those video cassettes worked fine, but, after you watched that video, as a courtesy, you were supposed to rewind the cassette or the person coming after you would have to do it—a rather frustrating experience when all you wanted to do was to watch that video. Some years ago, I remember reading a Mother Goose and Grimm comic strip, drawn by St. Louis native Mike Peters, in the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. It showed the Old Testament patriarch Moses carrying the Ten Commandments, but behind him on the ground was a commandment that he had dropped and broken, so Moses says, “Well, I guess we’ll just have to go with these ten,” and that 11th Commandment? You guessed it: “Thou shalt rewind all video cassettes.” Former President Ronald Reagan was once quoted as saying that the Eleventh Commandment was “Thou shalt not speak ill of any fellow Republican.” A writer by the name of George McBob once wrote that “The Eleventh Commandment (the most important one) is: Thou shalt not get caught.”

But it’s not just former President Reagan or writer George McBob or the cartoonist Mike Peters, the cartoonist who writes “Mother Goose and Grimm,” who have Eleventh Commandments; we all do, we all have them and often believe in them more strongly and with greater feeling than we do the other Ten. It might be “Thou shalt always serve hot food hot,” or “Thou shalt always tip the waiter 20%,”or “Thou shalt never end a sentence with a preposition,” or “Thou shalt repay an eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth for any offense,” or “Thou shalt not speak to Mom or Grandma when she is watching her favorite TV program like Jeopardy.” Even such things as expecting the Cardinals or the Rams or the Blues to win every game can become an Eleventh Commandment, and, if they don’t win every game, we get upset. That’s really Jesus’ point when he says in today’s Gospel: “You disregard God’s commandment but cling to human tradition.”

In commenting on this Gospel passage, particularly because of St. Mark’s words about the Jews washing their dishes, one writer I read earlier this week asked the question: “Which more important, cleaning the dishes or cleaning our hearts?” That question is especially important because of all those Eleventh Commandments we all have.

During the Preparation of the Gifts at Mass, the priest washes his hands. Rarely will you hear them because they are meant to be his own personal prayer, but he prays a line from the Old Testament Book of Psalms, Psalm 51, verse 2, which goes like this: “Wash me, O Lord, from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.”

It seems to me that that prayer, that quote from verse 2 of Psalm 51, needs to be our prayer at every moment of every day:  “Wash me, O Lord, from my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin” so that our hands and our hearts and our minds might be free enough to cling to what is really most important, Jesus’ own Eleventh Commandment: “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength, and love your neighbor as yourself.