Commandments of liberation

In the desert, God gives Moses ten commandments to help form the “unruly group of runaway slaves” into a nation, into God’s people.

How often do we look on these as restrictions on our freedom. How often do we chafe when we hear: “Thou shalt not…” How often do we miss the meaning of the ten commandments.

In the 1990s I taught a course on Religious Ethics at Iowa State University. I had recently read Carlos Mesters’ Hacemos Camino al Andar: Reflexiones sobre los Diez Mandamientos. Mesters does not present the commandments as restrictions but as the way to freedom:

The Ten Commandments are the message, the tool, which God handed over to a liberated people in order that they could continue the march toward complete freedom and could conquer the land that belonged to them. Freedom is not achieved in a day. It is a long process, a hard struggle.

That seems so strange to those of us raised on the idea of individual freedom, but I think Mesters is right. The commandments offer us a way to live together as a free people – free from slavery, from oppression, from violence.

But it’s even more than that.

Jesuit Father John Kavanaugh, in his commentary on today’s readings in The Word Encountered, sees the commandments as keys to our real truth:

Each of the commandments … is not some external and irrational fiat from an alien God. Rather, each is an expression of the truth God has made in us. If we worship idols or worship our work, if we covet person or property, if we dishonor those who have given us life, we not only reject the law of God, we destroy what we are. For the duty imposed on us by God … is the duty to be true to what we are—limited but loved creatures. (Emphasis mine.)

How freeing it can be if we would use the ten commandments in this way – not as tools to put down others or ourselves, but as ways to open us to the freedom and love God wants for us.

Interestingly, the title of Mesters’ book is a Spanish proverb that can be translated “We make our way by walking.”

When we walk in the light of the commandments, the way becomes clearer – and God helps clear away all that keeps us from being the people God wants us to be.

What a liberating way to read and live the commandments.


The phrase “unruly group of runaway slaves” is found in Alice Camille’s commentary on today’s readings in Give Us This Day.


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