The 8th Commandment as Lenten Discipline

You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor.
(8th Commandment)

As we move through this 500th year since the beginning of the Reformation, many of us are renewing our acquaintance with various writings and resources from and about that medieval movement that changed the church and impacted the world. A great place to begin is with Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. A great time to begin is the season of Lent.
Local faith communities might shape Wednesday worship around sections of the catechism or add a brief time for exploration and discussion of the catechism before or after worship. Families could briefly read and discuss parts of it once or twice a week before saying grace at dinner. Individuals might slowly read through, meditate on, and journal about the catechism in devotional time two or three times a week.
However we engage this important booklet, it won’t take long to realize that its content is not just for memorization by kids or catechism classes and it’s wisdom is as relevant today as it was the day Luther wrote it five centuries ago. Take his reflection on the eighth commandment, for example:

What does this mean? We are to fear and love God, so that we do not tell lies about our neighbors, betray or slander them, or destroy their reputations. Instead we are to come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.

If there was ever a time and place when this understanding of that commandment has been needed it’s here and now, in this country, in social media and public discourse, and in our churches. Scan through your Twitter or Facebook feed. Listen to ten minutes of a news program. Reflect back on your own conversations over the last week. How many lies or unverifiable false claims have been made about others? How many times has someone been betrayed or slandered or their reputation sullied in some way?
The answer? Too many. Too much of our conversation (and thinking) about others these days blatantly breaks the eighth commandment. It’s one thing to disagree, even vehemently, or to not understand another person’s choices. But, it is another thing altogether to use the disagreement or lack of understanding as an opportunity to lie about, betray, slander, or seek to destroy the reputation of a fellow human being created in the image of God.
Every time we catch ourselves in or supporting this sort of sinful behavior it’s time to repent, trust the forgiveness offered in Christ crucified and risen, and to lean into and offer to others the new and abundant life of Jesus by taking every opportunity to instead “come to their defense, speak well of them, and interpret everything they do in the best possible light.”
Now there’s a Lenten discipline that, empowered by the Spirit and by God’s grace, will not only change us, but will transform our churches, our communities, our country, our world.

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Table Scraps by William O. Gafkjen is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.