The article, “These are the things we need to consider in the Reno Diocesan Synod,” makes an interesting point about the Ten Commandments, as translated directly from the Hebrew. The Prologue to the Ten Commandments states:
Moses summoned all Israel and told them, Hear, You who struggle with God, the customs, חֻקִּים and correct judicial precedents,מִּשְׁפָּטִים I proclaim in your hearing, this day, to learn them and guard to do them. The Personal Name cut a Social Contract with us at Horeb; not with our fathers did the Personal Name cut this Social Contract, but with us, all of us, alive, here, this day.
The article then goes on to discuss the difference between customs, correct judicial precedents and how they relate to our lives. Another interesting question comes to mind; “How does this relate to ecclesiology? Does this relate to ecclesiology? After all, it was Jewish people on that mountain; the synagogue was not even around yet.
The first thing we notice is that Moses did not receive the Ten Commandments for himself. Nor did he receive them for himself and his offspring. He received them for all the Hebrew People. “Hebrew,” is Hebrew for homeless. It refers to all people who search for a homeland, a nation, to be a people born together, by heritage if not by proximity of birth or blood. More specifically, it refers to the twelve tribes of Israel, those who struggle with God, who struggle to understand God.
Judges 12 tells an interesting tale, the Shibboleth Incident. This story is important for understanding ecclesiology, and for that matter, understanding the correct pronunciation of Hebrew, because it relates how the tribe of Ephraim, as early as the judges, could be distinguished because they had no “SH” sound in their dialect. This means the tribes could distinguish themselves; they were different one from another. It also means there was not one correct pronunciation of Hebrew. Different tribes at different times had different correct ways to pronounce the terms.
What met at Mt. Sinai was not one tribe, but twelve. Cardinal Walter Kasper speaks of his perichoretic formula. This comes from χορεύω, which means to dance. Exodus 32:19 presents the penchant of the Jewish people for merriment and dance. On a more positive side, Karl Rahner speaks of the remnant, as in the remnant of the Jewish people who returned from Babylonian exile, the synagogue, which formed during the Babylonian exile, and the altar community.
As Americans, we need to think in terms of E Pluribus Unum. We might also think of a candle. Just as the flames of twelve candles dance around each other to form one large flame above the candles, the twelve tribes, who often fought one another, came to Mt. Sinai to form one large flame, one large community at Sinai. They never gave up being the twelve tribes; they never gave up being authentic about who they were, but still they joined together to become one large community, Israel.
Likewise, as Americans we are E Pluribus Unum; from the many, one. We never cease to be German, Jewish, Anglo-Saxon, Hispanic, Haitian, and more. We never cease being baby boomers, the WWII generation, or generation X. Still we are all Americans. Likewise, as Catholics, we join the grand dance as the altar community.
Exodus 20-32 presents us with an imperfect community of twelve discernible ethnic groups with different customs and ways of speaking their words. Karl Rahner also speaks of the altar community, and at Mt. Sinai, with all of their difference, and with all of their faults, they still manage to say, if only for a moment, “All of this we will do.” Likewise, as Christians, we are not one community.
As a Christian community, “We are Parthians, Medes, and Elamites, inhabitants of Mesopotamia, Judea and Cappadocia, Pontus and Asia, Phrygia and Pamphylia, Egypt and the districts of Libya near Cyrene, as well as travelers from Rome, both Jews and converts to Judaism, Cretans and Arabs, yet we hear them speaking in our own tongues of the mighty acts of God.” Acts 2:9-11
In the twenty-first century, we are all German and Jew, Irish and Ango-Saxon, Polish and Russian, Hispanic and Native American. If we come to Mt. Sinai as anything else, we come to Mt. Sinai as inauthentic. We lived through World War II, as German and as Jew. We came through Vietnam as the soldier who served and as the student who served by protesting. We came through the Iraq wars as the soldiers who served, and as the students who protested.
We remember what it was like when the only means of electronic communication in the home were the radio and the telephone. We remember when TV was the next big thing. We remember when color TV was the next big thing. We remember when MTV was the next big thing. We remember when stereo was in, and the transistor.
We remember when computers small enough to do our math homework filled a room. We remember when they talked about a mouse meant that nasty thing in the trap in the kitchen. Some of us can remember none of these things. Some can remember only some. We are all of these people. We are all different, and we are all one.
We all dance around the altar community of Sinai. If we come to Sinai pretending to be those who remember, or do not remember these things, we come to Mt. Sinai inauthentic. We come to Mt. Sinai, just as we are, without one plea.
We come to Mt. Sinai, the shattered remnant of ex-slaves from the Deep South, from Egypt, from Ireland, from the wars of 19th century Europe, from 20th century Europe, from the poverty of Latin America, Africa, and Asia. We come to the synagogue, or the syn-with, Ago, leading, leading together, coming together, to participate in the great dance, perichoreo, χορεύω of life in the spirit of God. We come with our ethnic heritage and our WWII heritage, our boomer heritage and generation X heritage. We come to God as Americans, and most important as human beings.