Melvin Kaminsky was born in Brooklyn, N.Y., on June 28, 1926. He is an American filmmaker, actor, comedian and even a composer. He began his career writing with comic legend Carl Reiner on the early TV variety show "Your Show of Shows." Together with Buck Henry, he wrote much of the material for the hit television series "Get Smart." In 2001, after previously winning an Emmy, a Grammy and an Oscar, he joined a small list of EGOT winners when he received a Tony Award for "The Producers." You may know him better by his stage name, Mel Brooks.
One of the funniest bits in any of his movies is a scene from the 1981 film "A History of the World: Part 1" in which Brooks, adorned to portray the Law-giver Moses, descends Mount Sinai carrying three tablets.
“All pay heed!” cries Mel Brooks. “The Lord has given unto you these Fifteen …”
The three tablets are on screen for only seconds. Brooks promptly drops one tablet that shatters into a myriad of pieces. “… these Ten Commandments!”
It is a classic movie moment. For years people wondered if Brooks’ props actually contained commands. Thanks to the technology of freeze frames, we know there were real commandments written in Hebrew on the third stone. One of them said “Thou shalt not laugh” and the last one said “Thou shalt not break.”
These Ten Commandments – how do you read them?
The Ten Commandments appear twice in the Hebrew Bible, in the books of Exodus and Deuteronomy. Interestingly they are never called the Ten Commandments in Scripture. And the number is many more than 10. The Jewish tradition holds that 613 commandments were applicable for God’s people. According to the Talmud, the numerical value of the “Torah” is 611. Combining that with the two commandments that the people heard directly from God, the number rests at 613. According to a standard study on the Torah, the commands contain 77 positive commands and 194 negative prohibitions.
When a part of the command was vague enough to allow for interpretation, people would ask one another for an answer to the application of the command. “You know the fourth commandment. How do you read it?” The phrase "How do you read it?" came to mean the search for the way to observe the commandment or interpret the passage in everyday life.
When Scripture was read in the synagogue or Temple courts, it was expected for the reader to offer an explanation. “The Scripture says to offer a tenth of my income. I calculate the tenth off of my income before taxes taken by the government. This demonstrates to God that I value Him before the government. This is how I read the Scripture.”
How do you read the Scripture? When you aren’t sure how to read it, you probably turn to someone who has studied the Scripture, to someone whose knowledge and opinion you respect. You listen to sermons from the preacher at your church to hear how he reads the Scripture. You read a commentary or book from a trusted student of the Bible. You listen to the host of a radio broadcast or you watch a speaker on a video podcast.
In Jesus’ day, people turned to rabbis and other religious leaders to help them “read the Scripture.” Many turned to the Pharisees or Sadducees for their interpretation of the Scripture. As Jesus’ ministry progressed, more were turning to Him for their answers.
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put Him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” 26 Jesus said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it” (Luke 10:25-26 ESV)?
The lawyer may not have had the best of motives. Luke shares the lawyer stood up to put Jesus to the test. But in the outcome of the story, it does not appear that Jesus approaches the “test” as given from an antagonistic vantage point.
The truth is we all wrestle with this problem every day of our lives. “What do I have to do to inherit eternal life?” Deep down we understand that we don’t always keep the Law. The real rendition of what we are asking haunts us. “What MORE do I have to do to inherit eternal life?”
Keep the commandments. Isn’t that how you read it?
And the lawyer answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” 28 And Jesus said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live” (Luke 10:27-28 ESV).
The purpose of the Law was not to get the Jewish believer to try harder and strive for perfection. It wasn’t like they were almost there and could stretch a little more to make it. The Jewish Law was to help them see without God’s grace they would miserably fail the test of keeping the Law.
“And who is my neighbor?” the lawyer asked, almost trying to change the subject. Jesus continues and shares the familiar parable of the Good Samaritan, masterfully weaving the parable into the Jewish Shema. Jesus makes the point that the neighbor is the one we least expect to be a neighbor. The neighbor is “the other” – the one least like us, the one most despised, the one most feared.
Jesus also was shrewd and pointed in who He identified within the story. The man beaten was passed by a Levite and a priest. The gentleman listening to the parable was a lawyer – a Scribe, another of the sects of Judaism.
Who proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers? How do you read it?
Here are your Scripture readings for the coming week, starting on Monday.
Monday: Luke 10:26
Tuesday: Luke 4:16-19
Wednesday: 1 Timothy 3:16
Thursday: 1 Timothy 4:13
Friday: Hebrews 6:13
Weekend: Psalm 121
— Tom May is a freelance writer who has held paid and volunteer ministry positions at several churches in the tri-state area. Reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.