"You shall not bear false witness against your neighbor." Exodus 20:16 NRSV
Early in our married life, Janice's first job at Coastal Carolina College (now University), took us to live in Myrtle Beach. Our first apartment was a block from the ocean nestled in a residential neighborhood. Of the four apartments, I think we were the only people not connected with the large airforce base. Across the street from us lived Mabel, the neighborhood gossip. I believe her single source of entertainment was spying on the comings and goings of all the neighbors, freely sharing the information with you whether you were interested or not, and filling in any gaps of actual knowledge of events with musings of her design. You just knew that if she talked about others that way, you were also a prime target for her gossip. We probably have all had experiences with someone like Mabel.
The verse today is the ninth commandment given to Moses on Mount Sinai. There are two key ideas in this short commandment; 1.) accusing someone falsely, and 2.) the notion of neighbor.
"You shall not bear false witness"
Abraham and his descendants were selected by God to be representatives of a nation that acknowledged and obeyed the one true God. They were to live just and righteous lives. To fulfill this requirement, God gave them the law; the Ten Commandments plus the extended set of rules. At its most basic function, this commandment was to ensure that they dealt with each other justly, speaking only in truth. Unlike our neighbor Mabel, who embellished the facts to bend a story to her design, they were, "to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth."
"Against your neighbor"
Remember the story of the Good Samaritan in Luke 10? The young lawyer testing Jesus asked the question (v. 29), "who is my neighbor?" After relaying the parable, Jesus asks the question, "Which of these three, do you think, was a neighbor to the man who fell into the hands of the robbers?" Of course, the answer is the Samaritan, who was not the man's physical neighbor but a total stranger who cared for his fellow man.
Said another way, the commandment could read, "Act justly to everyone always!" Sadly, this continues to be an issue for our world today. The world has lost clarity of both what it means to act with justice, and what it means to be a neighbor. All too often, we have seen this commandment twisted into, "act justly to only those who look like me, act like me, and talk like me." As God's children, let us all shine as examples of the true meaning of this commandment.
Father God, we give you thanks for your commandments. We admit that too often, we fall short in showing justice to all our neighbors. We lament our actions, we ask for forgiveness for those times we have failed to obey your commands, and we ask for the help of the Holy Spirit to guide us. We desire to act justly towards all our neighbors and to tear down the walls of separation. In Christ Jesus, we pray. Amen
You may recognize this picture, it is from the iconic 1971 Coca-Cola commercial I'd Like To Teach The World To Sing (In Perfect Harmony)