Saturday, February 24, 2024

"You Have Heard It Said..." The New Way of Living

Jesus, because He is taking on the Pharisees' interpretation of the Law, and thus the burden it creates, acknowledges what the people already know and then enhances it with Kingdom wisdom.

Remember, He is not seeking to abolish the Law, but to fulfill it.  How do you fulfill something?  You take something that has not yet begun, or is in process, and bring it to completion. You take the promise you made and make it real. 

So, why did Jesus take on the teachers of the Law, the gatekeepers of the Torah?  Let's look at what Paul  said about the Law:   

"Before the coming of this faith, we were held in custody under the law, locked up until the faith that was to come would be revealed. So the law was our guardian until Christ came that we might be justified by faith. Now that this faith has come, we are no longer under a guardian." (Gal. 3:23-25).

The Law kept the Jews apprised as to what would keep them as a unique people.  They had a special role to play in human history:

"Then Moses went up to God, and the Lord called to him from the mountain and said, “This is what you are to say to the descendants of Jacob and what you are to tell the people of Israel: ‘You yourselves have seen what I did to Egypt, and how I carried you on eagles’ wings and brought you to myself.  Now if you obey me fully and keep my covenant, then out of all nations you will be my treasured possession. Although the whole earth is mine, you will be for me a kingdom of priests and a holy nation.’ These are the words you are to speak to the Israelites.” (Ex. 19:3-6). 

So, in order to be a blessing to the world, they not only upheld the Law, the Law upheld them. 
Jesus is not arguing that the Law is no longer fundamental of essential to Jewish identity. He is saying, in this Kingdom, the Law has a deeper dimension that just what is stated. The Jews' role in the world had not changed--the blessing they brought would now be extended through Jesus to the Gentiles--but they had lost, because of their leaders, the essence of the Law.  

Jesus once was asked what was the most important commandment.  The question tucked away in that was:  How much of the Law must I obey and still be seen as a righteous person? 

Well, Moses first laid it out very clearly the most important part of the Law, beginning with the Shema, (God's declaration of His unique and holy status) was to be obedient with what He would reveal to Moses: 

"Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength. These commandments that I give you today are to be on your hearts. Impress them on your children. Talk about them when you sit at home and when you walk along the road, when you lie down and when you get up. Tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads. Write them on the doorframes of your houses and on your gates." (Deut. 6: 4-9). 

So, fast-forward to the question asked of Jesus:

"One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, 'Of all the commandments, which is the most important?' 

"The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.” 

“Well said, teacher,” the man replied. “You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbor as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices.”

When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, “You are not far from the kingdom of God.” And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions." (Mark 12:28-34)

Jesus is telling the man, that because he has grasped the essence of the Law, he is closer to the Kingdom than he realizes. 

Remember, Jesus has just said that the people who enter the Kingdom must have a righteousness that surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the Law. He is completing the Law by moving it past just basic obedience to where it is expressed as love. Jesus strikes deep by beginning with murder and enemies: 

“You have heard that it was said to the people long ago, ‘You shall not murder, and anyone who murders will be subject to judgment.’" (Matt. 5: 21)

Fair.  Everyone nods their head. 

We all know the Sixth Commandment, Jesus: "You shall not murder."  Why did you start with this one?

Because in the Kingdom of God, love for one another, and treating one another with respect is of the utmost importance.  The Kingdom is relational:  It is between you and God and between you and those around you. So, while not murdering someone is obvious because of the Law of Moses, the Kingdom has some nuances worth noting. 

"But I tell you that anyone who is angry with a brother or sister will be subject to judgment. Again, anyone who says to a brother or sister, ‘Raca,’ is answerable to the court. And anyone who says, ‘You fool!’ will be in danger of the fire of hell." (5:22)

Uh-oh. I am sure everyone, when Jesus quoted the Sixth Commandment, and added His commentary, then shook their heads and said: 

We are not murderers. Perish the thought!  That's all we need to worry about according to the Law.  But wait a minute, Jesus, we can't even get mad at someone? We can't call one another names? We cannot express our disgust at someone's stupidity?  Seriously?  But people are stupid and need to be told so, and here You are, telling us that hell awaits us if we are being honest with some dumb bunny?  What? There's more?  

“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift." (5:23-24)

Wow, Jesus. This Kingdom is a bit much. Are You saying that if we call someone a name, and then go our merry way to the Temple to make an offering, (because that is what we are supposed to do) You're saying we can't? But we are being obedient to the Law! You mean, we have to go and make amends? But the person deserved it! We rather not. It's not like we murdered them! That we understand. Wow.  You're not done yet? 

“Settle matters quickly with your adversary who is taking you to court. Do it while you are still together on the way, or your adversary may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you may be thrown into prison. Truly I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny." (5:25-26)

Wait a minute!  If we have a falling out with someone, we have to go and make amends? Go to their house, business or wherever to reconcile? But, Jesus!  If this thing goes to court, then it's way too serious to just go and make nice.  We are on our way to court, Jesus, court...lawsuits, judges, You know, that kind of thing. And we are to settle it on the way?  But we shouldn't have to!  It's my adversary who's in the wrong--but it's true, we could lose the suit and then lose it all. Hmmm...Couldn't hurt to extend the olive branch before we get there. So, let's get this straight.  Don't murder? Moses said it, and who are we to argue?  But calling our brother or sister a name, in effect, judging them harshly for their behavior or attitude, is tantamount to murder? 

There have been times, when we have been on the receiving end of such ill treatment from others, we wanted to go home and die. So, making up with the person does seem reasonable, especially if our anger starts building, we could end up like Cain--actually seeking out our brother to kill him.

The adversary thing is harder to swallow, but we must admit that if we are at the point of going to court, the issue at hand needs some serious simmering down and reevaluating.  On the road seems like a good place to start, given the enormity of what we are facing us once we enter into court. Makes sense.  You want us more aware of our relationship to each other. It looks as if this Kingdom is about building bridges that razing the town to the ground. 

This Kingdom has one very critical aspect to it:  You give up your right to be right. 

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