Friday, April 5, 2024

The Master's Class

 I just moved!  That is why my blog has gone eerily silent.  But I am back, sitting in my new "office" (home sweet home!) with a view of some lovely trees and a blue sky.  God is good!

We are exploring the Kingdom of God life.  Just as Moses came down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments to inaugurate an new way of life to those former slaves of Egypt, so too does the new Moses, Jesus, sit on a mountainside and present a new way of living and thinking about God and each other. 

Jesus fulfills the Law by enriching it with a more subtle and mercy-driven approach.  The Mosaic law is not devoid of mercy; quite the contrary.  But by Jesus' day, minutiae had triumphed over mercy, condemnation over community and judgement over justice.  The Lord God of Israel had become distant, eyeing every misstep of His children with impending wrath; Jesus was seeking to recapture the image of God and refashion it to not just the God of our fathers, but God the Father.

Jesus was presenting a foundation of love.  So, obviously, murder is not allowed but neither is hate. Adultery is not allowed, but neither is lust.  Divorce is not allowed except for adultery and breaking an oath is not allowed but neither is using sacred things to underscore one's word.  Yes or no is good enough.


Jesus continues with His emphasis on love. The Mosaic law allowed for many kinds of recompense for wrongs done to a person by another person.  Without that, the Israelites would have descended into chaos, and would have disappeared in the desert, victims of their own violence towards one another. They needed divine structure to contain, guide and inform them on how to live.  Their Egyptian  taskmasters had given them structure alright, but one predicated on violence and control.

The Mosaic law recast what a society predicated on the one true God looked like: free from fear, justice infused with mercy and above all, a love for God that translated into right action. 

But in every society, there are those who violate the law, scorn ethics and hold others in contempt.

What do we with these folks?

In Exodus 21:22-27, God instructs the people as to what to do in various injury cases:

1.  If someone deals a deliberate fatal blow to someone, the offender will be put to death. If someone deals an unintentional fatal blow to someone, the offender will be able to seek sanctuary in a distant place.  

2.  If someone attacks or curses their parents, the offender will be put to death. 

3.  If someone hurts someone so severely that the victim must take to their bed, the offender is liable for the victim's time lost due to their injury. 

4.  If someone beats their slaves to death, their own death will result. 

5.  If a pregnant woman is hurt during a quarrel between two people, (You can picture two men going at it, one of the wives steps in to stop the quarrel and she is injured as well) the husband has the right to demand compensation if the woman gives birth before the baby is due.

But, and this is the important part to our discussion: "But if there is serious injury, you are to take life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot, burn for burn, wound for wound, bruise for bruise." (Ex. 21:23-25)

Even slaves fall under this provision: 

"An owner who hits a male or female slave in the eye and destroys it must let the slave go free to compensate for the eye. And an owner who knocks out the tooth of a male or female slave must let the slave go free to compensate for the tooth." (Ex. 21:26-27)

Slaves are not exempt from harsh treatment.  It would be so easy for the children of Israel to forget they were once slaves, and because of the "role models" they had, act like taskmasters themselves.  

Slavery is an abhorrent practice, but in ancient times, slavery was a common practice.  Slavery was an alternative to putting captives from wars and raiding to death; in the nascent nation of Israel, slaves were to have a measure of protection. 

So, in summary, the punishment must fit the crime.

We hold to the same idea:  We don't execute people for stealing cars or robbing banks. We don't allow murderers to go unpunished, and we seek to have the offender compensate the victim.  The law is not perfect for it is written by imperfect people, but God shows us, that in our fallen world, justice matters and law must uphold morality. Evil must not go unpunished.

Jesus is addressing a common reaction people have to injustice: retaliation. And why not?  If you kill my son, I should be able to come over and hurt your family.  If you run over my dog, I will come over and shoot yours.  If you sleep with my wife, I will seek to catch you in the act and hurt you or maybe even kill you.  Anger, hurt and personal justice drives us to take the law into our own hands and mete out our form of justice. Retaliation is a natural response to grievous wrongs. 

Jesus shows us, that in this Kingdom, there is a way to redeem the grievance, the wrong, the hurt:

"You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you." (Matt. 5:38-42)

OK, Rabbi Jesus, that is a bridge too far.  My neighbor is a bit easier to forgive, because, well, after all, I have to live next door to him.  I must admit, I would want him to be fair to me if I did someone wrong to him.  I guess we want to hand out justice when we are wronged, but we desire mercy when we wrong someone. 

If I slapped someone, I would want them to not retaliate and hit me back. Their restraint would speak mightily of their character.

If I wanted to sue someone, and they handed me more than I was demanding, I would be stunned and then touched by their willingness to end the feud with generosity. 

If I demanded that someone come with me, and they went above and beyond my request, I would be astounded and view them in a whole new and rather positive light. 

I want to have a generous spirit, and sometimes if I can bring a bit of love to someone who needs it, the blessing goes both ways--to me and the person I am helping.

But Rabbi!  What about the ROMANS?  Disgusting, idol-worshipping, pagan and violent men who treat us like dogs? 

They do force us to do things for them, and carry their stuff for them.  An extra mile, you say?  I hate doing it for just one mile.

This Kingdom of God teaching seems to want us to move beyond what we are entitled to by Mosaic law, and reach out to those who do not know the one true God except by how we act. If we withdraw and sneer at them, how can we honor what you told Abraham?  How can we be a blessing to all nations if we isolate ourselves from the nations that need to know Him?

Oh, Rabbi.  The Romans. Really?

Jesus never asked the people to do something He wouldn't do.  

Fast forward to a few years from now:  Jesus will teach the Master's class on how to apply these teachings.  Stand with me at the foot of the cross on Good Friday: "When the centurion and those with him who were guarding Jesus saw the earthquake and all that had happened, they were terrified, and exclaimed, 'Surely he was the Son of God!'" (Matt. 27:54)

Yes, even the Romans could be moved by Jesus.

The Kingdom of God seeks instruct those who will carry the Word to and be a blessing to all nations.   Why? They need God the most: "How, then, can they call on the one they have not believed in? And how can they believe in the one of whom they have not heard? And how can they hear without someone preaching to them?" (Rom. 10:14)

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