Wednesday, July 1, 2015

Getting Snarky with Scriptures (A Rant)

There have been many tweets and Facebook updates over the past few days that have sought to remind us all that no matter what the government or the Supreme Court says, God's law as found in the scriptures is perfect and unchanging. We have been reminded that we humans are not allowed to pick and choose which laws to follow, we just have to obey. And somewhere, I have no doubt, there was a thrice-divorced man lying in bed with his friend's wife, tired after a long day of eating shellfish and pork and mowing his lawn on the Sabbath while failing to burn a sacrificial lamb as an offering to the LORD lamenting that this country is going to hell in a handbasket because of same sex marriages. You want to get into a game of Let's Quote Leviticus? Bring it on, my friends!

The Pharisees- you know, those guys Jesus referred to as "a brood of vipers"- loved them some Leviticus. The law was everything, and they were constantly trying to trip Jesus up on the subject. One day they laid an especially tricky trap for him, asking him this loaded question: "Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the law?" (Matthew 22:36) They knew that no matter which of the Levitical laws he chose, it would open him up to doubt and scrutiny from the Jewish crowd that was following him. They could expose him as a fraud and a false prophet. Jesus was was going down! But instead of trapping him, the Pharisees had given him an unexpected opening. His answer to their trick question changed EVERYTHING- not just for the listening crowd, not just for the Pharisees, and not just for the disciples- but for everyone of US- because it put the law into a whole new language. And the language was LOVE. "Love the LORD your God with all your heart and all your soul and all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the law and the prophets hang on these two commandments. (Matthew 22:37-40)."

Jesus was not saying anything new here. The "Love God" section comes from Deuteronomy and the "love your neighbor" verse can be found in Leviticus. As the Messiah himself said he didn't come to refute the law, he came to fulfill it. Putting these two verses together and calling it the greatest commandment gave us a new filter through which to view God's laws. The laws had been given to God's chosen people as a way to keep them in relationship with the LORD, and they had failed miserably. The very presence of Jesus on earth was proof that God knew there needed to be a new way. The love of God whose name is Jesus was and is that new way. And when asked what was most important in life, Jesus skipped over the opportunity to list 600 things we shouldn't do. He passed on telling us which rituals were most important to God. He left out trying to scare the hell out of us. He simply said that loving God was the most important thing. That, in and of itself, wouldn't have been too earth shaking. But when he said "and the second is LIKE it..." WOW! Loving your neighbor is just as important as loving God. That's what the law is all about!  And then just to really kick the Pharisees while they were down, he defined "neighbor" by telling the parable of The Good Samaritan. If the hated Samaritans were their neighbors, and the greatest commandment said to love their neighbors- well HOLY CRAP! We're supposed to love everyone? Everyone? Even that jerk Ted who borrowed my Star Wars movies and never brought them back? Seriously? This was a game changer. And it still is.

Here's the deal. There are sins, and we are all sinners. There are laws, both biblical and societal, that we seek to obey. What the Pharisees- both historical and modern day- miss so often is that the law was always intended to be about what is in our hearts and minds and souls. The laws were given to connect us- as individuals- with God. It was never intended to be a way to judge the people who believe or sin differently than we do. It's about our own faith and our own sins; about the log in our own eye and not the speck in another's. So if we are going to be cherry-picking laws from Leviticus to shape our modern Christianity we need to proceed with great caution. Divorce is spoken of often in scripture, and it is forbidden. But we let that slide. Eating certain foods, like the spicy steamed shrimp I feasted on at Joe's Crab Shack last Saturday night, is forbidden. Barbeque platters at Stamey's in Greensboro are forbidden. But we let the food law violations pass by unnoticed. We shatter countless other laws (I'm guessing most of you don't have tassels on your robes) on a regular basis without even noticing- or sometimes without even knowing. We pick and we choose and we look like gigantic hypocrites. Yes, we should seek to be keepers of God's law as it was fulfilled in the coming of the Messiah. But first of all, last of all and most of all, we need to be keepers of the greatest law. Love God, and love one another. Miss out on that and all the "thou shalt nots" in the world won't do us any good. Now I'm going to have some leftover shrimp. Peace, my friends.

Because of Jesus,

1 comment:

  1. Anonymous7/01/2015

    Oh my goodness. That'll preach, my brother! Rant on, Carl. Rant on!


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