OT: Gen. 13:5-15:21
Remember Abram the liar, who sold out his wife in the last reading? Well, he has undergone some serious character development! In today's reading, he is the man!
First, he proves that treating others better than yourselves can be practical, can "work." In separating from Lot, Abram lets his nephew choose first and thus, gives him the choicest land. And guess what? It all works out for him. Lot's selfish choice lands him in a cesspit of sin (Sodom), and he gets captured and carried off in a subsequent military defeat. Then, Abram does with 318 men what five kings and their armies failed to do: defeat Kedorlaomer and company. Next, the king of Sodom comes with his hat in hand asking for his people back and offering to let Abram keep all the plunder. Rather than succumb to temptation, Abram prudently refuses to accept anything from him. (The mysterious Melchizedek, featured so prominently in Hebrews, makes his appearance, too. For me, context shed no further light on him.)
After refusing the spoils of war, God appears to Abram and assures him, "I am your shield, your very great reward." And then suddenly, our hero becomes a bit petulant. Maybe petulant is not a fair descriptor. But he pours out his heart to God and questions him about his lack of children. (See, questions are not bad. Abram asks another big one in v. 8, and God is totally cool with it. He knows we're human.)
In Romans, Paul really emphasizes Abram's response to God in verse 6: "Abram believed the Lord, and it was credited to him as righteousness." Paul's point is that righteousness comes through faith and not through obedience of the law, which brings us to my questions about...
NT: Matt. 5:27-48
Big question of the day: What is the point of the Sermon of the Mount? I've always thought that it is to show how outward actions are not enough--how following the letter of the Law is not enough--to attain righteousness. In his sermon, Jesus shifts the focus to the inside, to the heart. He tells us not to be angry and not to have lust in our hearts. He tells us to love our enemies with a love so strong that we do not resist an evil person and that we do not expect what we lend to be repaid. And then he sums it all up with, "Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect."
So here's my question: Are these all things that we can do, that we are expected to do? Does Jesus "raise the bar" on the Law, as I've always interpreted? Or is this impossible for man? Is the point of his sermon to make clear what the Law was supposed to show us: our own sinfulness? In Romans 7, Paul describes the awareness of our depravity as the purpose of the Law. The point of the Law, he maintains, is to show us that we can't fulfill the Law. But a problem arose with the Pharisees and teachers of the Law: they thought that they could fulfill the Law. They thought they could achieve righteousness on their own, which was very dangerous. And Jesus' point was that they couldn't--because the perfection demanded by the Law extends to people's hearts, not just their actions. That's why He says, "Unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the Kingdom of heaven." Because it takes perfection to enter heaven.
So maybe the point of the Sermon on the Mount is to show us that we can't do it on our own, that we need God's Spirit.
What do you think? This type of thinking (the type that I'm doing right now) strikes me as very dangerous. ("Oh, don't worry! God doesn't expect you to actually love your enemy! That's crazy!") But at the same time, the argument seems to fit perfectly into Paul's theology set forth in Romans. Paul is all about how our actions cannot save us; it is God's grace. Paul seems to think that faith is the most important thing.
Of course, that's not to say that actions don't matter. In John 14, Jesus says three times some version of the statement, "If you love me, you will obey my commands." James very much affirms the importance of actions. Faith without works is dead, he says. And our most specific picture of Judgment, found in Matt. 25, seems to indicate that the basis on which we will be ultimately judged will be the loving actions we showed to the weak and poor and unlovable.
So I'm not negating the importance of actions; I am just wondering about the point of the Sermon on the Mount. What do you think? I'm kind of confusing myself here, so I would love some feedback.
Psalm 6: 1-10
Is it weird that I love prayers like this? I love seeing evidence of an imperfect, confused soul pouring his heart out to God. It is very relatable. I can't exactly relate to the heroics of Abram, who defeated an army with only 318 men. But I can relate to this guy. He is honest and authentic before God. He doesn't have all the answers, but he takes everything he does have--his sorrow, his confusion, his pain--and gives it all to God.
Prov. 1: 29-33
More of the same. Foolish waywardness will kill you; wisdom will save you. Preach on!:)