OT: Lev. 24:1-25:46
Well! A rejuvenating, spiritual weekend with my sisters in Christ, coupled with a break from reading the One Year Bible (I did my posts ahead of time), has made me excited to dive back in!
It is interesting to see the beginnings of the concept of justice in the Law, with the "eye for eye" instructions on retribution (24:17-22). Thinking of my ideas on "right to life," or lack thereof, I found the instructions on putting a murderer to death to be interesting. To me, the penalty is not because people violated another person's natural right, but because they violated God's right. Only God has to right to kill or to command to kill. Killing per se certainly isn't wrong, since the Israelites just finished stoning a blasphemer, and are instructed by the Law to kill all manner of immoral people, from sexual transgressors to murderers. Death is even commanded for people who do not seem to deserve it, from a "natural rights" view. Disrespectful children, for example, certainly do not deserve death from our Enlightenment-informed perspective.
I was also intrigued by the idea of land ownership in God's Law. In God's view, the people did not "own" the land. In His words, "the land is mine and you are but aliens and my tenants" (25:23). I love that idea of all of our possessions, and even the very land on which we live being God's and not ours. That is one concept that I definitely think applies to us today, and not just to the Israelites. The whole idea of Jubilee really drove that point home to them. Too bad we have no such reminder, because it is sooo easy to forget that our possessions are truly God's and not our own.
Reading today reminded me yet again of the limitations of rules. These rules, in and of themselves, did not make the people righteous. If anything, they were a litmus test of the state of the people's hearts. See, God gives them these commands like, "Don't charge interest to your brothers" (summary of 25:35-38), and "Don't treat your brothers harshly when they are your slaves" (summary of 39-46). These are good laws. And yet, over time, they have such potential to be distorted by hard hearts. I can see Israelites thinking, "Okay, I can't charge my brothers interest, but what about foreigners? And I can't mistreat Israelite slaves, but what about foreign slaves?" And thus, what is meant to be a law about loving your brothers becomes an excuse to hate those who are not your brothers. This weekend, our Ladies Retreat speaker read some excerpts from Jewish writings regarding Samaritans. The sheer hatred the Jews had for Samaritans was truly striking. And I can't help but think that the seeds for the excuses for that hatred came from laws like these, and from God's admonitions to stay away from idol-worshiping foreigners. Those instructions were to help the Israelites, but often, they seem rather to expose the hardness and hatred in their hearts.
NT: Mark 10: 13-31
I believe that the authors of the gospels (or of any history books) choose the elements to include in their narrative based on the points that they want to make. They don't pick at random; they shape the events into a specific narrative pattern with a specific meaning. Thus, I see a lot of meaning in the combination of Jesus' instructions on becoming like a child with the story of the rich, young ruler. When I read verse 15 ("I tell you the truth, anyone who will not receive the kingdom of God like a little child will never enter it."), I was struck with how hard it is for me to have that kind of childlike faith. It is so hard for me to let go of "logic" and just believe. And I know that logic and belief are not binary opposites, and that they can work together, but I also know that logic so often hinders us from truly stepping out on faith. So often, faith is simply not logical.
Case in point: I think the rich, young ruler was a practical, logical guy. He wanted to inherit eternal life, and so he learned God's instructions and kept them. Makes sense. Then, he heard that there was a teacher and prophet who could had power from God, and so he thought he would ask him for further clarification. Good idea! I love that when he gave his earnest response about keeping the law, "Jesus looked at him and loved him" (21). That verse shows me that the young man was not arrogant or seeking to justify himself. I don't even think he was inordinately greedy or selfish. I really think he was just too practical. Seriously, when I think of selling my house and all my possessions, I really am struck by the nonsense of such a move. Not that Jesus is calling me to do the same thing, but don't you think it struck the young man that way, too? I don't know...
I love the subsequent interchange between Jesus and his disciples. At first, it sounds very daunting: Jesus basically announces that it is impossible for rich people to enter the kingdom of God (25). Um, yikes. Since I am definitely rich by global standards, I gotta say that that is bad news. The disciples felt the same way, and so they asked, "Who then can be saved?" (26). I love Jesus' response: "With man, this is impossible, but not with God; all things are possible with God" (27). Reading that verse reminds me what a miracle my salvation is. Due to my own sin and rebellion, it was impossible for me to enter the kingdom of God. And yet, with God, all things are possible. And if all things are possible, then that includes the possibility of my complete transformation into the likeness of Christ. I know it will be a process that lasts until I die, but I have hope that God can take me farther than I now think is possible.
I saw that this psalm was a continuation of yesterday's reading, so I went back and looked at it. Um....I see why they divided it where they did b/c there is definitely a shift in tone, to put it mildly. David starts off by recounting God's heroics, and then describes his people's own sorry state, and then claims that they did nothing to deserve such treatment. In short, he asks God where He is.
Okay. Now, I can't vouch for the truth of David's claims about his people. But I can show you something really awesome about this psalm. First, did any of the verses sound familiar? Verse 22 jumped out at me: "Yet for your sake we face death all day long; we are considered as sheep to be slaughtered." I looked it up, and that is what Paul quotes in Romans 8. I know that the whole psalm must have been very familiar to Paul. And yet, he gives the concept an entirely different spin. He tells us in that section that God works all things to the good of those who love him (8:28). He tells us that Christ gave us life and is interceding for us (34). And he tells us that NOTHING can separate us from the love of Christ (38-39). David and Paul faced very similar circumstances, in that they both suffered through no fault of their own. And yet, David is broken by it, and Paul is triumphant. As I approach the anniversary of my brother's death, this idea is so potent to me. I don't want to grovel and wallow like David; I want to be triumphant like Paul. I don't want to ask, "Why?" and "Where are you, God?" I want to have confidence that God works all things to good, and to see that God is right here. I want to see things the way they really are, and not just how they appear. I want to see things from an eternal perspective. And I want to see Christ in all things, to see that He is working for the good. And I want to remember that the ultimate good is that I become more like Him (8:29). And so I hope He continues to use my brother's death to make me more like Him.
These are really great powerful words. Unfortunately, I am still too hung up on the Psalms/Romans connection. I just have to note how powerful the contrasts are here. Righteousness v. wickedness is described as choice silver v. little value. Righteousness nourishes; foolishness kills.