“It’s the Law, Kid”
World View Check #3
By Jane Tawel
June 20, 2018
Periodically I post what I consider a Worldview Check in words written by authors far more wise, capable, and mind-blowing than I could ever be.
The following from Garry Wills’ What Jesus Meant was written in 2006 but is a newly read ironic, funny and searing look at where we are today. I would also highly recommend a re-reading of Jesus for President by Shane Claiborne and Chris Haw (2008) and Andy Crouch’s Playing God (2013).
We live in a nation that needs a serious reality check on what God has actually said to us. We use His name in vain to our peril and use His Word to justify our actions to the peril of other people throughout the world, most recently those seeking asylum at our borders.
As we make enormous paradigm shifts in our misuses of the idea of law versus justice; as we bestow mercy for self but not mercy for the least of these; as we defend one type of religious practice as Christians ( think t-shirts and cakes) but not others (think aliens and prisoners); as we look at certain sins differently in our own lives, while out of the other sides of our mouths claiming that God sees all sins as equal; as we worship with cheaply bought grace when we are not busy brunching; as we live in this way, we are left with a choice. We can either: Re-educate ourselves, re-align ourselves, and restore ourselves through the power of the Holy Spirit and the life, death and resurrection of Christ, and the Love of the Creator Parent of us all; Or we can continue as we are. I just recently realized: I don’t want to continue as I am.
Don’t read the Bible or any of the books I have mentioned, if you do not want to: contemplate mystery, confront hypocrisy (both within yourself and others), and sense God’s humorous humbling of us through His word, His very flawed followers, and through a truthful reading of the world’s history.
Do not read further if you do not want today to wrestle with hard truths. I am often pinned to the ground and counted out, but wrestling, nonetheless. Before reading Wills clever deconstruction of our cherished views on God’s word and the law, I found it helpful to meditate on the following ideas from Jesus and the Bible Jesus read.
Jesus: To whom much is given, much is expected. (Luke 12:48)
Jesus: I came not to abolish the laws but to fulfill them. (Matthew 5:17)
And from the cross, Jesus said, “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing”. (Luke 23:34)
But Jesus called them unto him, and said, “Suffer little children to come unto me, and forbid them not: for of such is the kingdom of God. Verily I say unto you, Whosoever shall not receive the kingdom of God as a little child shall in no wise enter therein”. (Luke 19:14-15)
Deuteronomy 10: 12 –21
And now, Israel, what does the Lord your God require of you, but to fear the Lord your God, to walk in all his ways, to love him, to serve the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the commandments and statutes of the Lord, which I am commanding you today for your good? Behold, to the Lord your God belong heaven and the heaven of heavens, the earth with all that is in it. Yet the Lord set his heart in love on your fathers and chose their offspring after them, you above all peoples, as you are this day. Circumcise therefore the foreskin of your heart, and be no longer stubborn. For the Lord your God is God of gods and Lord of lords, the great, the mighty, and the awesome God, who is not partial and takes no bribe. He executes justice for the fatherless and the widow, and loves the sojourner, giving him food and clothing. Love the sojourner, therefore, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt. You shall fear the Lord your God. You shall serve him and hold fast to him, and by his name you shall swear. He is your praise. He is your God, who has done for you these great and terrifying things that your eyes have seen.
The chief of the Temple police and the high priests were puzzled. “What’s going on here anyway?” Just then someone showed up and said, “Did you know that the men you put in jail are back in the Temple teaching the people?” The chief and his police went and got them, but they handled them gently, fearful that the people would riot and turn on them.
Bringing them back, they stood them before the High Council. The Chief Priest said, “Didn’t we give you strict orders not to teach in Jesus’ name? And here you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching and are trying your best to blame us for the death of this man.”
Peter and the apostles answered, “It’s necessary to obey God rather than men. The God of our ancestors raised up Jesus, the One you killed by hanging him on a cross. God set him on high at his side, Prince and Savior, to give Israel the gift of a changed life and sins forgiven. And we are witnesses to these things.”
What Jesus Meant
By Garry Wills
Thank you for doing so much to educate people regarding God’s law. I have learned a great deal from you, and try to share that knowledge with as many people as I can. When someone tries to defend the homosexual lifestyle, for example, I simply remind them that Leviticus 18:22 clearly states it to be an abomination—end of debate. I do need some advice from you, however, regarding some other elements of God’s laws and how to follow them.
- Leviticus 25:44 states that I may possess slaves, both male and female, provided they are purchased from neighboring nations. A friend of mine claims that this applies to Mexicans but not Canadians. Can you clarify? Why can’t I own Canadians?
- I would like to sell my daughter into slavery, as sanctioned in Exodus 21:7. In this day and age, what do you think would be a fair price for her?
- I know that I am allowed no contact with a woman while she is in her period of menstrual uncleanliness (Lev. 15:19-24). The problem is: how do I tell? I have tried asking, but most women take offense.
- When I burn a bull on the altar as a sacrifice, I know it creates a pleasing odor to the Lord (Lev. 1:9). The problem is my neighbors. They claim the odor is not pleasing to them. Should I smite them?
- I have a neighbor who insists on working on the Sabbath. Exodus 35:2 clearly states he should be put to death. Am I morally obligated to kill him myself, or should I ask the police to do it?
- A friend of mine feels that even though eating shellfish is an abomination (Lev. 11;10), it is a lesser abomination than homosexuality. I don’t agree. Can you settle this? Are there degrees of abomination?
- Leviticus 21:20 states that I may not approach the altar of God if I have a defect in my sight. I have to admit that I wear reading glasses. Does my vision have to be 20/20, or is there some wiggle room here?
- Most of my male friends get their hair trimmed, including the hair around their temples, even though this is expressly forbidden by Leviticus 19:27. How should they die?
- I know from Leviticus 11:6-8 that touching the skin of a dead pig makes me unclean, but may I still play football if I wear gloves?
- My uncle has a farm. He violates Leviticus 19:19 by planting two different crops in the same field, as does his wife by wearing garments made of two different kinds of thread (cotton-polyester blend). He also tends to curse and blaspheme a lot. Is it really necessary that we go to all the trouble of getting the whole town together to stone them (Lev. 24:10-16)? Couldn’t we just burn them to death at a private family affair, like we do with people who sleep with their in-laws (Lev. 20:14)?
I know you have studied these things extensively and thus enjoy considerable expertise in such matters, so I am confident you can help. Thank you again for reminding us that God’s word is eternal and unchanging (34-35 Garry Wills, What Jesus Meant. New York: Penguin, 2006.).
I am continuing in my journey by confronting my own egregious sins and hypocrisies and struggling with how I have lost orientation on The Way. It is not easy, in fact it is extremely difficult, but inch by inch, I feel as if, with a humble nod to C.S. Lewis, that I am walking towards the wardrobe door and there ahead, I am momentarily catching a glimpse of something real and full of light just beyond that door; in a world just as real as the one I woke up to yesterday but even more real; and there Aslan waits –just beyond the lamp post.
Bear Witness in the World of Something better, by being Someone better.
Further up and Further in,
In conclusion, I meditate on some visuals from history and artist’s imagined visuals from God’s His-Story.
Children swinging from a lamp-post in the ruins of their London Street (1940)
“Killing children is fair, says US Military”. The War on Iraq:
Image of a Central American child traveling with migrants sleeping at a shelter.
United States White House: “It is very biblical to enforce the law”.
Artist’s imagined image of Herod ordering by law the slaughter of what could have been Jesus’ pre-school classmates.
Our favorite historical homeless asylum seeking family on their way to a new country with hopes of freedom.