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Thursday, November 14, 2013

Love of Instruction

It has been one of those weeks. My work schedule has been heavier than normal and blogging is something of a luxury. I did produce one post the other day, which disappeared into cyber space. It was about the medical insurance situation, so government conspiracy theories are welcome. Perhaps God thought it a bad idea and zapped it, or the Evil One? My best guess is I did something wrong and erased the work I had done....

Today our MP reading is from Maccabees. Sadly, it is not in the scriptures of many Christians so it is never read. That is tragic because it provides insight into the time period of the prophet Daniel (in a notably non-apocalyptic style) with which the writer was a contemporary. The book provides valuable insight into the persecution and suffering of the Jews in the centuries before Jesus and it helps explain the Pharisees in a more sympathetic light. These were the Jewish culture warriors battling against the temptation to go along with the Gentile culture and to sell out their religious heritage.

The last few weeks we have been reading Nehemiah and Ezra. One major component of those cycles is the rebuilding of the Temple and the city. Sunday I preached on the Temple as a type of Jesus (recall He refers to His body as "the Temple" when He prophecies His resurrection). When Jesus says that He fulfills (remember the word means Fully Fill Up) the scriptures and He explains His identity by opening the apostles minds to the meaning of Scripture it is just this sort of thing we are talking about (and not 'predictions'). Jesus is the truest presence of God among us (emmanuel) and as such the Temple is a type of Jesus and rebuilding the Temple is a type of resurrection!

Ezra 7 tells us that Ezra had dedicated himself to study the Teaching of the Lord so as to observe it, and to teach laws and rules to Israel. Law and rules has a bad name among many today. We hear much of grace and freedom. Ezra would have been much perplexed by such a concept. He would have quoted Psalm 119 (Happy are those whose way is blameless, who follow the teaching of the Lord. Happy are those who observe His decrees...) Psalm 119 is a gushing love poem about God's Word (and Torah), no Bible lover has ever more mystically, even romantically--he uses the Hebrew root d-b-k which means cling, as in Adam and Eve clinging to one another. My favorite verse in the RSV is 119:29  Let me find grace through your Law. The use of those two words in concert delight me. However, in the Jewish Study Bible (where I found the romantic insight above) the translation is favor me with Your teaching and the NRSV graciously teach me Your law, neither of which has the paradoxical turn of phrase which I find so invigorating.

Torah as instruction and identity is an important truth of Judaism. Whatever issues emerge in later generations, Jesus was a faithful Jew and He kept the Law, even intensified it at times (taking it deeper and more demanding). Our knowledge of our Jewish heritage is vital for knowing Jesus. Our love of God's instruction is part of the grace that sets us free.

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