[Deuteronomy 30:15-20 Matthew 5:21-37 (1 Corinthians 3:1-9)]
The first five books of the Bible, called the Torah, contain The Instructions of God which has guided the Jews for some three thousand years. The Book of Deuteronomy, literally the second law, is a recapitulation of the previous books of the Torah and is presented to the reader as a long sermon by Moses. The narrative context is the escaped Hebrew slaves (the Israelites) standing at the brink of entering the Promised Land. Based on the language similarities to Jeremiah, there is reason to believe that the book as we have it is actually a reworking of the ancient revelation for a new time. Probably, it is aimed at the Jews in Babylon who prepare to return to the land from which they have been exiled for seventy years. This can be discerned in the frequent declaration that the covenant between God and Israel is not just the first generation, but includes the descendants of those people. As such, the book is intentionally geared for the new generation. It is, therefore, our own, for we, too, are children of Abraham in Christ.
The primary promise of the chapters from which we take today’s excerpt is that God will restore His people. A promise of restoration (or salvation, or redemption) is no light thing. For people adrift in the chaotic seas, or wandering in the darkness, the promise of harbor or light are welcome. The original audience of the book of Deuteronomy were such people. I would argue that we are too.
As chapter 30 begins, God says He will search out those who are dispersed and bring them back. “The Lord will open your hearts to love Him, with all your heart and soul, so you may live.” A sweet promise indeed to people who feel incapable of mustering such love on their own. God will do for us what we can’t do ourselves.
Today we read from later in the chapter. The message is simple: love the Lord, walk in His ways, keep His instruction so you can thrive. Here is the purpose of God’s law and commands; they are given so that we can live abundantly. It is not to earn heaven, it is to bring heaven to earth. It is our part of the bargain, our synergistic cooperation with God’s Holy Spirit unleashed in the world. It is an obedience which declares not so much “ain’t I good” but rather “Isn’t God good!”
The choice is laid out before the Hebrew slaves in the desert and their exiled Jewish ancestors five hundred years. It applies to us, living our own exile and exodus, seeking a glimpse of God in a world where other gods run amuck.
I lay before you, life and abundance, death and destruction. Choose LIFE. Our covenant with God is that: life. The promise not yet fully realized, sin and death still wreak havoc in us and among us. The Messiah King may reign in heaven, but here below other dark princes have their way to the detriment of us all.
So we hear the words: if you and your children would live; love your God, obey His instruction, and cling to Him! Rabbi Friedman notes that the word cling is first used of Adam and Eve in Genesis 2:24. The marital imagery of our covenant with God is present here. In fact, the rabbi counts no less than 17 words and images which appear here and in the early chapters of Genesis, a fact, he reminds us, that ties together the beginning and end of the Torah and serves as a reminder that it is all one message. It reveals also the amazing hand of God, as the Spirit has led the inspired authors and editors in constructing this Holy Book.
If Deuteronomy reinterprets Moses for a new setting, the return from exile; then Matthew provides us a ‘Tritonomy,’ a Third Law in his Gospel. Jesus says He has come to fulfill not destroy the Law. You have heard it said, but I say to you. Jesus reworks the ancient revelation for much the same reason that the author(s) of Deuternonomy did; a new context and a deeper application of what it means. The problem with Law is lawyers. We have conflicting interpretation (and every three year old is a lawyer, we are razor sharp in arguing our case from the time we learn to talk). We argue about definitions and details and seek loopholes to escape the guilty verdict. Always the loophole! "I have never killed anyone," we seem satisfied to say, secure in our innocence. Yet Jesus turns it all on its head by going to the depths of our hearts and souls. He interrogates our desires, our wishes, our hidden thoughts and feelings. Suddenly, we are all judged: GUILTY as charged, your Honor.
Why would Jesus do this?
For one, because the heart is the garden in which sinful acts grow. Desire precedes choice. First the thought, then the behavior. Jesus goes to the source of the problem: we are messed up, we are sinners.
But Jesus does not do this to make us feel bad, to unmask us as secretly evil. Like His Father, Jesus has come so that we might have life. Real Life. Fullness of Life. Life freed from anger and violence, freed from lust and disordered appetites, freed from lies and deceit; Life freed from the pain and suffering caused by sin.
As I have made clear numerous times, Jesus is the fully-filledness of the Exodus story. He is the fully-filledness of the Torah. He is the fully-filledness of the promise of God: in Jesus our hearts are made new—though now being made new is a struggle.
Some day we will enter that Land of Promise and enjoy the blessings of loving God, listening to God and clinging to God. Someday, together, we will gather to love and worship Him Who will provide us with every blessing for which we long.
In the meantime, clinging to the promise, we worship and love as best we can. Loving with divided hearts. Listening with faulty ears. Clinging with weak hands. Knowing that it is enough, for He is faithful and He has promised to search the world over to bring us home to Him!