Total Pageviews

Sunday, May 25, 2014

Love, Law and Instruction

Easter 6
If you love me, keep my commandments…
In 323BC Alexander the Great died. His extensive empire, a product of endless wars, was subdivided among several generals. These political divisions did not erase the unity of Greek cultural or Hellenism. The Greek language, like English, transcended its borders.
In 332BC Alexander had founded the city of Alexandria in Egypt.    When Alexander’s general Ptolemy conquered the holy land some 120,000 Jews were uprooted and moved to Egypt. However, the Ptolemy dynasty (his sons) proved to be fairly liberal and a large segment of the city weres Jews, who were free to practice their religion. Rather quickly the Jewish population became fluent in Greek and lost their mother tongue. As a result in a few generations a Greek translation of the Jewish Bible was needed. Called the Septuagint, it made the Bible accessible to the Greek speaking Jews of Egypt and the wider empire. The Septuagint is the Bible used in the early church, including Paul.
The Hebrew word torah means instruction. [The first five books of the Jewish Bible are called the Torah]. The Bible teaches that God has saved His people, in a gracious act of love, and given them instruction on how to live their lives. However, the word Torah, was translated in the Septuagint by the Greek nomos (rather than didaskalos), which means law. I was shocked to learn that the word ‘obey’ does not occur in the Jewish Bible. The concept is there, but the preferred words are to keep (watch over), to listen/hear (shama) or to walk (walk in my ways, walk in my statutes, etc.) Jewish thought is not philosophical, it is practical and pragmatic. It is also concrete.
Translating the word torah/instruction as law creates a mental shift: from instruction/directions to law/legalities. The first Christians used the Septuagint as their Bible. In the West, we are shaped by the legacy of Roman Law. Our church is culturally derived from that. And the Reformation, with its focus on grace, has caricatured the Jewish legalism to the extent that too often Christians reduce the Jewish faith and its Bible to “the Law.” If this is in error, and it is, then the simplistic claim that Christianity is about grace and Judaism is about law is also in error. Fortunately, we live in a time where much of the ancient world is being rediscovered.
The Jewish concepts of hearing, walking and keeping are more consistent with the actual Biblical meaning. And Jesus embraces this approach.
Last week Jesus said “I am the Way…” Walking is a journey word and well reflects the comprehensive nature of our relationship with God. Our faith response to God is 'walking in a way.' That way is both a person (Jesus) and a way of life (in imitation of Him). Many Biblical stories, including the primary paradigm of salvation (Exodus), have a component of travel/journey. This is picked up by Jesus who invites men “to follow” Him. The students/disciples of Jesus are usually called “Followers” for that reason. The act of following incorporates both active and passive elements of behavior and belief. It is what people do when they trust Jesus. to follow is an activity, but it is not to lead, so it is also passive.
At His journey’s end, the night before He died, Jesus gathered His friends for one last meal. On that night He prepared them for what lay ahead and gave them a gift of Himself in the meal (reinterpreting the bread and wine of the Passover celebration). The last weeks of the Easter season are typically taken from this section of John 13-17.
The message at the Last Supper has many elements. One focus is the identity of Jesus and His unified relationship with the Father. Another focus is on the disciples. What shall they do now that He is returned to the Father?
Jesus is understood as the new Moses. The commands He gives, often times based on the Jewish Bible, are the way of life He has embraced and the way of life to which He calls us. Make no mistake, the word love has not been reduced to warm feelings by the Lord. Love means something concrete and real. Affections and feelings are not the measure of love; living it out is.
"If you love me you will keep my commandments." In simplest terms, love is an action verb. At the end of Matthew Jesus says that we are to baptize in people and teach them everything He taught us and tell people to keep His commands. The faith of a disciple is seen in a desire to know His will and a decision to live in His ways.
Love in Jesus’ day was not about feelings or affections (He predates the 1960's). In fact, love can be a struggles. Love seeks the best for another and it is shaped in a cross.The temptation is always there to embrace a counterfeit salvation. Our language betrays us; how often we use the word “love” to translate a number of feelings, usually centered on our own pleasure. We ‘love’ chocolate, We ‘love’ cute babies, and We ‘love’ the Hollywood beauties. Love, love, love—and none of it has a thing in common with keeping the commands of Jesus.
We who claim to love Him must obviously walk in His ways. There is a lifestyle involved, the sort of things we find in our mission statement: worship, service, prayer and study, helping others, remaining unstained by sin, and constant repentance in a spirit of thanks and gratitude. The concrete expression of these values differ depending on time and circumstance, but they are at the core of loving Jesus. [in fact you may sometimes have no 'feelings' about Jesus when doing them]

Jesus promises to prepare a place for us. It will be wonderful and marvelous, but to get there we have to go. 
Each day. 
Every day. 
Learning His commands and keeping His commands, not as a burden or duty, but as a gift and freely embraced task.
Do you love Jesus? Then you know what to do!

No comments:

Post a Comment