Our scripture this morning is different than those we often encounter about Jesus and his ministry, perhaps that is why I love this passage. It portrays another side of Jesus that we do not often have the chance to explore.
We, as humans, enjoy and seek comfort in our lives. Comfort can be achieved with everything being black and white. Thus, we prefer black and white instructions and Standard Operating Procedures (SOP) that are easy to follow exactly.
BUT, life is not black and white. Life has countless shades of grey.
Our scriptures are not black and white either.
In fact, I am drawn to Lutheran theology/teaching because we acknowledge the grey within our lives, within our faith lives, and within our scriptures. Thus, it requires more discernment rather than simply reading and living it word for word.
The Jewish people, in Jesus’ and our own times, understand the need for discernment. The Torah, or teaching/law, is the compilation of the first 5 books in the Hebrew Bible/Old Testament. We envision the Torah as a black and white legal code of “do” and “do not” statements, such as the Ten Commandments in our Exodus reading. These commandments may be considered the ‘heart’ of the legal code BUT are not a black and white as we may imagine.
The Ten Commandments are a covenant, a promise, a contract between God and the people (of Israel) about how we are called to live together in society. But, despite the ‘direct’ nature of the Ten Commandments, these are not black and white.
For example, I have taught Confirmation. Although some may remember Confirmation as memorizing Martin Luther’s explanations word-for-word in order to recite it, I did not do that. I did, however, ask the youth what does ‘thou shall not kill’ mean. Their responses are telling…
Some youth understood it to mean ‘not to kill people’.
Some youth asked if it included animals or not.
Yet, Martin Luther’s explanation is that if we do anything to harm another or do not come to the aide of those in need physically, emotionally/mentally, or spiritually we are committing murder. THAT goes deeper than simply ‘thou shall not kill’.
This difference in the literal black and white word to the interpretation is reflected in our scriptures this morning with the legal code of the Old Testament verse the Spirit of the law in our gospel.
There was a brief posting that turns this notion into a narrative, so I will read it to you. The title was WWJD: What Would Jesus Do? Do You Really Want to Know? (2014).
Once upon a time, a mother made her son a wristband. On it was written: WWJD? This, of course stood for: “What Would Jesus Do?” She instructed her son to look at the wristband before making decisions on how to live his Christian life.
A week later she was shocked to see that her son had become friends with prostitutes, was hanging out with ‘sinners’ — even buying people who were already drunk yet another round of beers!
Worse still, he had walked into their church the previous Sunday and tore down the book store, overturned the tables and threw the cash register through the window, he then made a whip and chased the pastor out of the building, declaring he was turning God’s house into a den of thieves.
Most shocking was what happened when his mother went to picket the local abortion clinic. To her embarrassment, her son was also there, but he was standing with the women who just had an abortion, and yelled at the protesters: “You who are without sin, throw the first stone!”
The mother was very distressed, but fortunately she found a solution to this terrible problem. She made another wristband, this time it read: WWAPD? This, she explained to her son, stood for: “What Would A Pharisee Do?” She took the old WWJD? wristband and burned it.
Since her son has been wearing the new wristband, looking at it to help him make his decisions, he has become a dedicated tither, a public prayer warrior, an active condemner of ‘sinners,’ a passionate defender of the Old Covenant law, and has a great reputation as a godly young man amongst other religious people.
Needless to say, the mother is very happy now. She only wishes Jesus would take notice and follow her son’s good example.
We are more familiar with Jesus the mild-tempered teacher (Rabbi) preaching the Beatitudes on the mount or the blessings/woes on the plain.
We are more familiar with Jesus the miracle worker healing people from spiritual and physical illness.
BUT, Jesus was truly radical. He was a radical teacher calling people into a new way of being that is rooted in the Spirit, and not the letter, of the law.
Our Second Reading this morning was not my favorite pairing, because the message is more powerful with Romans. In Romans (13:10), Paul reminds us that the fulfillment of the law is love. THAT is the Spirit of the law.
How do we love and serve?
Well, the Ten Commandments offers a guideline for living with and among others loving and serving them.
However, throughout history humankind has become obsessed with the letter of the law, but I do not believe Jesus came, endured the passion, was crucified, died, and was raised again from the dead for the letter of the law.
I pray that during this week and Lent:
we ponder the difference between the letter and the spirit of the law;
we ask ‘what would Jesus really do’ instead of the ‘Pharisees’; and
may we always choose to walk in the footsteps of Jesus.