Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Anger and murder

“You have heard that it was said to those of old, ‘You shall not murder, and whoever murders will be in danger of the judgment.’ But I say to you that whoever is angry with his brother without a cause shall be in danger of the judgment. And whoever says to his brother, ‘Raca!’ shall be in danger of the council. But whoever says, ‘You fool!’ shall be in danger of hell fire. Therefore if you bring your gift to the altar, and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar, and go your way. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift. Agree with your adversary quickly, while you are on the way with him, lest your adversary deliver you to the judge, the judge hand you over to the officer, and you be thrown into prison. Assuredly, I say to you, you will by no means get out of there till you have paid the last penny.

I notice that I’ve been thinking that when Jesus said, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the Scribes and Pharisees you will by no means enter the kingdom of Heaven,” he was saying that it was impossible for anyone to enter the Kingdom of Heaven by means of their own righteousness. But I feel like the next couple paragraphs is him just going on to demonstrate what he means by having their righteousness exceed that of the Pharisees—that is, I think, that the sin is what goes on in the heart, not in the actions. So everything that comes out of the bad set of heart is a sin just the same as the sin that usually identifies it.

But, again here I’m noticing that I think about breaking the law as being binary—you do or you don’t. But Jesus does not seem to phrase it like that, at least it doesn’t sound like it. At least, it sounds like an angry person will be in danger of judgment, but things are a little more serious for the contemptuous person (Matthew Henry says “Raca” is a scornful word, though I don’t know what the council is, but it sounds serious.) And hatred and dismissal of the person’s existence (you fool!) is the worst of all. I’ve heard that to call someone a fool in Jewish culture was to call them apostate (“the fool has said in his heart, there is no god” etc), and it seems interesting and fitting that the punishment for consigning someone else to hell is to be in danger of it yourself. I guess you could also say that when someone is angry without a cause he has passed judgment unjustly, and therefore has made himself susceptible to judgment. I don’t know what the council is, so I don’t know if the same principle applies there. But that’s just to say that I wonder if Jesus meant the different consequences of sin to be intensifiers, or kind of a counterpoint to the beatitudes earlier, ie, the type of currency you will be paid in. Those who mourn will be comforted, those who scorn will be humiliated and who pass judgment unjustly will themselves be judged.

Monday, June 6, 2011

Do Christians still need to worry about the Law?

So what does this mean for our relationship to the Law? I remember reading in Galatians and thinking it very contradictory, that Jesus said he didn’t come to destroy the Law but fulfill it, and that people who break even small commandments are damaging themselves in the Kingdom, but that Paul talks about the Law as slavery. How is Paul not teaching others to break the commandments, when he gets angry at the Galatians for thinking they should be circumcised (ie, wanting to put themselves under the Law?)

Where both agree is that observing the Law is not going to get one into heaven. That is, I think, the idea of slavery that Paul is trying to free them from. Jesus must also see that people will want to try to think that by obeying the Law they can come in to the Kingdom… why does he say what he does about the greatest and the least in the Kingdom of Heaven? Jesus seems to be saying here, obeying the Law won’t let you enter the Kingdom of Heaven, but you should still obey it. Paul says, don’t go down that road of slavery, that is denying Christ’s substitution.
One thought: Christ fulfilled the law by obeying all of it, and that we then can follow it by following Christ. This makes sense, I think… ie, Christ has taken the place of the law, and to follow him is to do what the entire law means. So following the law has become binary… you either follow Christ who follows all of it, and therefore you follow all of it, or you don’t follow Christ and you fail at following the law. That makes sense up to a point, but it doesn’t explain why Jesus says that the degree to which we follow the law will determine where our place in the kingdom of heaven is…ie, you break the least of these commandments and teach people to do the same, you will be called least in the kingdom of heaven.

I think it really comes down to faith in the Holy Spirit, and developing our power to listen to Him and obey Him. Because if Jesus embodies the meaning of the law, and if the Spirit of Jesus is living in us, then to disobey the law is to disobey the promptings of Christ and not truly to be following him, nor allowing ourselves to be changed (assuming that the Spirit really is prompting us to change). My big concern with this issue is how to prevent our idea of “the Law”—ie, right and wrong—from being dictated by the current trends of society, when the Law is no longer external but internal. Here also I think the later instruction to worry about the plank in one’s own eye before trying to pick the speck out of one’s neighbor’s eye come into play—perhaps it is up to me to make sure I am following Jesus with my whole heart and listening for the Spirit’s promptings as best I can, and if I think that my neighbor is not really doing the same, pray and ask the Spirit, who is also in him, to prompt and lead that person right, and to speak through me to that person if he decides he wants to.