Saturday, 11 March 2017

Lent Week 1 Saturday

Readings: Deuteronomy 26:15-19; Psalm 118; Matthew 5:43-48

The Lord gives the people laws, customs, ways, statutes, commandments, ordinances, decrees and precepts. It is a lot of stuff and what is it all about? It is about helping us to see what God's righteousness and holiness will look like when translated into human affairs and into human relationships. So the law given through Moses is not an arbitrary collection of rules and regulations, a kind of obstacle course to see whether or not we can do what we are told. It is, rather, as is said later in the Old Testament, the wisdom of God being shared with God's people and coming to dwell with them. It is a first incarnation, the word or wisdom of God coming to dwell amongst the people.

The reason God is pleased with them when they observe his laws, statutes, precepts, etc., is because they thereby manifest to the other peoples of the earth what the Lord, their God, is like. They become a revelation of God. The deal between God and the people, the covenant they seal with each other, has these conditions. Once again they are not arbitrary conditions but simply aspects of the way of living that marks out those who entrust themselves to God. The payoff? 'He will set you high above all the nations he has made and you will be a people consecrated to the Lord, as he promised.' If that is something you want, then here is how you should live.

The Sermon on the Mount, from which today's gospel passage is taken, contains the laws, customs, ways, statutes, commandments, ordinances, decrees, precepts, beatitudes and counsels which Jesus gives to the people of God being newly re-shaped by him, by his teaching and by his presence. The concern is exactly the same: where are the people who by their way of living will become a revelation of God? Christian interpreters of scripture sometimes feel they must find some teaching in the Sermon on the Mount that is not to be found in the Old Testament. But there is nothing. It is all there already, in Jeremiah, Hosea, Deuteronomy, and other books of the Old Testament. Jesus is a Jewish teacher, working out of that strand of Jewish prophecy and wisdom.

The only difference (the only difference!) is that the man who now teaches these things is the one, the only one, who fulfills these laws, statutes, precepts, etc., with all his heart and all his soul. He is also the only one whose grace is such that he enables others to fulfill them too. He is the one with whom the Father is well pleased. He is the one set high above all the nations, the one consecrated to the Lord. In him we see, translated into human affairs and into human relationships, what the mercy and grace of God are like. He is the revelation of the Father's heart, full of grace and truth. 'You must be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect' is Jesus' conclusion according to Matthew. Luke is saying nothing different when he replaces 'perfect' with 'merciful'. For it is in this that God's perfection consists, mercy, love (even for those who hate Him), and grace (anticipating our efforts to live like this and enabling those efforts to succeed).

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