Reading Ramblings – June 26, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: Sixth Sunday after Pentecost, June 26, 2016

Texts: Exodus 20:13; Psalm 10; Romans 12:9-21; Matthew 5:21-24

Context: **We continue in our alternate lectionary selections for most of the remainder of 2016. Readings have been selected to help in a preaching series on Martin Luther’s Small Catechism. **

Many rabbis consider the fourth (their fifth) commandment on parents a transitional one, bridging the topics of how do we love God and how do we love our neighbor. The command against murder places us firmly in the realm of our love for and care of our neighbor. First and foremost, we must value our neighbor’s life, and recognize the limitations of our personal agency in what we do with another person’s life, regardless of our motivation or their culpability.

Exodus 20:13 – There are no stipulations about who can and cannot be killed. It is a blanket, generalized command. The Hebrew word is most associated with the concept of murder, and occurs 47 times in the Old Testament, overwhelmingly associated with malicious and/or premeditated killing. The best English translation of this commandment is not Do not kill, but rather Do not murder.

Psalm 10 – This psalm contains an extensive description of the actions and thoughts of the evil person, even including murder. The psalm seeks to address the issue of why God allows such evil, why doesn’t God come immediately to the aid of those in need, those at the mercy of evil people with evil plans? The psalm does not give an answer, other than to assert firmly that God is not absent nor ignorant about what happens here and how we treat one another. While He may not always intervene directly on behalf of those persecuted, they are right to entrust themselves fully to his care, which extends beyond the realm of this world and life. Yet God is capable and at times willing to directly intervene, so it is appropriate to ask not simply that He remember the afflicted, but that He actively strip the evil of their power (v.15), and bring justice until evil is no more. God’s ultimate intention and promise is that evil will one day be completely defeated and purged from creation (v.18). In the meantime, God remains God, solely reigning over all of his creation, and the existence or proliferation of evil in no means argues against this reality. God is the one to whom we cry out in our times of persecution and affliction, because God is the only one capable of hearing us and delivering us completely from the power of evil once and for all.

Romans 12:9-21 – A great general description of how the Chrisitian should approach life, particularly in light of the horrible news and divisiveness that bombard us 24/7. We take action, in choosing love over fear, hope over despair. This is not simplistic, Pollyanna-ish positive thinking, but a decision grounded firmly in our hope of our Lord’s victory over death and his promised return. We have a reason to continue to hope and love rather than giving in to despair and hatred. It is not, in this case, a personal choice but rather the inevitable result of our faith and belief. We cannot control the world and are not told to. But we are told to be very specific in how we react to the world, even to those who do evil to us and those we love. Evil is overcome not by outshouting it, not by outhating it, not by using evil against itself, but rather through love, and more specifically, by the love of Christ. He offered himself wholly to evil, so that He might destroy it from within. It is not I who overcome evil, but Christ who has overcome evil, and whose victory will one day be made evident to everyone. In the meantime, I wait for that day purposefully and intentionally by choosing his love over the world’s hatred and evil.

Matthew 5:21-24 – Murder – and every other sin – takes place first within us, before it is ever acted upon. Indeed, merely refraining from acting out on a sin does not make us guiltless. The fact that – however briefly – we contemplated and entertained or actively imagined the sin in our minds and hearts is where the sin is committed. The physical act is, from God’s perspective, irrelevant. It is hugely important to us, and therefore we punish the act rather than the inner sin, and we punish relative to the severity of the outward crime. But for God, any deviation from his good and perfect will is a sin of monumental proportions. Any rejection of God’s will and way is treason and must be punished as such.

So we are not free to say that sin is something we do. Rather, sin is something we are. As such, every commandment needs to be viewed this way, and from this perspective, we can’t take pride in keeping any of the commandments perfectly, and if we feel smug or justified because we haven’t murdered or sworn using God’s name or violated the Sabbath, our smugness is dashed by recognizing that at some point, to some degree, the thought crossed our mind. We were tired enough or angry enough or frustrated enough to consider breaking the commandment even though we know it would be wrong to do so.

This is NOT to say that keeping the commandments externally is pointless. Hardly the case! I wish that the entire world made serious efforts to keep the commandments perfectly! What a better world this would be if everyone took (and gave) a day of rest, if everyone refrained from violence against another person, if everyone honored their neighbor’s name and property. It would remain an imperfect and sinful world, but what a vastly improved world it would be!

So the commandments point out and convict the sin in my heart and my mind, not just my hand. They show me the way to live and convict me of refusing to do so. They call me to try harder while showing me that I will never perfectly accomplish this. They point me always and ultimately not to some internal righteousness, but to my complete need for a Savior, someone to rescue me from my sinfulness, whether the world thinks me sinful or not. I know in my heart and mind that I am. Just as with external discipline, I can strive to discipline my internal life as well, but it will never be perfect, and my need for a Savior will always remain the defining facet of my existence.

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