Reading Ramblings – July 10, 2016

Reading Ramblings

Date: Eighth Sunday after Pentecost, July 10, 2016 – the Seventh Commandment

Texts: Exodus 20:15; Psalm 62; Ephesians 4:28; John 10:7-15

Context: We can harm one another in many ways. Rabbis recognized that the commandments seem to move hierarchically from worst to least, at least by our human perspective. Killing someone is worse than stealing their spouse, which is worse than stealing their property, which is worse than speaking ill of them, etc. While it is necessary for us to differentiate the Commandments based on the amount of damage violating them may cause, we must always remember that before God, stealing is no less of a sin than murder. Coveting is no less of a sin than adultery. Breaking any of the law is the same as breaking all of the law, rendering each of us guilty.

Exodus 20:15 – We give thanks to God for the blessings He bestows on us, whether many or few. We are not to deprive others of their goods. There is no legitimate argument for taking what does not belong to us.

Psalm 62 – The psalm opens with the speaker silent, waiting for the Lord and his salvation. But we find out in verses 3-4 that the speaker waits in the midst of being assailed. Others seek to harm him, speaking lies about him and seeking to deprive him of his status and perhaps his goods. Yet he instructs his soul to wait silently for the Lord, as verses 5-7 repeat and elaborate on the themes of vs. 1-2. In verse 8 the speaker pauses to exhort those around her in worship – God is the only one in whom we should place our unwavering trust. God is a refuge not just for the speaker but for all who put their faith and trust in Him. Verses 9-10 are cautionary, warning others against putting their hope in material goods. Hope in material goods is unwarranted because our physical status changes; we become richer and we become poorer, and we are unable to assure that our physical goods remain ours and in the quantity we would like. But not even robbery can be reliable, since whatever we get can be taken from us again. Rather, we are to trust in God in all things, in the midst of plenty or the midst of scarcity. We are to trust his power and his wisdom and most of all his unwavering love for us.

Ephesians 4:28 – In Christ we are new creations. Our past is exactly that, the past. Meaningful change is possible by the power of God the Holy Spirit within us. It is this Holy Spirit of God that is reshaping us into conformity with Christ, empowering us and guiding us to give up the sinful practices of the past. What a wonderful hope – change is possible in Christ! Nobody is ever truly without hope in this respect, beyond change. So it is that the thief can truly hope and trust that they can put their stealing behind them, and just as importantly, the Christian community can hope and trust that the thief has indeed done this. Church is to be the place where people of questionable pasts gather together in the shared hope of an unquestionable future. Change is possible, so the thief can indeed expect to find honest work, to find that instead of exploiting others for his own benefit, he can now contribute to the needs of others.

John 10:7-15 – Jesus begins explaining a parable He just told to the pharisees to expose their spiritual blindness. He utilizes two different ways of talking about himself. He begins by explaining that He is the door/gateway of the sheep. It is by Him that those who come after him legitimately have access to the people of God. Just as Jesus was consistent with revealed Scripture during his Incarnation, so the Church must remain consistent with the Word of God made flesh. This is the mark of the Holy Spirit’s legitimate work through an individual or a congregation – that they are consistent with the complete Word of God, and consistent with the Scriptural depiction and teaching of Jesus.

Those who came before him and did not conform themselves to the Word of God were thieves and robbers, intent on themselves and their own well being and not the well-being of God’s people (the sheep). Sooner or later the sheep realize that these people are not legitimate, and they reject them. But those who enter by Christ, consistent with him and with the Word, they are first of all saved, preserved in what they do and say because what they do and say is conformed to the Word of God. They don’t have to worry about what to say because what they say is God’s Word, literally. They will be assured that they can lead God’s people to good pasture – good teaching and preaching, good discipleship because they are grounded in the Word of God that points to Jesus and is Jesus.

Those who won’t abide by the Word of God, who won’t point people to Jesus – these are thieves who only see the sheep as means to their own ends. They cannot help but steal, kill, or destroy. But what a difference between them and Jesus! Jesus has come fully and completely and only for the benefit of God’s people, the sheep! All that He does and says is aimed towards their eternal salvation!

Jesus now changes picture language. The gate was helpful to flesh out one aspect of Jesus, but now He changes his illustration to further flesh out himself, the illustration of a shepherd. Not just a shepherd, not just one of many shepherds, but rather a unique shepherd, the good and noble shepherd, in a class by himself. What makes him unique and good is that He lays his life down for his sheep. Rather than seeing the sheep as something to exploit to his own benefit, it is his role to pour out his life on their behalf.

What an amazing juxtaposition: in Jewish culture, the sheep was an animal destined for sacrifice, but instead of Jesus sacrificing a sheep, He comes to sacrifice himself for the sheep! The sheep was not a willing sacrifice but Jesus would willingly lay himself down for the sheep! The sacrificial sheep would be killed and would remain dead, but Jesus would allow himself to be killed in order to be made alive again. This is what makes his act both unique and useful. It wouldn’t be helpful, generally speaking, for a shepherd to die for his sheep. Once the shepherd is dead, the sheep are at the mercy of whatever killed the shepherd! But Jesus comes to die for the sheep, and in his resurrection preserves them from the ravages of Satan who schemed to kill Jesus.

When we view others as anything other than creations of God the Father whom God the Son died for, we are more than likely seeing them as means to our own ends, and the process of stealing from them – whether physically or emotionally – has already begun. Only when we relate to each other first and foremost in Christ are we properly equipped to love them rather than exploit them.

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