Bible Tuesday for Sunday, August 30, 2015
Deuteronomy 4:1-2, 6-9
So now, Israel, give heed to the statutes and ordinances that I am teaching you to observe, so that you may live to enter and occupy the land that the Lord, the God of your ancestors, is giving you. 2You must neither add anything to what I command you nor take away anything from it, but keep the commandments of the Lord your God with which I am charging you. 5 See, just as the Lord my God has charged me, I now teach you statutes and ordinances for you to observe in the land that you are about to enter and occupy. 6You must observe them diligently, for this will show your wisdom and discernment to the peoples, who, when they hear all these statutes, will say, ‘Surely this great nation is a wise and discerning people!’ 7For what other great nation has a god so near to it as the Lord our God is whenever we call to him? 8And what other great nation has statutes and ordinances as just as this entire law that I am setting before you today?
9 But take care and watch yourselves closely, so as neither to forget the things that your eyes have seen nor to let them slip from your mind all the days of your life; make them known to your children and your children’s children—
The book of Deuteronomy is the story of Moses’ last sermon to the Israelites before he dies and they are led back into the Promised Land by Joshua. During this final public address, Moses chides, admonishes, goads, scolds, and pleads with the Israelites to stay faithful to God and the law that God gave to them through Moses on Mt. Sinai/Mt. Horeb. Moses also restates some of the law which is recorded primarily in Exodus and Leviticus.
The Law with its statutes and ordinances, while quite primitive to our ears, was progressive for its day. “An eye for an eye. A tooth for a tooth,” was meant to put peoples of different classes and social orders on the same footing. A wealthy person could not extract more recompense from a poorer person than what was his original loss. Rape was actually something that could be sued for, although it was fathers or male relatives that would sue on behalf of their women, and it was only winnable if the woman was raped in town where witnesses could testify to her screaming; no audible screaming, no witnesses…no rape.
But the Law given to Moses was more than just penal code. It also lays out a calendar of festivals and weekly Sabbaths, times when all are to rest and celebrate God’s interaction with God’s people. The law also delineates dietary restrictions and hygiene restrictions, aka: keeping kosher. What is the point of all that? In the above passage, Moses tells the Israelites that keeping kosher, as well as following the worship schedule and living within the penal code, sets the Israelites apart from other surrounding communities and makes them an example to be envied. This Law God gave Moses is to be a huge fence within which is choice land in a very busy trade route of that day. The law teaches that the Israelites are to be hospitable peoples who are shining examples of how much God loves all whom God creates.
O Lord, who may abide in your tent?
Who may dwell on your holy hill?
2 Those who walk blamelessly, and do what is right,
and speak the truth from their heart;
3 who do not slander with their tongue,
and do no evil to their friends,
nor take up a reproach against their neighbors;
4 in whose eyes the wicked are despised,
but who honor those who fear the Lord;
who stand by their oath even to their hurt;
5 who do not lend money at interest,
and do not take a bribe against the innocent.
Those who do these things shall never be moved.
Here the psalmist describes what a kosher, faithful Jew looks like.
According to the Law, money was never to be lent with interest. If someone was in such bad straights that he/she would humble self and borrow from neighbor, then neighbor should not profit from that humble misfortune.
7Every generous act of giving, with every perfect gift, is from above, coming down from the Father of lights, with whom there is no variation or shadow due to change. 18In fulfillment of his own purpose he gave us birth by the word of truth, so that we would become a kind of first fruits of his creatures.
19You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; 20for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. 21Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls. 22But be doers of the word, and not merely hearers who deceive themselves. 23For if any are hearers of the word and not doers, they are like those who look at themselves in a mirror; 24for they look at themselves and, on going away, immediately forget what they were like. 25But those who look into the perfect law, the law of liberty, and persevere, being not hearers who forget but doers who act—they will be blessed in their doing. 26If any think they are religious, and do not bridle their tongues but deceive their hearts, their religion is worthless. 27Religion that is pure and undefiled before God, the Father, is this: to care for orphans and widows in their distress, and to keep oneself unstained by the world.
James is an interesting book for a few reasons. It was written later than Paul’s letters, later than the gospels, and is not written by nor ascribed to an actual disciple, but rather, to Jesus’ brother, James. After Pentecost, James, and not Peter, became the head of the new movement Jesus began, headquartered in Jerusalem. The New Testament contains several literary forms: biographies of a sort in the gospels, correspondence such as Paul’s letters and the epistles, apocalyptic literature such as Revelation, and theological treatise such as Hebrews. James does not fit into any of these categories but is rather more like the Wisdom literature in the Apocrypha. This book has a different take on how works fit into right relationship with God in Christ. Verse 27 above sums up the authors understanding of works; right religion is demonstrated by works. While doers of the word rather than mere hearers sounds like a moral to Jesus’ parable of the sewer and the seeds, it has been read in contrast to Luther’s teaching of “Salvation by Grace through Faith apart from works of law.”
Father of Lights: Out of the entire Bible, this phrase is only found in this verse. It is in part a reference to the first chapter of Genesis, where God creates lights but they are not given names. “Greater light to rule the day and the lesser light to rule the night.” Of course this is referring to sun and moon, but the Israelites are surrounded by cultures that worship celestial bodies and give them all kinds of spectacular deified names. In the title “Father of lights”, as well as in the first chapter of Genesis, the celestial bodies are not named but referred to by their function as lights. Only God is named as their creator/father. The terms, “variation”, “shadow due to change” are both translations of ancient Greek astronomical terms. The author of James is further deemphasizing the celestial bodies and their wavering qualities in favor of God/Yahwah who is constant.
In verse 18, the author appears to be referencing the first chapter of the gospel of John, or at least the theology that it represents, in the phrase, “gave us birth by the word of truth.”
Mark 7:1-8, 14-15, 21-23
Now when the Pharisees and some of the scribes who had come from Jerusalem gathered around him, 2they noticed that some of his disciples were eating with defiled hands, that is, without washing them.3(For the Pharisees, and all the Jews, do not eat unless they thoroughly wash their hands, thus observing the tradition of the elders; 4and they do not eat anything from the market unless they wash it; and there are also many other traditions that they observe, the washing of cups, pots, and bronze kettles.) 5So the Pharisees and the scribes asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with defiled hands?” 6He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied rightly about you hypocrites, as it is written,
‘This people honors me with their lips,
but their hearts are far from me;
7in vain do they worship me,
teaching human precepts as doctrines.’
8You abandon the commandment of God and hold to human tradition.”
14Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, all of you, and understand: 15there is nothing outside a person that by going in can defile, but the things that come out are what defile.”
17When he had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18He said to them, “Then do you also fail to understand? Do you not see that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile, 19since it enters, not the heart but the stomach, and goes out into the sewer?” (Thus he declared all foods clean.) 20And he said, “It is what comes out of a person that defiles. 21For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23All these evil things come from within, and they defile a person.”
My home church used a lavabo. Unless you are a Roman Catholic altar boy or a priest, you probably don’t even know what a lavabo is. Lavabo is Latin for “washing” and is a smallish bowl on either the credence table or the altar in which the pastor washes his/her hands before handling the elements/host. In my home church back in the 60’s and 70’s this truly was merely ceremonial, a dip and wipe of the fingers out of respect of what those fingers were about to hold. In the congregation I currently serve, we have a decent sized bowl in which I can wash my whole hands. The water poured over my hands has rubbing alcohol in it to make sure I am not spreading illness to everyone who will soon be eating quite literally out of my hands.
The Pharisees in the above text do an awful lot of washing. But it is by and large ceremonial and, gleaning from Jesus’ critique, ostentatious. The teaching concerning washing of vessels is not biblical, but rather “oral interpretation, considered by Pharisees to be legally binding.” (C. Clifton Black, Harper Collins Study Bible) This oral tradition had been elevated to the same status as the Torah/the first five books of the Bible/the Law given by God to Moses. For this reason Jesus quotes Isaiah, “teaching human precepts as doctrine.”
In Hebrew tradition, the heart is the center, not of passion or emotion, but of morality and religious devotion, and their opposites. Passion and emotion are said to be centered in the stomach.