Wednesday, February 27, 2008

in cloud and majesty and awe

I wasn’t sure what to write about this evening, so I went over to Sacred Space for inspiration; this is a website run by a group of Jesuits in Ireland, intended to guide daily prayer through contemplation of a Bible passage. Today’s passage was from Matthew chapter 5:
“Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. Therefore, whoever breaks one of the least of these commandments, and teaches others to do the same, will be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whoever does them and teaches them will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.”
Each passage comes with an optional aid in understanding the message. This one included the following:
The law is good only because it leads to Christ. All of religion is good only insofar as it leads us to God and through Christ.

This comes back to something I’ve mentioned before but haven’t had the chance to properly develop: namely, that religion isn’t about making us look or feel good, or beating ourselves or others down. It is about connecting with God. If God gave us a law, it wasn’t to provide a gauge of spiritual superiority; it was to bring us closer to him. Arbitrary? Hardly. We sort through the legal minutiae of the Old Testament to try to determine “what still applies today.” But if we’re simply arguing over whether or not to wear clothes of mixed fabrics to prove our dedication, we’re once again missing the chance to ponder what God has in mind for our way of living. How do we give glory to God?

I can’t say this is the most comfortable selection from Jesus’ words. For one thing, what does Jesus’ fulfillment of the law have to do with our keeping it? And how firm is this dichotomy between being “least” and “great” in the kingdom of heaven? At least a little law-breaking doesn’t seem to cast us out of the kingdom, although it does change our standing there. In a place where faithfulness is the ultimate expression of love—where God, who alone is perfect, alone is perfectly loving and faithful, having already demonstrated how far he will reach to fulfill his promises—our faithfulness will shine like silver, our weaknesses having been burned away (like dross in a refiner’s fire, as an image from the Bible suggests). If we are faithful with what God has given us (as I wrote about on Sunday), then we may be rewarded with the words “Well done, good and faithful servant”—back to the parable of the talents.

What’s clear is that we are not immune from responsibility after Jesus’ coming. Our freedom cannot come at the cost of our faithfulness, or we are building up lives of chaff. God gave us the law to chasten us, but also to save us through and from the law. Much goes into that statement; I hope it has some kind of clarity, since I don’t have the energy to expound more. I hope you all have a good night, and find a way to honor God by being faithful.

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