Tuesday, February 19, 2013

The Challenge Continues, Day 44: Leviticus 19-21; Psalm 37:1-18; Mark 10

The Table of Kindred and Affinity, or Who can Marry, Be Saved, Etc......
Back in 1560, Queen Elizabeth I's Archbishop of Canterbury, Matthew Parker, drew up a set of marriage prohibitions based on cultural interpretations of scripture in order to set a standard guideline of who could not marry whom in England and Wales. Similar tables were created in Scotland and Ireland. Because Canon and Constitutional law are (were) so bound to each other (due to the Anglican Church being the established Church in that country), that table stood as the law of the land without emandation until the 20th century. Even then, changes were nominal until the latter half, when the allowance of divorce in the Church/State required some changes to deal with the relation of step-relatives in the table. You can see a good analysis of the evolution of this table here.

Today, in Mark, Jesus is challenged on the public question of divorce by the Pharisees, and the community of the disciples of wracked by conflict over how they relate to each other with regard to who sits closest to the Master As well, we are still embroiled as well in our readings with Leviticus and what seems an over-preoccupation on Moses' and God's part over who makes an appropriate life/sexual partner. In addition to directions over which foods and fibers cannot be mixed and who can touch (and when) a dead body, we are yet again drawn into what feels like a prurient invasion of our bed chambers. How can these passages NOT embroil us today in controversy and conflict? While Jesus teaches us, over and over, to love our God with all our being and then love our neighbors as ourselves; Leviticus hammers on about what we are NOT to touch and with whom are are permitted to be in relationship...lest we be made unclean. Granted, many of those directions are aimed at maintaining the purity of the Aaronic priesthood; but many of those directions also invade our homes-and bedrooms-to this day. For reference, look to the Table of Kindred and Affinity. Those same cultural and legal taboos exist in the books, and thereby in us, to this day.

The challenge is to maintain perspective as we reflect on what God asks of us in the Law of Moses, and then for us as Christians in the teachings of Jesus Christ. St. Paul (whom we will be reading later in the Challenge), reminds us again and again that if we choose to live under the Law, then we are subject not just to parts of it, but to the whole thing. If we choose to live in Christ, then our whole being is given over to Christ. You can't just take one part in preference to another. You can't serve two masters, just as in the Mosaic laws you cannot mix milk and meat, or wear two kinds of fabric woven together.

Our problem is that again and again, we do just that. We choose to focus on condemning homosexuality, but forget the other prohibitions. Case in point, as I was searching for images for today's posting, I came across a photo of a man's upper arm on which he had tattooed the Levticial prohibition regarding male-to-male intercourse. God prohibits marking the skin as well. One law is broken in order to exhibit another. Some might argue that the two laws are of different magnitude, but as I experience Leviticus again I do not see God saying that some laws matter more than others. The law is there, to make us holy because God is holy, and there are no apparent gradations of what is nominally expected of us, versus mandatory. So, the man's tattoo is an unfortunate irony...and exposes to us the way we, as humans, too often distort the purpose of God to establish relationship with us in favor of condemning people for their being human.

Jesus breaks the Laws of Moses again and again. He eats with sinners. He touches and heals the unclean and imperfect. He gives time and attention to the forgotten and invisible, and reminds his community that their first call is to compassion and respect for those with the least power, the fewest resources in human society. he draws us to see, and to love, each other as God sees us-as beloved...not as condemned. His community is not one of power based in coercion, but as one of power based in compassion and reconciliation.

When we lose ourselves in the condemnations of Leviticus, be it over questions of kindred affinity or of sexual identity, then we might as well just cut the rudder off the vessel that is the church. In choosing to find ways to condemn people as evil or "other"-or to paint a portrait for the world of a God who chooses condemnation over reconciliation-then we loose the moral compass we are seeking to establish. Rules, and laws, exist in order to serve humanity. As Jesus said, the Sabbath was made for humanity, not humanity for the Sabbath.

When we choose one part of Leviticus as the primary focus of our moral probity, then we loose sight of the whole picture. God is restoring a whole people who had been completely assimilated into a dominant culture.  Everything that was laid out for them to do, or to not do, leads to the end of making them distinct from the other nations, and to prevent them from assimilating ever again. The primary relationship that Israel is to have is with God...and that is a 360-degree committment. Building on that emphasis on primary relationship, Jesus is continually clarifying that loving our God with all our being, and our neighbors as ourselves means stepping past that aging culture of alienation and condemnation into a kingdom God is preparing that welcomes and restores ALL to full relationship with the Creator and Redeeming of all things.

My sorrow in all this is that too often I have seen Leviticus used to club down, oppress and destroy people I know and love in Christ whose only "violation" is to love someone of the same sex. If we are going to spend our time beating that war drum, then we have decided to cast away the heart's core of Jesus' teachings. We have exchanged mercy for judgment, and constructive love for destructive hate. My prayer is that we remember that Jesus sought to fulfill the Law by offering the good news of a kingdom into which all are invited, restored and forgiven. May we find in our hearts that same mercy.

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