The deeper we get into Deuteronomy, the further we travel in this section of the Psalms and the closer we get to Jerusalem in Luke I find myself becoming increasingly disturbed by the intensity of conflict being expressed between God and humanity in "covenant," between neighbors and former friends in the Psalms and between Jesus and the Pharisees/scribes in Luke. This conflict is not the normal, everyday irritations that we too adroitly put off to the cost of simply being human. I live in New Jersery: That sort of conflict is an assumed reality, a simple reminder that we are alive and perforce live cheek-to-jowl with people whose agendas cross and recross our desired pathways on a constant, slow-burn basis.
No, this sort of conflict is distinctly more epic in nature. It possesses a certain dramatic flair, and with it come dramatic costs to the people exposed to it. Moses and Israel are locked in a tumultuous embrace with God as the requirements of life in the Promised Land, in real covenant with God, begin to take form. The real costs of covenant are being made known. Israel is not, and cannot be, like other nations. The people will not mix in any way among those from whom they will be taking possession of their inheritance. Those folk are
"under the ban" and will be wiped out. More than refraining from mixing with them, Israel is tasked with destroying them, down to their last possession: genocide. My mind balks at this challenge. How can human beings be that pure, that purposed? How can anyone be so absolutely adherent to a covenant with such a jealous God? How can God demand that of anyone? Can any human being accept that sort of fidelity?
Simple answer: humans being cannot be that faithful. This is a relationship that will fail, because we/Israel cannot be as jealous for God as God (according to Moses in Deuteronomy) is for us. We will stumble and fall. We will sin. We will turn away from God and become caught up in practices, and relationships, that distract us from the love of God. We will break from covenant, even as our own relationships break and shatter beneath the weight of conflicts great and small in our own lives.
What God seems to be striving to accomplish in Israel, and that Jesus is offering to us and to the rest of humanity, is an opportunity to understand that being set apart is not being set over and against others; nor is it being set up for inevitable destruction. Being set apart, whether we are Israel or disciple of Christ, means being called to an existence that is a witness against that in humanity which turns from God and from true life in relationship with God. It is not presumptive. Our adherence to the practice of the Law, or to confessed faith in Christ Jesus does not make us holier than anyone else. It makes us instead witnesses to God's holiness, and it makes us-ultimately-as ones called to be instruments of God's peace and not humanity's destruction.
|"Master, let me dig around it, put manure on it and perhaps..."|
Moses reminds Israel with brutal words that the one thing that matters (and that Israel has already failed to produce in the desert) is fidelity to God. Jesus shows us that love expressed in teaching and healing leads us from lives lived by exclusionary rules to lives founded in inclusive community. Both point to an economy of human existence that allows God to call us out from the morass of human, moral frailty to lives consecrated for just, proper and loving relationships with God and each other.
Our job? The hardest in all creation: to understand that the call and setting apart is not about us being better than, but rather us being named as a sign/witness to the rest of the world. God yearns for reunion with humanity, and we are to be as the Body of Christ the mediators of that reunion.