Living under the Law...
My childhood saw what was, effectively, the birth of childhood educational programming. In addition to the life lessons our parents sought to install in us, on television there were shows that taught you how to read, shows that helped you to learn about the natural world and shows that not only taught the basics (reading, writing and arithmetic), they also taught you about life and how to live it in community with others. From "one of these things is not like the other," to "Good morning, boys and girls, won't you be my neighbor?" children received an opportunity not only to learn while being entertained; they also began to share in some common, cultural experiences. We learned how to live from a relatively common source. What we did with those learnings would define us further down life's pathways...but for a moment we all shared common ground.
As I struggle with Deuteronomy, the occasional difficult Psalm and a section of Luke in which Jesus seems to take every opportunity to enrage the Pharisees by attacking their piety and their pride of place as the doubly-sanctified, righteous remnant of the righteous of Israel, I come back to images of those early days when my sister and I would learn from our parents and our entertainment how we should live. Moses' continuing sermon to Israel piles rule upon rule as well as consequence upon consequence for breaking those rules. Some of them make sense to us in today's world (returning your neighbor's possessions if you find them in the road,) others seem antique or to only have meaning for their own sake (don't mix two fabrics). All of them stacked next to each other foster a sense of intimidation in me. Seeing all those rules, I realize that I could never maintain righteousness before God. That the rest of humanity stumbles along that path offers some little comfort, but right now I just feel overwhelmed and more than a little uncomfortable that I would always come up short in the end. Can anyone be saved?
That is exactly the question the disciples ask Jesus. They are perplexed over who will actually be saved, in the wake of Jesus' teachings on what righteousness looks like to God (the parable of the Pharisee and the tax collector) and his encounter with the rich young man who, after asking what it takes to be saved and finding out it entails letting go of everything he owns in order to follow Jesus then walks away. It seems an impossible cause, and is only made more frustrating by Jesus' response that effectively what is impossible for humans is possible for God. That is maddening....
...until we get to Jesus' encounter with the blind man outside Jericho. Jesus hears the man crying out for the Master's attention, crying out for mercy. Even when people attempt to quiet him, so the procession (and its important purpose) are not diverted, Jesus stops and asks that the blind man be brought to him. The blind man is given his sight, and with that connection, Jesus illustrates the summation of all that we are required to do...God's Law is to live a just life in community with everyone we meet-both the important and visible and the dispossessed and invisible, treating them with dignity, grace and the kind of love for each other that God has for us. The rest is particular "case law."
We learn later from St. Paul that the Law (in his eyes) was intended for us as a framework for life until we were mature enough to live fully in Christ. Much like that children's programming, but as I read these first five books of the Bible over again I realize that they provide more than a precursive model of a "higher" Christian life. They offer the very foundation of a call to life with God and in community...and to live into Covenant with God requires of us both a willingness to study the Law, and to live into justice with the Holy Spirit.
It is a very high bar, and yet such a simple call. May God give us the strength and faith we need to answer and follow that call to new life in Christ.