The first thing that strikes me in the Old Testament readings Lv 19:1-2, 11-18 is that repetitive phrase “You Shall Not ” Its not that I object to any of the things that I am told not to do, but those constant “No!” statements is a bit unsettling. They draw a line and I have to wonder how close I can get to that line without crossing it. There emphasis is negative. Equally unsettling, each statement starts with that “You shall not”, ends with ” For I am the LORD.” Within those two statements,there is that reminder of the Garden where I shall not eat from a certain tree; and what happened there. Like the Garden, each of the statements leaves open the option that I can be like God if only I break one of the rules. They beg for rebellion, or at least a little disobedience.
Not so with the New Testament Mt 25:31-46. In the New Testament, if I do the right things I gain the chance to be included in the kingdom. There really is not much difference between what is intended how I act, as both Old and New do truly relate to Jewish concern for the treatment individuals. Both focus on Jewish ethics, but there is that difference between the two testaments in their emphasis of punishment and reward. Gone in Jesus’s testament that comparison from what one should do versus what one ought not to do. Without that comparison then , one does not focus on a legal interpretation. Instead comes the approach of doing an abundance of good. Emphasis is placed on action rather than avoidance. It guides me towards things I can and should do, it makes me seek them out, rather than avoiding crossing a line. Rather than being accused of theft, I am encouraged to I offer gifts of charity. I am to find ways of praising God, rather than avoid avoiding profiling the name of the LORD.I can think of many ways of offering praise. The curses occasionally slip out and I am left trying to justify them. There is a difference between finding ways to serve, and avoiding an offense. Much of the difference is emotional, but emotions do make a difference. Love and Hate are emotions.
He will place the sheep on his right and the goats on his left.
Then the king will say to those on his right,
‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father.
Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.
For I was hungry and you gave me food,
I was thirsty and you gave me drink,
a stranger and you welcomed me,
naked and you clothed me,
ill and you cared for me,
in prison and you visited me.’
When one looks at the thou-shall-not’s, they pass judgment. Did they offend my God? If THEY did, then I SHALL seek vengeance. With that thought I turn to the troubled Mid-East. Think of the violence and the atrocities committed because some group thinks someone did something God told them not to do. Pause and think then of the horrors committed by men avenging their God. God created all that is seen and unseen. Do those people really believe God needs their protection, or are they following the wrong emotion? What if those terrorists chose charity over vengeance? What if they did something positive, rather than lash out against an offense. Fed the hungry, clothed the naked, or gave water to the thirsty? How much better is that than the reign of terror and bullets and hatred that consume them in the name of God. In that corner of the world relief workers like Kayla Mueller did work bring aid to the suffering.How much better was her love for the suffering, than the hatred of those who deliver pain and suffering and terror and death. Hers is the kingdom she brought to others, that Kingdom Jesus preached. It does come down to emotions, love or hate. She chose to love her neighbor, while her adversaries could not see past their hatred.