Exodus 12:1-14 • Ezekiel 33:7-11 • Psalm 119:33-40 • Romans 13:8-14 • Matthew 18:15-20
A great danger of a story such as our passage for this week, and the entire story of Moses, is that we are so familiar with it, we just stop at our beginning understanding and knowledge. Read this passage like it is the first time, search for that which you have, somehow, never seen.
There is a lot of context that can be missed when we are jumping forward in such swaths as we are. We last saw Moses as he is receiving God’s call to return to Egypt, a place where he expects no welcome, and, worse, he knows, very well, he could be arrested for murder. Since that part of the story, Moses has returned, gone to Pharoah ten times demanding, on part of God, that the Israelites be released, each time Pharoah says ‘no’. He has just left warning Pharoah that the 10th plague will be the death of the firstborn in each household. Pharoah don’t listen, hear, or take note of the warning.
Our passage today is the instructions for the first passover meal. A meal, obeserved every year after this instruction, takes place before the actual event that is remembered in the meal. The people will celebrate the passover before the first ‘passing over’ even takes place.
Celebrating God’s act of rescue, before the rescue has even taken place, is an odd celebration – it is also a act of trust and hope.
The number 119 associated with the book of Psalm may create a Déjà vu
moment for you. That makes sense as we have been in Psalm 119 several times in the past months. Afterall, Psalm 119 is the longest Pslam and the longest book in the entire Bible. With 172 verses, there is a lot of truth to be considered in this book. Most often, if not always, the focus that we find in Psalm 119 is on the issue of God’s truth, or truth. Searching for it, seeking it, grabbing ahold of it, living it…. Truth is the guide and balance of life. The direction the Psalmist takes in this passage is to seek those things out that detour us from God’s path. Those things particularly to us that act as roadblocks and misdirections in our journey. The Psalmist is begging God to remove those things that detour him/her and, instead, take us to truth and life.
Ezekiel was a prophet with the same mission as we see given to Isaiah and Jeremiah, a mission to call the people back to God. He, like Jeremiah lived to see the destruction of Judah, Jerusalem, and the temple. He was among the huge group exiled to Babylon as slave. To grasp the magnitude of Ezekiels’ statement in our passage for this week, it is important that we remember that Ezekiel, himself, experienced the pain and suffering at the hands of the Babylonians. He knew their evil first hand.
In this passage there are two main callings, the first is to point out evil, and the second is to recognize forgiveness….to those who have been the instigators of the evil. Ezekiel is, in not way, soft of crime (no matter who does it), however, he is also just as dogmatic on people receiving a second chance after punishment and correction have taken place. This forgiveness followed by a second chance is at the forefront of what his is teaching from God and, it is at the forefront of a society moving forward, and, even more so, of us all understanding the coming grace sacrifice of God’s son Jesus.
This passage is familiar to many of us, it a very simple, and harrowing, guide for keeping relationships healthy, deeper, it is a call to the church to not get sidetracked from God’s calling.
There are two levels of contextual background that will help us as we traverse these teachings of Jesus. The first is to remember, and understand, Jesus’ call for us to all live by a higher bar. By the time Jesus is born, there have been 400 years since the last prophet spoke. Some call this time between the Old and New Testament as the period where God did not speak. True, or not, we do not see the robots confrontation and encouragement from the prophets that had been common to this time. The result is that humans, particularly the religious leaders, in the absence of the prophetic voices, had taken matters, and control, into their own hands. Strict rules were established so that no one broke the laws given by God. Therefore, the command from God to keep the Sabbath holy, became an intricate series of guidelines defining what may, and what may not, be done on the Sabbath. How far you can walk, the types of ‘work’ you can engage in without violating the Sabbath law, and, in case these rules were not enough, consequences for the violations were also determined.
Human law usually leads very careful inspections of the rules by those who would seek to push the boundaries. Therefore, more rules were made and more consequences were given. If someone is smart and calculated, however, they can get away with anything. The results were an avalanche of hypocrisy by those who were the most demanding while, at the same time, the worst offenders of the spirit of God’s law.
In his first sermon, Jesus dared to approach this reality. He names the laws, but then, he raised those very laws. He confronted the attitude that I am still following the law if I make use of every loophole I can find. Jesus told the people that it was not enough to externally observe a law – he raised the bar by explaining that it was not our actions but our heart. So, hate was elevated to murder, lust elevated to adultery, and envy was elevated to theft. Jesus was not just taking the 440 years of religious leaders restrictive works, instead, he was taking us behind the law and highlighting the reasons, and revelations, or our sinful actions.
Jesus is not setting up additional fences in order to force believers to stay within their own yard and behave, instead, he had placed the followers into a ‘boot camp’ where he was leading them ‘into their calling. He defines this himself in Matthew 13. Take a moment to go back to Matthew 5 and see the ‘impossibilities’* of his ‘raising the bar.’
The second context we must realize comes just before our Matthew passage. During a discussion of ‘greatness’ and ‘importance’, Jesus stands a child in the middle of the followers, pointing out that this child, and all others like him/her, those who are powerless and vulnerable (of all ages) are the mission of the church. They are to look out for, and speak up for those who have a limited ability to speak and stand for themself. He has now actually expanded his call to stand for the oppressed.
In Jesus teachings, he is, in a greater and more potent manner, exhorting the followers to take care of those who are unable to care for themselves.
Now with this precedent of setting the bar higher, and calling the church to the mission of caring for the oppressed, Jesus is now encouraging the church to rid themselves of those things that distract them from their calling. Work out disaggrements instead of dragging others into the fight – a fight that will destroy the church’s impact on the vulnerable and the hurting of God’s creation.
*Jesus expansion of the actions such as hate, envy, and lust, to a reclassifications of murder, theft, and adultery are not setting us up for failure, but, instead pulling us away from the stance of resistant obedience and, instead, to a heart that motivates and drives our actions.
We are nearing the end of the book of Romans. The journey through this book can be somewhat exhausting, not because of length, there are only 16 chapters, but because of the depth and width of Paul’s teachings take behind the easy explanations that we so often settle for. Consider the many weeks we spent on Paul explaining the motivation aspect, the behind the scenes understandings, of the sin. The revelations of sin being a action that we a symptom of a deeper problem, a foundational cancer that is never solved our our judgement or condemnation.
Now, in this week’s passage, Paul begins to narrow life and theology down even further, bringing us to a recognition of the underlying missing essential element of life – love. Paul tells us that we had to have love, we have to act out of love, we have to relate on the path of love. It takes Jesus’ raising of the bar and opens up the roof to the standard set, not by man, but by God himself.
The main challenge of our time is to live with a transformed mind, a mind that is open to the other and leads to inner transformation. It is crucial for Christians to consider each human being as a loving partner on the journey of life, and to live each day beyond the self. The church is indeed a place where persons can be organized, socialized, and mobilized to effectively love others. Like art, love can be used as a way for people to express, explore, and perceive the world in new and revitalizing ways. To grow in love is surely a constant form of growing in creative labor. If love does not dictate the way people treat each other, the human family will slide into the darkness that Paul talks about in Romans 13:12-13.Israel Kamudzandu, Saint Paul School of Theology
Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law.