Synopsis Deuteronomy 25:1-10 3/12/2018
Moses commanded the children of Israel: Do not whip a man with more than 40 lashes. Do not muzzle an ox that is used for threshing grain. Brothers must protect the legacy of deceased brothers by building up their line.
On Human Dignity
Although some of the Mosaic laws seem strange and deeply archaic, the essential motivation of the law of Moses is designed to recognize the dignity of every human person. They are designed to respect the actual, intrinsic value of ordinary things.
Over-punishment is a cruelty that fails to recognize the intrinsic value of each human person. Refusing to support widows and orphans similarly fails to respect and love the life of a brother.
Authenticity and I-Thou
On the one hand, progressive social contract communities like to imagine that humans have had great success in making a world that is more humane, less vicious and more tolerant. And perhaps there is something to this advance.
On the other hand, legislation that defines legally accepted behaviors through enforced constraint doesn’t really get to the heart of the issue. It may be that we’ve written out of the social contract “death by stoning”. But is that the same as “love your neighbor”?
I-Thou. I see you as I see myself. I see in you what I see in myself. I see in you the Christ that I see in myself.
What law will bring me to live like that? That’s the question.
“When Jesus saw her weeping and the Jews who had come with her weeping, he became perturbed and deeply troubled” John 11:33
Synopsis Deuteronomy 24:12-22 3/11/2018
Moses taught the Israelites; For a lender, treating the indebted poor with respect is just. Similarly, an employer must not hold wages overnight since the poor laborer needs the daily wages to survive. Additionally, Israelites were directed to leave the corners and forgotten sheaves and secondary harvests of fruit trees for the resident alien, orphan and widows to harvest.
A note on capital punishment included the admonition that parents were not to be punished for their children’s behavior nor children for the parent’s.
Authentic Community Gives to Refugees
With these laws, poor people from all over the world would be attracted to Israel. The Israel that Moses envisioned would draw refugees. Because it was a refuge for escaped slaves from other countries and because its laws made provision for the poor and needy, many would want to come. In Israel, the poor could eat from the field and the vineyard without price. In the harvest, farmer’s were encouraged not to harvest the corners of the field and admonished not to go back and retrieve forgotten sheaves.
“That will be your justice before the Lord, your God.”
This is a curious thought from Moses. My personal measure of justice is revealed in how well I treat poor people. The measure of a community’s justice is revealed by how well the poor are treated in general. So, the willingness of the poor to bless the citizens of a community is the measure of the justice of the community.
God’s way of thinking has this certain quality of the radically obvious.
“This poor one cried out and the LORD heard, and from all his distress he saved him.” Psalms 34:7
Synopsis Deuteronomy 24:2-11 3/10/2018
Moses commanded the Israelites concerning a variety of issues. Concerning relationships; a man and woman cannot remarry after divorce if the woman has married someone else in the meantime. A newly wed man cannot be compelled to serve in the military for one year.
In lending, Moses commanded that a lender cannot take as pledge some essential piece of equipment – like a handmill or a cloak. Also, a lender cannot enter the house of a debtor in order to collect a pledge. He reminded the Israelites to follow the instructions of the priests in all matters of disease – especially skin disease.
People are not objects. Moses’ commands show that God doesn’t accept an attitude that objectifies the other person. So, it is inappropriate to take back a divorced wife who has married another. This turns her into a commodity.
Similarly, a lender must remain outside the house of a debtor to collect the pledge. The debt does not make the indebted person less worthy of respect. And the debt does not justify taking as a pledge what is life-essential for a person to survive.
Love Your Neighbor as Yourself
I suspect that most people share in the intuition that they are made in the image of God – that they are created with a certain interiority, with an independent will and with some creative capacity.
I experience life this way.
The challenge of relationship is in recognizing this same divine reflection in others. Do I see you as a means to my ends – a way of getting what I want? An object.
Or do I see you as a person “like me”, Imago Dei.
So this is the relational call of Christ. To not see the other as a person is a deep and persistent failure. It is a chosen blindness.
“If anyone says, “I love God,” but hates his brother, he is a liar; for whoever does not love a brother whom he has seen cannot love God, whom he has not seen.” 1John 4:20
Synopsis Deuteronomy 23:18-24:1 3/9/2018
Moses commanded that the children of Israel could not charge usury on money loaned to kindred. He allowed that usury could be charged to foreigners.
He also observed that when people make vows before the Lord God, that they must promptly fulfill their vows. Failure to fulfill vows was a cause for breach between the individual and God – one that God would punish. Moses also observed that no one was required to make a vow.
According to the command of Moses, Israelites were free to eat from the vineyards and grain fields of their neighbors without any special permission as long as they did not harvest and retain the food. They could only eat what they collected while at the field.
Sharing in the Authentic Community
Moses was demanding that the Israelites remain in absolute fraternity. This was the kind of sharing one might give with a beloved brother or sister – No counting the cost.
But there were 600,000 men Israel. How could anyone open themselves to sharing the fruit of their labor with so many? How could a reasonable person expose themselves in this way? They (the kindred) might eat everything. They might want to borrow what’s left. Who could take such a risk? How could anyone be this free?
And then Jesus came. He ate from the field with unwashed hands but stored no grain. He accepted what He was given without looking to create a reserve. He received without inhibition and gave freely whatever He had.
And He said, “Do not worry about your life.”
And yet I still look in horrified wonder and amazement. I want to say, “and who is my brother?” But I know how He will respond.
There’s no way around Jesus’ love for the Authentic Community. He requires an absolute commitment.
“They devoted themselves to the teaching of the apostles and to the communal life, to the breaking of the bread and to the prayers” Acts 2:42
Synopsis Deuteronomy 23:5-17 3/7/2018
Moses commanded that people from Moab and Midian should not be accepted into the Lord’s assembly to the 10th generation. Alternatively people from Edom could join the assembly of the Lord in the 3rd generation.
He also gave commands concerning camp cleanliness during expeditions. Interestingly, he commanded that escaped slaves who fled to Israel should not be returned to their masters.
No human person was born to be a slave. So it comes as little surprise, even in the midst of a world steeped in the tradition of enslavement, that all of Israel would be a sanctuary and refuge for escaped slaves.
Moses reminded the people that they were themselves, escaped slaves. It was fitting that he commanded that these people should be welcomed as refugees. They were granted the right to settle anywhere in Israel as resident aliens.
God’s Chosen People
God’s chosen people were themselves escaped slaves. Their slavery wasn’t essential to their nature but it was a part of their experience – both individually and communally. They were slaves individually. But they were also a community of slaves – an entire race enslaved.
God chose the Israelites and called them out of slavery. He called them to be a separate, chosen people. They were called out of slavery to be a nation of kings and priests to mediate between the God of Creation and the people of the world. He called them to freedom in order to serve Him.
Calling all slaves wherever you may be – The call of Christ is for anyone who can hear it.
Though enslavement is not an essential quality of any human person, we have all known slavery. We have all sinned.
I am not called because of my own goodness or righteousness. I am not attractive because of my personal history nor because of the decisions I’ve made. And there is nothing I could do to undo the marks of my slavery.
Yet, for those who are called, each is called in this way – out of slavery. And from this, we are called into the freedom to serve the one, true God of all Creation.
“For freedom Christ set us free; so stand firm and do not submit again to the yoke of slavery.” Gal 5:1
Synopsis Deuteronomy 22:24-23:4 3/7/2018
In the case that a man violates a woman who is betrothed, Moses commanded that he should receive capital punishment. The consequences for the woman depended on her response to the violation. In the case of a woman who was not betrothed, the man was required to marry and pay a dowry penalty, and he was never at liberty to divorce his wife.
Moses deemed certain relationships essentially immoral. These included the man who married his father’s wife (but not his mother – which is covered elsewhere). He also forbade that anyone with reproductive injuries, or those who were born from an illicit union, should be allowed to join the assembly of the Lord.
In the assembly of God, everything takes its order with respect to God’s purposes. To remain unstained means to live for holiness – to live entirely for my purpose in creation.
“but, as he who called you is holy, be holy yourselves in every aspect of your conduct, for it is written, “Be holy because I [am] holy.” 1Peter 1:15-16
Synopsis Deuteronomy 22:3-14 3/6/2018
Moses established in the law that people should wear the clothes appropriate to their gender. As an extension of this principle, Moses taught that people should avoid mixtures that have as their intent, the disguising of something’s true character. So, he forbad mixing wool and linen fabric, different kinds of seeds in a field, or unequally yoked animals.
Additionally, he forbade harvesting two generations of animals at the same time. A hunter could take the off-spring or the parent, but not both because this thwarted the animals achieving their purpose in reproduction.
Letting Things Exist in Their Purpose
It’s the purpose for which a thing is made that matters. That’s seems to be God’s view anyway. Our post-modern tendency is to think of it in exactly opposite terms. As long as we know how to manipulate a thing, we should be free to do whatever we want to it.
I have this tendency to want to make Jesus relevant to the world – to mix the experience of Jesus with the best this world has to offer. It’s disingenuous. It’s dangerous. And it doesn’t work.
That’s not to say Jesus doesn’t speak into culture or our contemporary circumstances. He does to be sure. But this word comes by the Holy Spirit to a faithful heart. It’s a natural consequence of a relationship between persons – human and divine. It’s authentic.
But God is determined to be more than a set of principles that can be co-opted by clever post-modern people. If I come to Jesus wanting nothing but a self-help program, then I stand in danger of everything I thought I wanted blowing-up in my face. I could lose both my hope for something larger in this life and the possibility of heaven.
Likewise, no one pours new wine into old wineskins. Otherwise, the new wine will burst the skins, and it will be spilled, and the skins will be ruined. Luke 5:33
Synopsis Deuteronomy 22:15-23 3/5/2018
Moses addressed the situation of children who are born to an unloved wife – that their inheritance may not be discriminated against. He also established the law concerning a rebellious son and the law concerning the corpse of someone who has received capital punishment.
In a different vein, Moses described the responsibility that each member of the community has toward the property of neighbors. According to this law, each member of the community was required to catch any stray animals they encountered and return them to their owners. Moses extended this law to include all property.
So the law of the Authentic Community is that I cannot look the other way. I cannot ignore my neighbor’s lost cow, or donkey, or sheep or material possession if it is in my power to restore it to my neighbor. I am bound by this law to act – to help. I am bound to round up the renegade and take it to its home.
Who is My Neighbor?
The self-righteous scribe couldn’t help himself. “And who is my neighbor?” he asked Jesus.
Of course, I am the self-righteous scribe. If someone dropped a quarter in the grocery I’d be the first to rush over to “help” pick it up. But I am simultaneously so sure I understand the letter of the law that I can always find a way to justify not investing time in my neighbor who has lost his spouse to cancer.
Recently someone said to me, “You make it all sound so easy – but it isn’t easy”. So my words betray this deeper reality. My own experience tells me this way of givenness is strangely not easy. And yet the work itself is not a burden. The challenge, it seems, is all inside of me.
It’s true. It’s authentic. It’s easy to say. But it’s the doing that matters.
“And who is my neighbor?” Luke 10:29
Synopsis Deuteronomy 20:15-21:4 3/4/2018
Moses described the rules of war for cities that were actually in the geographic boundaries of the Promised Land. Also, he prohibited the destruction of fruit trees at besieged cities.
Save the Trees
Ancient war was a savage business with very few rules. So, it might seem like a kind of an oddity that in the ancient Mediterranean world, it was considered deeply immoral to destroy an enemies’ fruit trees.
The issue was the nature of fruit production. The land was productive through its trees. Just for the record, by fruit trees, we’re talking primarily about olive trees and vineyard grapes. To destroy these was an act of total war because of the time it would take decades to replace destroyed trees an vines. The only purpose of this kind of destruction is the determination to complete annihilation of an adversary.
For any community, a town’s orchards were considered key infrastructure. The oil from olives was used for everything from food, to hygiene, to light from torches and lamps. Grapes were used for wine, which was an essential beverage in a land with challenges for water purity.
So destroying fruit trees as part of a siege was understood as an attack on the earth’s capacity to produce for mankind, more than an appropriate part of hurting your enemy.
Care for the Earth
Laudato Si’ invokes the fraternal brotherhood of all created things as Francis of Assisi experienced them. With this, the Authentic Community is reminded that we bear responsibility to protect that which God has given to all in common. Our failures, like our successes, will always be more than the aggregation of our individual behaviors. What we do individually matters. Yet, there is a morality in community. A community can sin just as a community can do righteously.
It is up to the Authentic Community, a pilgrim people, to bear witness. The Father cares about every sparrow, and every tree.
“Are not two sparrows sold for a small coin? Yet not one of them falls to the ground without your Father’s knowledge.” Matt 10:29
Synopsis Deuteronomy 20:4-14 3/3/2018
Moses gave specific instructions about the military preparations for war. He had discouraged the Israelites from having a king and a professional standing army. He also gave instructions concerning who should fight and who should be left behind.
Then, Moses delineated the rules of engagement with fortified cities. He further defined what spoils were authorized for the soldiers and the community in the case of victory.
Rules of War
Love Your Enemy
In Jesus, there is a coming together of these two seemingly different rules:
Jesus was free. He was detached from unfinished business. He did not have property or material investments. He did not have personal projects that kept Him from engaging. He was not distracted. He could not be distracted. He was free from worry or regret.
Similarly, he was filled with compassion. As Creator, he wanted nothing more than to relate to His creation. Even now, He seems to want to experience the value of what He has done. His defenses are not up. He is approachable. And, even though He is an irresistible force, He extends the olive branch first, wherever he goes.
Detachment and Compassion: Key ingredients in the Way of Givenness.
“But I say to you, love your enemies, and pray for those who persecute you” Matt 5:44