Sunday, May 21, 2017

Didn't Jesus do away with all the rules? part 8

Another thrilling installment in the Rev. Know-it-all’s “The Young Christian’s Guide to Halakhic Law.”

At the time of Christ, there were lots of interpretations of the law. The Herodians, the group gathered around the political structure of the Herod Family, seem to have had no trouble being flexible about religious law. Herod was so scrupulous about the law that the Emperor Augustus Caesar’s favorite joke was that it was better to be Herod the Great’s pig than his son.  He executed a number of sons on suspicion of treason. Pigs were safe around Herod. He kept kosher, except of course when politics demanded otherwise. 

There was a spring sacred to the Greek god Pan in the north of the holy land where Herod the Great built a shining white marble temple in honor of his patron, Augustus Caesar, Philip the Tetrarch son of Herod the Great and his fifth wife, Cleopatra of Jerusalem founded a city there and expanded the temple with their forbidden graven image. Pig sacrifices, to statues of Greek and Roman gods were fine, just not where anyone could see them.

There were the Sadducees who kept strictly kosher, but didn’t care if anybody else did. There were the Pharisees who thought that everyone should keep kosher, not just the priests. Then there were the am ha'aretz le-mitzvot, Jews who didn’t scrupulously observe kosher law am ha'aretz la-Torah, the dunces who didn’t study the Torah at all. Then there were the Essenes mentioned earlier and the other dead sea squirrels for whom kosher wasn’t kosher enough.  There is a charming Dead Sea Scroll, Miqsat Ma’she ha Torah” (Some Works of the Law) which poses the serious theological question: If water is poured from a clay pitcher into a clay bowl, and the bowl is ritually unclean, can the uncleanness leap up the stream of water and pollute the clay pitcher, so that both must be destroyed? The Dead sea folks said yes, the Pharisees said no.  There were lots of different sects preaching lots of different interpretations the 613 commandments of the Torah. So again, what do clay bowls have to do with me? A whole lot more than you realize! 

Your kids may go off to school and meet other Christians who seem a lot cooler than Catholics with their no meat on Fridays, especially in Lent, their insistence on Sunday Mass and regular confession and all these other rules like no sleeping around at college, and no artificial birth control and no divorce and remarriage etc. They will quote St. Paul by saying that we are not saved by “…works of the law.” “Therefore no one will be declared righteous in God's sight by the works of the law.” (Romans 3:20) etc.  They will interpret this passage and such others as saying that we can do whatever we want if we have faith in Jesus. We are saved and can’t get unsaved. Gosh, I hope they’re right.

If the Old Testament said we can’t eat pork, but now we can eat pork, why can’t we do what we want with whomever we want? Why do Catholics have all these rules if Jesus did away with the law? Why do we insist on obeying only ten of the commandments when apparently, there are 613 of them? Why have any law if we are not saved by a work of the law?

Next week, the thrilling answer. I hope.

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