In last week’s thrilling episode of “The Rev. Know-it-all’s “Young Christian’s Guide to Halakhic Law.” I shared the Jewish concept of the Noachite laws to which non-Jews are bound. Jews, at least as far Jewish orthodoxy is concerned, are bound by all six hundred and thirteen laws found in the Torah, the books of Moses as Jesus called them. If you are wondering about all these 613 laws they are easy to find at 613 commandments - Wikipedia.
A commandment in Hebrew is called a Mitzvah, plural mitzvoth. There are 248 Positive Commandments (do's) called ta’ase and 365 Negative Commandments (do not's) called lo ta’aseh. The mitzvoth are further divided into what are call Khukkim and Mishpatim that is decrees and judgments. To these are added eidoth or testimonials. The decrees are easy. They are extensions of the Ten Commandments. The Torah expands on the prohibition against idolatry, unjust violence, dishonesty and (interestingly enough) sterile sexuality. The many laws regarding sexual conduct and sexual availability indicate a profound respect for the creative role of women and the primarily reproductive role of human intimacy.
The first hundred laws (give or take) are prohibitions against idolatry, and the sacredness of the Sabbath. The mishpatim, (judgments) all make sense just as extensions of the Ten Commandments and the Noahite laws. Then there are the testimonials, the eidoth. They are bit more of a stretch. The eidoth are rules such as the observance of Sabbath and the Holy Days, or the wearing of tzitzit (tassels on you garments) the wearing of tefilin (little boxes containing the Shema “Hear O Israel” fastened on arm and head by leather straps.) These are things which mark a person publicly and visibly as part of Israel.
Jesus of Nazareth fulfils the laws prohibiting idolatry as summed up in the verse of Christian scripture found in St. Paul’s letter to the Colossians. “He is the visible image of the invisible God.” Since the dawn of time, men have tried to imagine the creator of all things and the powers that control his life. They have invariably gotten it wrong and have created gods in their own image and not God as He is. We believe that God has sent us His own visible image in the person of Jesus of Nazareth. If you want to know what God looks like, just look at Jesus, the Messiah. God looks like a Jewish day laborer who was born in a barn, had to flee from the authorities on numerous occasions, beginning in his childhood, He finally died after a night in jail, executed for treason and blasphemy.
That’s what God looks like. Heck of a religion, not one that anybody in his right mind would invent. If Jesus of Nazareth is in fact the visible image of the invisible God, all the laws against idolatry are fulfilled in Him. To worship an idol when a divine person, the actual image of the divine, is available would be ridiculous. It would be like the man who has a treasured photo of his beloved at which he stares in her absence. Were she to suddenly appear at his door, would he say, “Go away! I’m looking at your picture?” Nonsense! Go ahead and make all the images you want. Not one of them, be it marble or plaster, a painting, a photo or the finest gold and silver, can compare to the beauty of the Lord himself made available to us in the Spirit and in the Holy Sacrament.
Speaking about Jesus’ human origins there are two interesting laws, one that He fulfills, and perhaps even one fulfilled by his Blessed Mother. I warn you that the following may be disturbing. We must forget, for just a moment, our understanding of the innocence and the moral perfection owned by our Lord and His Blessed Mother. We should look at them the way a harsh and cynical world would have looked at them at the time. “Do not to let a mamzer (a child born due to an illegal relationship, a bastard) marry into the people of Israel.” (Deut. 23:3) We know the truth that Jesus was conceived miraculously, but do you think His neighbors and relatives believed that? Small villages and small minds count the days from the wedding to the birth with great precision. They knew Joseph and Mary had not been married when Jesus was conceived, and I imagine they thought that Joseph was not the father, just an older relative to whom Our Blessed Mother was married to protect her and the child of her womb.
If the first command was to be fruitful and multiply, do you ever wonder that Jesus seems not to have married? Perhaps Jesus bore the stigma of a suspicious birth and so doing cancelled the law that forbad a mamzer marrying into Israel. He was the Bridegroom of Israel, and being innocent Himself, legitimizes all the outcasts of the world who turn to Him and ask for the grace.
But what of our Blessed Mother? Israelites must fulfill the laws of the Sotah. (Num. 5:18ff)
“The priest shall take holy water in an earthen vessel and the dust that is on the floor of the tabernacle... the priest shall cause her (the suspected adulteress) to swear, and shall say unto the woman: ‘If no man have lain with thee, and if thou hast not gone aside to uncleanness…. be thou free from this water of bitterness that causeth the curse…. He shall write down these curses and blot their ink into the water of bitterness… And when he hath made her drink the water, then …if she have acted unfaithfully against her husband, that the water that causeth the curse shall enter into her and become bitter, and her belly shall swell, and her thigh shall fall away; and the woman shall be a curse among her people!!!’”
(I purposely left this in King James English. It sounds so much more curse-y that way.)
What has this to do with the Blessed Mother? The name Mary, in Hebrew Mariam, means “bitterness.” She was the sorrowful mother, made to drink the water of bitterness as she stood at the foot of Her Son’s cross. She was proved innocent and faithful despite the bitterness of her life and is today honored in all the world.
To be continued...