Letter to Fidel Labrador continued...
Just to refresh your memory, St Paul says, “We maintain that a person is justified by faith apart from the works of the law.” However, St. James says, “As you can see, a man is justified by his works and not by faith alone.” These two statements sure seem contradictory. Hold on one minute. St Paul says we are not justified by works of the law. St. James says we are justified by works and faith together. “Works of the law”, a phrase, is quite different from the single word “works.”
There is one other place in early Jewish literature where the phrase works of the law appears, albeit, in Hebrew. Let us turn to the Dead Sea Scrolls, always a fun read. There is a scroll titled 4QMMT, Miqsat Ma’aseh haTorah or more easily, "Some Works of the Law". It deals with such important issue as dogs being forbidden entry into Jerusalem and several regulations about the impurity of the leper during the period of purification until final purification. Who among us has not lost sleep over these questions? A particularly interesting issue deals with the purity of the streams of liquids poured from a pure vessel into an impure one. As you all know from your regular reading of the book of Leviticus, a clay or porcelain vessel once made ritually impure, cannot be purified and must be destroyed. And you all must know if a dead rodent falls into a clay vessel, that vessel is made unclean. The question is this: if one pours water from a clay pitcher into the unclean clay bowl, can the ritual impurity that infests the clay bowl travel up the stream of water and defile the clay pitcher so that it too must be broken? The Pharisees said no, the Qumran loonies said yes and St. Paul said, “Are you for real?” (I am of course paraphrasing the words of Sacred Scripture). The scroll ends with the statement, “And these are some works of the law.” So, it seems that the phrase “works of the law” is a very specific reference to the important issues of clay bowls, dogs in Jerusalem and whom temple priests may marry. When St. Paul says we are not justified by works, he is clearly referring to ritual taboos such as grain offering left overnight in the temple and the rules regarding the slaughter of pregnant animals et alia. These things will never justify a person. So just what is justification?
Read Romans the eighth chapter, 28th verse and following:
"And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose. For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the image of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified.”
St. Paul is insistent that God’s purpose is to adopt us as His children. In order to do this, He must make us look like His Only Begotten Son, Jesus the Messiah, the only person worthy of divine sonship. So, what did Jesus look like? If you could get into a time machine and go back to the carpenter shop in Nazareth 2,000 years ago you wouldn’t walk out saying, “Oh, what beautiful blue eyes He has, just like the calendar on the refrigerator!” You would probably think, “Boy was He kind and patient. He was so generous, He undercharged me!” What did Jesus look like? There is a perfectly good description of Jesus in the Bible. We find it in Galatians the 5th chapter verses 22 and 23:
But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
That’s what Jesus looked like. That’s what you would have thought had you asked Him to fix your plow or cart. St. Justin Martyr who was born just 70 years after the death and resurrection of the Lord in Nablus in the Holy Land 20 or 30 miles from Nazareth and about half way to Jerusalem. He tells a beautiful story about Our Lord the carpenter.
People were poor in Galilee. A farm animal was a big investment. The ox that pulled the plow was the most expensive thing a poor farmer might own. Think of it as a very expensive piece of farm machinery. If an animal was chafed or injured by its harness and yoke, the animal might be infected and die. Jesus had a reputation for being so good with animals that his animal collars and yokes were perfect. People came from all over Galilee to have their animals fitted for collars by Jesus. When Jesus stood up and said, “Take my yoke upon you and learn from me. My yoke is easy, my burden light.” I suspect He was telling a bit of a joke. His hearers would have smiled and thought, “Yes, this is the carpenter/yoke-maker turned rabbi.” Jesus was saying in effect, if you think I’m good with animals I am much better with the human heart.
This is what Jesus looked like, meek and humble of heart. The word humble in the text is an interesting word. It is “tapeinos” and means “undistinguished.” Children and sinners were drawn to Jesus. The great and mighty weren’t. That’s what Jesus looked like. He set you at ease if you were nobody. He made you nervous if you thought you were somebody. God’s purpose is to make me look like Him, ordinary and kind and generous. I would rather look rich and important. It’s going to take a lifetime to convince me that looking like Jesus is the way to go. To be just is to be godly. It is to look like God who looks like Christ.
I remember the story of Mother Teresa washing the feet of a dying leper. The leper who believed in reincarnation and that he was suffering for sins committed in a past life asked her, “Why are you doing this?” Mother Teresa said, “Because I want to be like Jesus.” The leper asked, “Does He look like you?” “No,” she said, “but I try to look like Him. The leper said, “If this is true, I want to be a Christian.”
Years ago, I was a guest on an evangelical news show that was broadcasting the installation of a Catholic archbishop. I was there to explain weird Catholic things to the Protestants. They were particularly interested in the hats. There was a famous Protestant dean of a famous evangelical institute who preceded me on the air. As I heard what he was saying I felt so sorry for him. He was talking about Mother Teresa. He insisted that though she might be a fine person, if she believed that her good works would save her she was damned. If one thought he was saved by a work, he was certainly headed for hell. How could he have so misunderstood the Scriptures? Christ clearly says that if we fail to do good works He does not know us and that we should depart into that fire prepared for the devil and his angels.
To believe is to trust. If I trust Jesus, I am going to do as he asks. No matter how much I insist that I trust Him, if I refuse to do what He asks I neither trust nor love Him. That’s what St. James is saying. St. Paul is saying that no amount of avoiding pork and breaking unclean clay pots will make us look like God and make us worthy of heaven. He does however say that, “Because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God “will repay each person according to his works.” (Romans 2:5-6)
It is only by trusting Christ and consequently obeying Him by loving one another that we can be made to look like Him and be adopted by God. They are not contradicting each other at all.
The gossip about Roman emperors is sure to be in next week’s adventure packed article.
To be continued…..