Sunday, June 25, 2017

Didn't Jesus do away with all the rules? part 13

The Rev. Know-it-all’s “Young Christian’s Guide to Halakhic Law”, finally terminated.

In my previous ravings, patient reader, I explained that among the 613 commandments of the Law of Moses there are 365 don’ts and 248 do’s. Among these commandments there are commandments, witnesses, and rules that have no apparent reason. If Jesus says that “until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is fulfilled.” (Matt 5:18), how, pray tell, does Jesus fulfill something like the law prohibiting Shatnez?  Allow me to explain. 

Shatnez is cloth containing both wool and linen which Torah prohibits.  Leviticus 19:19 and Deuteronomy 22:9–11 prohibit an individual from wearing wool and linen fabrics in one garment, the interbreeding of different species of animals, and the planting different kinds of seeds together. My suspicion is that the prohibition against these inter-mixings is a reminder of the wall of separation between Israel and the nations that surrounded them. The law requiring circumcision and much of the dietary law had the same function. I remember inviting Rabbi Lefkowitz to dinner at my rectory with the alderman. It was a Chicago kind of thing.  It had to be a kosher catered meal served on sealed, disposable plates, glasses and flatware. An observant Jew cannot eat in a Gentile home except with great difficulty. We are unclean. If that does not put a damper on chumminess, what will?  Mixture is discouraged at every turn, and this is reasonable.

The Canaanites among whom Israel found itself living practiced abominations like religious prostitution and child sacrifice. An invitation to dinner might involve who knows what?  As the Yiddishe bubbi (grandmother, for us goyim) says, “It’s better vee shouldn’t mix in!” This is a huge biblical principle, not just the worries of a nervous grandmother. Why should they mix in? Simple.

The idea of a moral and righteous God was new to the world. Religion had almost nothing to do with what we think of as morality among the nations of the ancient world. It was more a kind of practical voodoo about how to get what you wanted and how to keep the gods from squashing you like a bug. This whole Israelite thing about a righteous God who loves humanity with a passionate and jealous love was unheard of in the ancient world. If you think about it, that sort of thing really doesn’t come naturally to us humans. We are far more interested in the voodoo that allows us to do pretty much what we please.

In the law, God created a people set apart. By the time of the Roman Empire about two thousand years ago, the concepts of the religion of Israel were pretty well known and fairly respected. The nation of Israel had prospered and the books of Moses were known throughout out the Persian and Roman empires. The Roman Empire was about ten percent Jewish. Jews had trading colonies as far away as India and Spain. They filled the Greek speaking world and the Roman Empire. Separation had done its job. The God of Israel, the Righteous One, was poised to replace the innumerable capricious gods of the pagans. The wall of separation would come crashing down in the teachings of the Messiah Jesus, in His sacrificial death for all mankind and in His miraculous resurrection.

Paul of Tarsus the Pharisee talmid (student) would explain this fulfillment in his many letters.  We fulfill the commandment by doing more than the law requires. Not only do we refrain from adultery, but we love our spouses as we love our own bodies, St. Paul explains. We fulfill the commandments of witness by living and dying for the Lord. We are allowed to trim the corners of our beards if we live in such charity that the world can see the law fulfilled in our love and kindness for those around us be they pagan or believer.

The first Christians fulfilled the witness commandments by their deaths in the Roman amphitheaters. The witness commandments are fulfilled every time a Middle Eastern Christian has his head lopped off by one of the enemies of God. But Shatnez? How does Jesus and how do we fulfill this prohibition and those like it, such as circumcision and the refusal to eat lobster?  The key lies in one Torah text. (Hang on. This will be obscure.) I refer you to Exodus 39:29:

 “…and (you shall make) the belt (for the high priest) of fine twined linen, and blue, and purple, and scarlet, the work of the weaver in colors, as the Lord commanded Moses.”

Rabbinic Judaism maintains that Shatnez, mixture, was mandated in the case of the high priest’s belt, in which fine white linen was interwoven with purple, blue, and scarlet material. According to the sages, the purple, blue, and scarlet were made from wool and interwoven with the fine linen. The high priest wore a symbolic word around his waist that one day Shatnez would be allowed.

If Jesus is the great high priest the fulfillment of the priesthood of the temple he fulfills this prophecy made in fabric and the prohibitions against Shatnez are no longer necessary. Go, enjoy a ham sandwich. Just make sure you honor the image of God in every human being you meet but without submitting the immoral practices of the nations such as abortion and promiscuity.

I think I am about finished with this whole thing about the law.

Rev. Know-it-all

Sunday, June 18, 2017

Didn't Jesus do away with all the rules? part 12

 Continued from last week…

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...

Sunday, June 11, 2017

Didn't Jesus do away with all the rules? part 11

The Rev. Know-it-all’s “Young Christian’s Guide to Halakhic Law.” continued

In last week’s thrilling episode, I pointed out that the Ten Commandments are immutable because they flow from the very nature of the Almighty. Amazingly they make a point about humanity, namely that humanity is meant to reflect this same immutable nature.

The Hebrew sages speak of the Noachide laws, laws that are required of every human being.  If all people are descended from Noah, the laws of the covenant with Noah are required for all human beings, so goes the reasoning:
The seven laws of Noah are these:
Do not deny God.
Do not blaspheme God.
Do not murder.
Do not engage in illicit sexual relations.
Do not steal.
Do not eat from a live animal.
Establish courts/legal system to ensure obedience to said laws.

The sixth forbids cruelty to animals and hints at our duty as stewards of the earth. The seventh, regarding legal systems, in effect takes care of the commandments forbidding covetousness and dishonesty. One must be answerable to law and thus is held to a standard of honesty and respect for the property and relationships of others. These same laws are essentially what are meant by natural law. This very phrase “natural law” is earthshaking. It means that we have a nature, and that this nature is not totally different from God’s nature.

We Christians believe that Jesus did not come to destroy or change nature. He came to restore it. To recognize and reverence something greater than one’s own self, to treat others fairly as we would be treated ourselves and to respect the life-giving nature of human sexuality are the bedrock of human civilization and the bedrock of the Judeo-Christian law. Break these laws, or still worse, deny them and you do so at you own peril, and at the peril of the civilization. They are laws that are bound up with our nature as beings.

The world at present denies that we even have a nature, particularly in matters reproductive and intimate. The Scriptures tell us that “God said
to them, ‘Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.’”  (Gen 1:28) and again, “He created them male and female and blessed them.”  (Gen. 5:2)

Jesus of Nazareth, who I happen to think was God, reiterated this law when He said, “Have you not read that from the beginning the Creator ‘made them male and female’ and said, ‘For this reason a man will leave his father and mother and be united to his wife, and the two will become one flesh.’” (Matt. 10:4, 5) 

I think that there are now 52 or more genders that progressive people insist we recognize. Jesus, the Torah, natural law and the covenant with Noah say that nature gave us two genders. I mention this not just to be difficult, but to point out a whole spectrum of Torah laws which are designed to protect the purpose of human intimacy. These old desert laws written by ancient patriarchs are no longer adequate for life in these modern times, so we are told.

I grind the following ax constantly. All our gender and reproductive confusion is about to bring on one of the greatest crises in human history, perhaps the greatest since the flood itself that engendered the Noachide laws. I just got back from visiting the cousins in Lower Upper-Hessia. I finally understand Angela Merckl’s insane immigration policies.

After the wars, the German people rejected human life by rejecting children. I remember it. When I first visited the old country in 1973, people were having ZERO children. Now they have a few. I just got back from another visit (2017) and Germany has become a retirement home. Tourist sites are mobbed by vigorous German old folks, striding about and having a good time with lots of beer and gem├╝tlichkeit. (Gem├╝tlichkeit is the mood brought on by lots of beer.) They all look like those horrible commercials wherein laughing old people eat healthy cereals and drink protein and fiber drinks and use products that cause them to sit in tubs on beaches holding hands, the specifics of which I will not mention here!

Angela and her government have got to pay for all these vigorous old Germans, and there are not enough young people to do so, thus she must import other countries’ extra young people to work to support the vigorous old Germans.

It seems to me that this is a cynical reworking of the motto of previous German institutions, “Arbeit Macht Frei” (Work makes Free.)  Most of the world is running out of young people or soon will because we have defied our nature, and worse we have denied it. The chaos engulfing a large part of the world is a very direct result of the demographic shift that results from our failure to heed the very first law of the Torah. “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth.”

“Nonsense!” I can hear the more enlightened among you say. “The world is full of people!” At present, yes, but look down the road a little, the train may be chugging along nicely right now but just around the bend, the bridge is out.
We may not be in trouble, but our grandchildren and great grandchildren are.