We live with three young people (and two dogs and two resilient goldfish) who are, every day, actively learning about how to operate their own bodies and how to interact with other humans and the world around them. Of course, each of us continues to work on this no matter how old we are, but it is overtly obvious with teens.
How much food you need to eat for breakfast to make it to lunch. How much one needs to study to do well on a test. How much notice an adult needs to change driving plans. What happens if you never clean your room. How smelly can I be and stand to be around myself? How much do I need to eat for lunch to make it through school? Where do I need to write down important events so I can remember them? How much do I need to eat after school so I can make it through sports practice without passing out? What happens if I get upset and yell at my friends / my teacher / a stranger / my parents? How much do I need to eat for dinner to make it through studying so I can go to bed? The list goes on.
Some of the answers to these questions can be dictated from an adult. Some of them cannot. Some of them require new information. Some of these questions can be answered by inferring from other information you already know. We learn ways of living and surviving from experience, from mentors, from authorities.
The Hebrew and Christian scriptures have many directives in them. There are many many instances where its readers are told how to live and behave and conduct themselves. And the directives from one scripture to the next are not always compatible.
This week in Leviticus we see Moses getting instructions from God that Moses was to share with the Israelites. These instructions range from when and why to harvest to how judgment should be rendered and who should render it. There is a funny rhythm to the refrain...many lines end with "I am the LORD." On first reading, it might sound a bit familiar - a refrain almost like, "because I said so..." But as we sit with this passage, the lines blur, and suddenly it is as if the directives become descriptions. Created in God's image seems all encompassing - we're called to make our very behavior reflect God's nature.
In Paul's letter to the followers of Jesus in Corinth we see him offering his readers some instruction and direction on the ways they are connected to God. In a way, Paul is describing God's indwelling with us. With Jesus as our foundation, we have to build in accordance with God...otherwise we might lose our building permit. We've been given this magnificent example, our Emmanuel. And we're charged to live out that example.
And in Matthew we see Jesus offering some direct reinterpretation of Hebrew law where he elevates the commitment and the consequences a bit. He's telling his listeners (and we think he's telling us) that we really must be living up to the expectation set by the blurry lines of Leviticus - that we are are to act as God acts with mercy and love, not just for those who will be merciful and loving as well, but for our enemies and our persecutors.
Growing up in and around a variety of church settings we have heard folks say, "The Bible has an answer for any question you might have."
On the surface, this statement is sort of comforting. However, it isn't easy to tease out simple truths. If you start to poke at this statement a bit you find that either you do not get a satisfactory answer to where dinosaurs came from and went, or you get the answer that you are a sinner or unbeliever for thinking the earth is over 10,000 years old. And there are a lot of conflicting directives there too. But isn't that sort of "true to life?" Aren't we getting all sorts of answers from all sorts of places at different times and in different circumstances?
All of this is to say that the Hebrew and Christian scriptures give us many many commandments and directives for how to live our lives. And, no matter how thoroughly Leviticus is read, there are still some things that we have to take responsibility for ourselves and discern on our own how it is we are to live. But we're given great examples in the life of Christ and in the generations of those who have followed by loving their neighbor, the widow, the orphan and the enemy.
© matt & laura norvell 2011 www.settingourstones.org
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