Wednesday, February 08, 2012

Ten commandments and Red letters

The Ten Commandments and

Red Letter texts in the New Testament

This morning I read an essay by the Chief Rabbi of Great Britain and the British Commonwealth, Rabbi Jonathan Sacks. It was about the Ten Commandments, and how for many years, leaders in Judaism, tried to downplay the importance of the Ten Commandments in relation to the other laws. They took what many might regard as surprising action to bring this point home. For instance, Originally, in the synagogues, the Ten Commandments were recited before they said the Shema - Hear O Israel, the Lord is one God. But because there were some who believed that because the Ten Commandments were so important, because God had communicated this directly with the people from Mount Sinai, that the rest of the laws were not important, and some people were saying that Moses had just made them up. So, the 10 Commandments were cut from the synagogues order of service. People still did recite them at home. Some, when reciting these words, would stand, while remaining seated for other prayers. So determined were the Rabbis to stamp out the idea that the Ten Commandments were more special but, it would seem that nevertheless, people still had a need to see these commandments as having precedence over the other Mosaic laws.  Rabbi Sack entitled his essay, "The custom that refused to die". He said that despite the well meant efforts of the Rabbi's to stamp out custom of standing when reciting the Ten Commandments, the people simply kept on doing it.

"Leave Israel alone," said Hillel, "for even if they are not prophets, they are the children of prophets." Ordinary Jews had a passion for the Ten Commandments" They were the distilled essence of Judaism. They were heard directly by the people from the mouth of G-d Himself. They were the basis of the covenant they made with G-d at Mount Sinai, calling on them to become a kingdom of priests and a holy nation. Twice in the Torah they are described as the covenant itself.

As I was reflecting on that, I was reminded that most Christians also hold in higher regard the New Testament than the Old Testament, the Four Gospels (Matthew, Mark, Luke and John) than they do other parts of the New Testament and the recorded words of Jesus (In certain modern editions, printed in red ink). We are told that "All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in righteousness," (2 Tim 3:16)

So were the Jewish people WRONG to give special prominence to the Ten Commandments over the other laws that Moses gave them? Are Anglican Christians wrong to give special prominence to the Gospel Reading, by having the priest read that portion (and a lay reader reading the Old Testament and/or the Epistles.) Having everyone stand during the reading of the Gospel text? This is not a universal Christian tradition. It is - I believe and Anglican and possibly a Roman Catholic tradition. )

I totally understand the concern of the rabbis that the Jews do not focus so much on the relatively short tract of Scripture at the expense of the rest of the Torah, and likewise, I believe Christians should not be so zoned in on The Gospels and in Particular Jesus words that they disregard the richness that is to be found in the rest of the Bible, both Old and New Testaments. However, we should not downplay, either the Ten Commandments as insignificant or the Words of Jesus as being unimportant, but recognise that in the Scripture these are VERY significant passages. By recognising that The Ten Commandments, and the Words of Jesus were of more special significance, we are not saying that the other parts of the Old Testament or the writings of Paul, Peter, James, Jude and John are not important.

I am reminded that in the New Testament, we read of two occasions where god spoke audibly from Heaven, once after Jesus' baptism in the Jordan, and once on the Mount of Transfiguration, an on both occasions He said the same thing. "This is my own Son, in whom I am well pleased" on the Mount of Transfiguration, God added, "Listen to him".

It would seem to me, that special attention should be paid to the what Jesus was recorded as saying, and I think that in hearing Jesus words, we should also listen to the WAY they were said. I hear you objecting? We were not around back then and there were video cameras around at that time, so how can we know HOW Jesus said these things. in one sense we can't know, but I do believe we can get a sense of the way he spoke by reading his words in context. I think we would be well advised to look at what Jesus put emphasis on, and try and reflect that in our own lives. A lot of Christians place a lot of emphasis on sexual sins almost to the exclusion of every other aspect of life. The Ten Commandments, brief as they are only have one commandment, given without elaboration or comment on what may be classified as sexual sin, "Do not commit adultery" And Jesus equally did speak about sexual sin, but he had a LOT more to say about the hypocrisy of the religious leaders, who lorded their superiority over the others. Jesus rebuked the GREED of money changers in the temple courts saying that they were turning God's House of prayer for all nations into a market place. I am not saying sexual sin is a non-issue, but I am saying, it should not necessarily be the main issue, and should definitely not be the ONLY issue.

It's no secret that I am gay. I know that to many who read this, that fact alone precludes me from being a genuine Christian, or at the very least, I must repent of my homosexuality, and if I cannot "change" to be normal, then I should remain celibate - take a vow of chastity, as it were. I was accused, on Facebook, by someone who I don't know, of following "another Lord" - a false-Christ. I was very insulted, though not concerned, by the presumptuousness a person, to say such a thing. I asked him, politely if he had checked that he himself was following the True Lord. Yes there are Scriptures that speak about homosexuality and on the face of it, they seem to be prohibitive, but, I believe and this is after some time of careful study, I believe these scriptures are addressing very specific situations. (I will not go into an apologia or explanation here, but I believe - and this is where the relevance of this to the topic in hand, is that it is interesting that in the Ten Commandments - adultery is mentioned, which is not gender specific - a woman can commit adultery, as can a man, - but not homosexuality. Again, I remind you, that many Christians are overly interested in homosexuality, to the extent that i think some people think its the worst sin - or a sin as bas as murder. "Sin is sin" and if you have broken one law you are just as sinful as the vilest murderer. Yes the Bible says all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. However, even those who repeat such saying in practice, definitely have a "hierarchy of sin" and you can tell by how animated they get about different issues. Homosexuality seems to evoke the most anger from social conservative Christians. There are many types of sexual sin. Some are illegal, others are legal. However, some people, are more animated about two adults of the same gender having consenting sexual intercourse.

I notice that Jesus never mentioned the issue of homosexuality. Jesus in His three years of ministry, did not go around rebuking sinners. He was not out to lecture the prostitutes (or their customers) or the drunkards, even though both prostitution and drunkenness are condemned in the Bible.  He came to be the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the World, as His cousin John preached. He taught us about the Love of God, and he told us not to judge. I am not so naive as to believe that people will change their mind on this issue, purely on the strength of one article, but I would say, that even if you are right that homosexuality is a sin, can we at least show consistency in remembering that Jusus came to bring the GOOD news, and that is that there is forgiveness and Love from God, and that everyone can come to the cross. Nobody is excluded. We WERE told by Jesus that we must PREACH the Gospel (Good news) to all people, and make DISCIPLES. Can we preach the Gospel of Salvation that through repentance and faith, available by the GRACE of God, while at the same time having a superior attitude, and disdainfully dismissing gay people as beyond hope? Can we preach a Gospel of grace while at the same time holding a judgmental placard that says "God hates gays/fags"

I was tempted, when i came to the place in my life, to realise that being gay was just part of who i am, and that it is not going to go away or change, to say that if God is against homosexuality - then he shouldn't have made me one. That if He won't accept me, then I may as well enjoy life and MAYBE there is no God  at all. I had that thought for about 2 seconds, when I remembered that I had experienced the miracles and love of God, and that there was no way I could deny His reality. I consequently set out to understand this apparent anomaly. I cannot say i have got a total handle on it, but I can confidently say that I am His child, His gay child.He couldn't love me any more - He gave His life for me on the Cross, and wouldn't love me any less - the Bible says that He will not let anyone snatch us out of His hand, and in Romans that NOTHING can separate us from the Love of God. Nothing in all creation - that I presume includes homosexuality. if you say that homosexuality does separate us from God's love you seem to be in direct contradiction with the word of God.

In conclusion, We have in the Bible God's Words to Us a special gift, to be treasured and used. It is both a unit in that it is all God's Word, and it is multifaceted, in that it is 66 documents written by different authors over a great span of years. And just as a a wedding ring given to a wife is entirely beautiful and yet when the bride shows off her special ring, it is the precious stones that are set in the ring that she draws your attention to. Like those precious stones , those sapohires, emerals or diamonds, The Ten Commandments and the Words of Jesus are aspects on which we can easily focus as being a little extra special. 

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