According to one of the readings set for this week Deuteronomy 30, everyday life and death, blessing and curse are set before us. It tells us that Blessing is waiting for us if we would love the Lord, walk in his ways, and keep his commandments. Conversely, if our hearts turn away and refuse to listen and obey, it will mean death for us. What will we choose? From that we can draw from this reading is an understanding that God’s commands are for our well-being.
Following God’s commands brings happiness and wholeness to our bodies. But the blessing God desires for us goes deeper than that. God desires that our hearts be at rest and whole. Yet in another of the readings set for this week, Matthew 5, Jesus makes it clear that he takes God’s commands to another level: “You have heard that it was said . . ., Don’t commit murder. . .. But I say to you that everyone who is angry with their brother or sister will be in danger of judgment. . .. If they say, ‘You fool,’ they will be in danger of fiery hell.”
It is not simply about refraining from killing someone else. It is about being careful to care for their hearts and to take care that anger and malice are not in control of our own hearts. Every day we choose. Every moment we choose. Will we choose life or death? Will we disobey God and reap the destructive consequences in our minds, bodies, hearts, and relationships? Or will we obey God’s commands and receive the blessing he offers? God desires to bless us. God desires that we would not merely survive, but that we would thrive.
Yet, we hear many purporting to follow Jesus and his teachings advocating exclusion, advocating violence, advocating their own power and position. It would seem that our world has chosen to follow such leaders both in Church and Secular government. In the Church by seeking a literalism that advocates violence against those we believe are different or who might be seeking a fuller understanding of their relationship with their God and how to live out the life that Jesus demonstrated. The heart and compassion are key to our understanding of following our God’s commandments.
In Matthew 5 is one of those places where Jesus poses traditional law versus God’s law of Love that he came to fulfill. Human beings desire according to the desiring of others, which leads to reaching for the same objects of desire, and thus sow the seeds to human conflict. A second involves the sacrificial logic that founds and shapes human culture: attempting to substitute a lesser or sanctioned violence for the unwanted violence arising from our desire. The violence ensuing from our desire threatens to unravel human community; sacrificial violence is what we trust to cohere human community.
Jesus fully understands this, and it can be unpacked for modern ears such that we can make use of it in more fully understanding the antitheses between traditional human law and the fulfillment of God’s law in love. A deeper understanding of the Ten Commandments can also assist with understanding these antitheses. Human beings are always at jeopardy of breaking the commandments due to the desires over our neighbour, because we are hard-wired for these desires. The rivalry generated by desires results in increasing envy, resentment, lust, and anger (and ultimately violence).
So, we read that Jesus poses that the anger caused by rivalry (coveting) as on a continuum with slandering our neighbour and even murdering our neighbour. Likewise, lust is akin to the breaking of the seventh commandment on adultery. The problem of human violence must be addressed at its root. The ultimate solution is the Greatest Commandment: to love the Lord your God with all your heart and soul and mind.
Otherwise, we are left to continue our sacrificial solutions of human law based on human councils of judgment and on sacrificial solutions. Any solution less than following the complete love of God coming into the world through the Son is from the “evil one.” These lesser solutions characterise all of our lives if not for the “complete” love of the parent of Jesus Christ that graciously rescues us.
Each one of us has a role given to us by the Lord. Some plant, some water. We don’t get to decide what our role is. There is blessing for us if we will gladly accept the role that God gives us. There is joy for us when we stop comparing ourselves to others and wishing we could do what someone else does. It is up to the wisdom of our God. In scripture we are told that some plant, some water, but God makes growth happen. We do our jobs, but truly, apart from God’s working, our best efforts are worthless.
We don’t have to make everything happen. It is not our job. We must release ourselves from that kind of pressure. We must be faithful to do what God has given us to do. We will receive our own reward for our own labour. And, we can delight in the reality that the almighty God of the universe allows each of us to play a unique part in his work.