Psalm 97:7-12; Joshua 19:10-39; Luke 16:16-31

Originally published 8/15/2014. revised and updated 8/11/2018.

Joshua 19:10-39: The territories of Zebulun, Issachar, Asher, and Naphtali are laid out in detail. What’s interesting here in this otherwise fairly dull passage is that the territories of these last six tribes have been assigned by lot. This is God’s fairness at work: that he does not hold certain tribes or families above others.

I think this section speaks to nation-states today. Different ethnicities ended up in different parts of the world. We could say that God assigned our territories by lot. But in our pride we were not satisfied and took to war and conquering other nations with the victorious nation setting itself up as superior to other nations. Of course we need to remember that this assignment of territories to Israel was on a conquered, already-occupied land. I’m still not sure what to make of the whole idea of a Promised Land created by war and pillage as being ordained by God and it’s various areas distributed by lot. Something just does not ring true about God being all about justice and righteousness.

Perhaps the message here is more personal. We are all equal before God.  A message that Jesus preached again and again, but that those who saw themselves as being above others could not stand and conspired to kill this rabble-rouser who was only following what God had already laid out. How quickly we forget the fairness of God as our self-centered pride replaces the simple simple fact that we are each created equal at the moment of our birth.  And death.

Luke 16:16-31: At first, Jesus’ comment that people try to enter the Kingdom “by force” is puzzling. But then we see the context of his statement, “But it is easier for heaven and earth to pass away, than for one stroke of a letter in the law to be dropped.” (17) I think Jesus is saying that entering the Kingdom is actually more difficult than obeying every “jot and tittle” of the Law. There is only One Way to enter the Kingdom, and while that may transcend the Law, it does not abrogate it.  (As I recall, this is a topic that Paul delves into in detail in Romans.)

As an example of this greater difficulty, he lays out the terms of divorce, which are far stricter than those laid out in Moses’ law where divorce was more easily obtained.“Anyone who divorces his wife and marries another commits adultery, and whoever marries a woman divorced from her husband commits adultery. (18) This remains a difficult passage.

Since Jesus is speaking to scribes and Pharisees it’s not unreasonable to assume that many of them had divorced their previous wives and married anew. Here, I think, Jesus is stating God’s law in the clearest possible terms to those who claimed they followed every aspect of the Law. It’s interesting to note that Jesus does not elaborate or explain further. He seems to be saying, ‘It’s a law, guys. Deal with it. If you weren’t so hypocritical, you’d realize you’ve broken the Law in important ways.’

Unfortunately, I think Jesus’ example has been over-interpreted to the extent of punishing people who divorce for very good reason. Yes, it may be adultery, but as Jesus points out again and again, each of us breaks the Law even when we think we are being ‘good,’

The famous parable of the rich man and Lazarus tells us that in the end the those who claim to be better and above others, i.e., the scribes and Pharisees in Jesus’ audience, do not in fact really follow the law. It is Lazarus, who makes no pretensions to superiority who is favored by God.

Those who live as if they are superior to others are not following the Law at all.  Once again, Jesus predicts his rejection by the very people most committed to the Law. “‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead.’” (31) Which is not only an indictment of human pride; it is of course a prophecy of exactly what happened. Right up to today.

 

 

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