Reflections for the Week of Sunday, November 5, 2017 Twenty second after Pentecost

Gospel: Matthew 23:1-12 tells of Jesus criticizing the scribes and Pharisees for distorting and misunderstanding the Law (Torah) given by YHWH to Moses at Mount Sinai.

The heart of the Law is love of God and one’s neighbor (which is everyone in need), but the scribes and Pharisees made it into a tradition of men that empowered and glorified them. They love the best places at feasts, the best seats in the synagogues (v 6); and all their works they do to be seen of men (v 5a).

Another big problem with the Law is that it acted as an obstacle for Gentiles and so that part of the Law — food, purity, circumcision, sacrifices — was being superseded by Jesus (Gal. 3:23-4:7) so the Gentiles would not be hindered in coming to Jesus. Jesus has taken the place of the Law, and faith in Him and following Him by means of the Spirit (Gal 5:18) will result in eternal life (Gal 6:8b). Eternal life means a new quality of life.

Jesus taught that humility and servanthood defines the Christian life (cf. v 12).  The Law was impossible to follow completely (Rm 3:20). N.T. Wright in After You Believe says faith, hope, and love, and the fruit of the Spirit (Gal 5:22,23) were only available by the grace of Jesus. Without grace and the power of the Spirit one can only say,”The good I want to do, I don’t do; the evil I do not want is what I do” (Rm 7:19). This verse does not describe the Christian life (as many people incorrectly think) but that of the pagan unassisted by the Spirit. As Paul says, “Oh, wretched man that I am! Who will deliver me from this body of death?” And he gives the answer to his own question: “I thank God – through Jesus Christ our Lord!” In other words it is Jesus that will save us! It isn’t that our human nature is a bit deformed and just needs a little tweaking. No: human nature needs to be killed – this is what taking up your cross means (Luke 9:23) – so that as in baptism you can come up out of the water like coming out of a dark tunnel, death, into the light of day and a new life guided by the Spirit. The Law itself, being “weak because of the flesh,” is unable to produce the new life that the Spirit can produce.

Grace can produce a new kind of life, one that is truly and fully human as described in 1 Corinthians 13 or Colossians 3 or Ephesians 4. The new life is similar to the virtuous life described by Aristotle and others, but Christianized. It is a new kind of virtue never before imagined including humility, charity, meekness, forgiveness, etc. The Christian is not thinking about his virtue but is thinking of Christ and how best to love the person next door. The early Christians believed they were the true Temple of God, filled with God’s glorious presence by His Spirit and empowered to reveal that glory to the world. As Jesus said to the scribe,“You are not far from God’s kingdom” (Mk 12:34). “Not far,” of course, indicates that there is still a short but significant step for the unbeliever to take and that is to ask for the Spirit, for “whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved” (Rm 10:13). Paul defines the Christian view of the Law when he says,“Now the purpose of the commandment is love from a pure heart, from a good conscience, and from sincere faith” (1 Tim 1:5). Timothy was motivated to look not only to his own interests, but to those of others and of Jesus and the gospel.

Memory Verse: For what the Law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin: He condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the Law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit (Rm 8:3,4).

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