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Message for 19 February 2017–“Spinning Jesus”

Today’s message comes from a section of the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5:38-48. Jesus quotes from the Old Testament Jewish law and then weaves it into a gospel powerhouse. Jesus refers to and then totally contradicts Exodus 21:23-24, the “eye for an eye” section known as the law of retribution. Jesus says that people should turn the other cheek and not destroy the evildoer. Jesus also speaks about giving freely to those who ask, loving your enemies, and being open to redemption for adversaries. All of this is in stark contrast to a primary Old Testament mentality.

Jesus’ compassionate tone sounds good until we try to reconcile his pledge to not alter or destroy the Old Testament law (Matthew 5:17) with his new vision. No matter how you spin it, Jesus transformed traditions. Jesus created something entirely different by extending and arguably correcting the law, thereby overhauling it. Some people are in denial about contradictions between Jesus and the Old Testament because they choose not to acknowledge inconvenient truths. As God’s children, we’re called to serve God and one another with love more than with rigid rule adherence.  Jesus evolved the old law into something better and this should not bother us. Anything that is living, breathing can adapt for survival and when such changes arise we can embrace them without fear or anger.

Is it a fool’s errand to take Old Testament poison and pit it against Jesus? Jesus dared break from Jewish tradition and his critics finally killed him for it.  This reiterates how exposing lies comes at a cost. Jesus blessed us with a fuller meaning behind sections of the Old Testament which, in some cases, Jesus treated as either erroneous or incomplete. Ancient and modern critics suggest that Jesus is taking license with God’s never changing Old Testament Law, that Jesus is creating a new religious code by innovating from older material. Such charges needn’t bother us because God is calling us to be mindful of the moment, not stuck in the past.

It’s obvious that Jesus’ sentiments vary significantly from Old Testament brutality, so much so that some observers conclude that either Jesus or the Old Testament is wrong (perhaps both!). There may be a conciliatory position between these two extremes, and we may gravitate toward a more productive option rather than a simplistic either/or, black/white approach. All this highlights another issue in that it seems difficult for many Christians to successfully overcome problems with how they’ve been indoctrinated. This may explain why there have been voluminous attempts to take Jesus seriously while also giving lip service to Old Testament credibility. We cannot serve two masters, so it is far better to choose Jesus who is the God of love.

The drama of competing interpretations continues.  It is difficult if not impossible to reconcile Jesus’ message with much of the Old Testament worldview and theology. Another problem is that there’s always chatter from self-appointed watchdogs of orthodoxy, those who ignore the Truth trying to preserve pet beliefs. Guardians of the religious status quo recoil from the threat the Truth poses to their dogma. But we can continue to ask bold questions and be ready to receive enlightening answers. If Jesus’ interpretation of the Jewish law is the only correct one, then that begs the question of how and when the Old Testament law became corrupted (as some suggest, perhaps it was not right in the first place and never came from God).

We may agree with Jesus’ [re]interpretation of the Old Testament law, and we certainly applaud his revolutionary revealing of a new meaning behind the ruinous religious rules. Jesus’ message is liberating. Jesus provides a broader context, a framework emphasizing love, mercy and grace. Regardless of what happens to the Old Testament, Jesus’ gospel of love should be the power guiding us. We may not like to think that Jesus created a new version of what God wants. Often it is more comforting to explain how Jesus was correcting bad views or that he simply revealed a hidden meaning behind the Old Testament approach.

Whereas Jesus exercised freedom to reinterpret Old Testament law, it’s a daunting task for us to do the same. People defend their harmful attitudes and actions, despite what Jesus said about loving and blessing enemies. Even a glancing view of history reveals how people are selective in what they pay attention to and take seriously. When pressed to account for their weak justifications, people often assume attack posture and bite anyone who calls-out their destructive, blatant hypocrisies.

Here we are, challenged by Jesus’ views which ask more of us than the Old Testament Law. Jesus reminds us of our obligations to love one another, to remove our enemies from a hit-list and place them on a love-list. What do you think? Is it easier for you to destroy your enemies (Old Testament) or to embrace them (New Testament)? Consider the tendency to pick and choose how we respond to someone, based on ether a harsh Old Testament or a more loving New Testament. My prayer is that we would continue to strive toward living the love we know God most wants from us. True Christian faith is not easy, but it is far better to break ancient law than to abandon God’s love. –Reverend Larry Hoxey