"Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed."

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Jesus on The Law and True Liberty

In Jesus Before Christianity, Albert Nolan writes:

Jesus did not see himself as a legislator. He did not wish to abolish the Mosaic Law...in order to promulgate a new law or in order to do away with all laws. Nor did he wish to add to it or subtract from it or amend it - not one jot or tittle ... What he wanted to do was to fulfill the law - to see to it that it fulfilled the role which God intended for it, that it achieved its purpose ... A person keeps God's law only when she or he fulfills the purpose of even "the least of these commandments" ... And the purpose of the law is service, compassion, love. God wants mercy not sacrifice....

Casuistry exploited the law for its own selfish purposes, thereby destroying the purposes of the law itself. By quibbling about trivialities, "the weightier matters" or purposes of the law, namely "justice, mercy and good faith" were neglected ... The insistence upon clean and unclean foods and the washing of hands and the imposition of these customs upon other people blinded everyone to the evil intentions of people toward one another ... The corban vow was used to evade supporting one's parents, thereby destroying the very purpose of God's commandment.... The scribes had forgotten or preferred to ignore the original purpose behind most of the laws. They had made the law into an oppressive power.

The leaders and scholars of Jesus' time had first enslaved themselves to the law. This not only enhanced their prestige in society, it also gave them a sense of security.  We fear the responsibility of being free. It is often easier to let others make the decisions or to rely on the letter of the law.  Some people want to be slaves.

After enslaving themselves to the letter of the law, such people always go on to deny freedom to others. They will not rest until they have imposed the same oppressive burdens upon everyone.

(pg. 87)

Later the author claims Jesus was deeply concerned about Jewish liberation yet while the Zealots "wanted a mere change of government - from Roman to Jewish, Jesus wanted a change that would affect every department of life and that would reach down to the most basic assumption of Jew and Roman.  Jesus wanted a qualitatively different world - the 'kingdom' of God. He would not have been satisfied with the replacing of one worldly kingdom by another worldly kingdom." 

The author believes Jesus was more concerned with "reaching down to the root cause of all oppression and domination: humanity's lack of compassion. If the people of Israel were to continue to lack compassion, would the overthrowing of the Romans make Israel any more liberated than before? If the Jews continued to live off the worldly values of money, prestige, group solidarity** and power, would the Roman oppression not be replaced by an equally loveless Jewish oppression?"

(pg. 116,117)

**  What is wrong with group solidarity? you may ask. The author is more concerned with solidarity with all humanity instead of dividing ourselves into tribes, nationalities, parties, sects and so forth.  He believes Jesus wanted us to genuinely care for ALL of humankind and not simply our group.

WHAT DO YOU THINK?  Do you believe some people want to be slaves?  Or do you think the author should have rephrased that because relying on the letter of the law and allowing others to make decisions is anything but slavery to you? What do you think about the idea of Jesus' relationship to the Law? Do you agree or disagree with the author?  Do you think Jesus was concerned with liberation of the Jews such as the author described or do you see things differently? Do you believe lawmakers (religious or otherwise) often make laws into "an oppressive power" so that they focus on trivial matters such as control rather than justice, mercy and love?  Do you see examples of religious leaders enslaving themselves to the law or rules in order to gain some prestige in society?  Do you believe some people truly fear the responsibility of being free?  What do you see as the root cause of oppression and domination? 

Please share any thoughts that came to mind as you read this.

(In case you wonder about all the ... in the first quote, I decided to leave out the biblical references the author provided for the sake of saving on typing.)


Wafa said...

OK. I don't know if I can answer your question so I will leave that out but will just say that I love Jesus a lot and not because Muslims we are order to respect all prophets but because he is an amazing "rebel" who is never corrupted by the "authority". Does that make sense or even related to your questions !! And despite him being a Jew, I am positive he wants everyone's salvation and to rebel against corruption..

And i guess the author is 100% right in this ( ** What is wrong with group solidarity? you may ask. The author is more concerned with solidarity with all humanity instead of dividing ourselves into tribes, nationalities, parties, sects and so forth. He believes Jesus wanted us to genuinely care for ALL of humankind and not simply our group. )

Am I making any sense? if not then blame food :D

Susanne said...

Yes! You make sense although I LOVED your "blame the food" excuse if it did not! Haha!

I really enjoyed your feedback on this - thank you!

Unknown said...

It doesn't seem like the problem here is that people were enslaving themselves to the Law, but that they weren't following it. If they were, the "mercy not sacrifice" thing and other points wouldn't be an issue. I get a little frustrated when people say the Jews or even the Jewish leaders were obsessed with the letter of the Law rather than the spirit, as if the two are mutually exclusive. It makes me think of a teenager hanging out with friends two hours past curfew. "Well, Mom, I was following the spirit rather than the letter. See, I know the rules are only because you're concerned with me being safe, so since I realized I wasn't in any danger I knew you wouldn't mind if I stayed out."

Willing obedience is not slavery. The problem Jesus was criticizing wasn't that they followed the Law too much, but rather that they didn't follow it enough. (And of course, it's worth noting again that it was never the Law that he broke or encouraged his disciples to break, but the regulations that had been added to the Law to put a fence around the actual Biblical requirements. In which case it's not so much not to follow the letter of a law, but in the teenager example above it would be saying that the teenager would be wrong to come home an hour early to avoid breaking curfew, and then yelling at his/her sibling for coming home on time rather than early.)

Basically I think the liberty vs slavery comes down to how you treat others. If someone wants to add the regulations to be sure they don't come close to breaking a law, that's fine. But we need to be concerned with our own actions rather than what others do even if they're violating the actual law (in letter or spirit), so long as they are not harming anyone else.

Susanne said...

Wonderful thoughts, Sanil! This is exactly why I like your comments so much. Very educational and you give great examples! Thank you!

Rebekka @ Becky's Kaleidoscope said...

I liked Sanil's comment as well (and Wafa's).

I do think actually, that some people want to be slaves to the law (and even to a law with things added on to it), because it saves us from having to think for ourselves. You can chose to subscribe to a certain belief system, and just like that, most of your decisions are taken care of, and to some people, that's a great relief. On top of that you can then feel really self-righteous, about how you're keeping the law so much better than so-and-so, who's not being as strict as you are.

Susanne said...

great points, Becky!

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