Saturday, July 16, 2016

He Cured Them All

Woe to those who plan iniquity, and work out evil on their couches; In the morning light they accomplish it when it lies within their power. They covet fields, and seize them; houses, and they take them; They cheat an owner of his house, a man of his inheritance.  Micah 2:1-2

The Pharisees went out and took counsel against Jesus to put him to death. When Jesus realized this, he withdrew from that place. Many people followed him, and he cured them all, but he warned them not to make him known.  Matthew 12:14-16

Jesus, cure us, too!  Peer into our hearts and mend the petty divisions and jealousies.  Then, when you are done removing the splinters, please pick out the logs of power, greed, lust, addiction and laziness.  Amen.

The rich and powerful are not setting a good example in either of today’s readings. 

In the reading from the Hebrew Bible, the prophet Micah spells out the crimes committed by the wealthy landowners and the Lord then comes in to announce the punishment that corresponds to the crime.  The wealthy landowners are guilty of coveting the fields and houses of others and taking them.  To covet the “house” and other property of the neighbor was a violation of the Ten Commandments. As you recall:

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house. You shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, his male or female slave, his ox or donkey, or anything that belongs to your neighbor. (Exodus 20:17)

The notes to the New American Bible explain that the Lord, as the owner of the earth, allotted the land by tribes and families to the people of Israel.  Losing one’s inheritance diminished one’s place in the community and threatened the family’s economic viability and existence. According to Micah, those who used their power to expand their estates at the expense of weaker Israelites took more than land from them: they were tampering with the divine order.[i]

The Pharisees were messing with the divine order in a much more serious fashion.  They were not just plotting against their neighbors.  They were plotting against Jesus himself.  Jesus knew it was not yet the appointed time so he withdrew and escaped the current plot.  Yet, the plot did nothing to deter Jesus from his work performing miracles on the Sabbath or any other day of the week.

Unlike Micah, who calls out the wealthy landowners, Jesus “does not contend.”  He does not challenge the Pharisees at this time but withdraws and continues to perform signs among the people.

In our Study today, we focused our Biblical microscope on both halves of the Great Commandment.  In the reading from Micah, we converged on loving our neighbor as our self.  Just as we would not cheat our own family, we should not cheat or steal from our neighbor.  In Matthew’s Gospel, we concentrated on loving the Lord with our whole heart, mind, and soul.  The Pharisees were compromised here.  They were trying to protect their power and comfort and would not let Jesus get in their way. 

Ironically, the divine order had to ultimately be upset before it could be set aright in both historical eras.

This is not just a Judeo-Christian commandment.  The religion of Islam also sees Christ as a Great Teacher, too. 

However, we have Nightclub attacks.  Truck rampage.  Police assassinations.  Airport bombings. The stories of terror have ceased coming from distant lands.  We brace ourselves for a Day of Rage or civil disobedience.   

In light of the Bastille Day attack, we have another round of words.  Religious leaders around the world condemned terrorism and expressed solidarity with France after more than 80 people were killed by a driver on a rampage who plowed through crowds celebrating Bastille Day. They included Christian figures such as Pope Francis and prominent Muslims including the Grand Mufti of Egypt, Shawqi Allam.

How can we get beyond words to change the hearts of people who would resort to such acts? How can we fulfill both parts of the Great Commandment?

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