Today we learn in the Old Testament that I am in violation of the Levitical code. “You shall not eat any flesh with the blood in it (Fail. I like my steak medium rare!). You shall not practice augury or witchcraft.” (OK. I pass the test on this one, unless my obsession with Harry Potter counts). “You shall not round off the hair on your temples or mar the edges of your beard (Fail). You shall not make any cuttings in your flesh on account of the dead or tattoo any marks upon you.” (Pass, then Fail.)
Yes, I like my steak medium rare. Yes, I just had my sideburns trimmed at the barber a few days ago. And yes, I have a tattoo.
Those who demand that we take the Bible “literally” have difficulty when presented with issues and discrepancies such as these, demanding we simply follow everything in the Bible without knowing what they are talking about. One is on even shakier ground if you argue for getting back to the Bible’s “family values.” How many wives did Solomon have again?
I wonder what values they are talking about. Here in Leviticus, which is ultimately a Wilderness Survival Guide, the demands on us are pretty stringent. And yet “the family” looks much different than we might expect. And those who say that Jesus came to free us from the dietary laws and the ritual sacrifices of the Levitical code, I point out that the requirement to put children to death who speak against their parents doesn’t sound like a dietary requirement to me!!! And yet we don’t follow it. So everyone is in the “pick and choose” boat whether they like it or not.
So what’s up? Why do we feel we can pick and choose what we follow in that big book?
The Matthew passage sheds some light on this. “Therefore I tell you, do not be anxious about your life, what you shall eat or what you shall drink, nor about your body, what you shall put on. Is not life more than food, and the body more than clothes?”
Jesus came and felt strongly that it was the inner core of being that was of primary importance. The gates were also open to the Gentiles, who did not claim to be a part of the heritage of the Old Testament, and therefore of its laws either. The early church had to struggle with this. So, what value do we put in the requirements of the Old Testament? Where does it stand in the canon? What authority does it have?
It has all the authority that any other passage has! One just has to KEEP READING. What is the story? Where is the story going? How does each passage relate to one another? Furthermore, what do the scriptures principally teach?
In many ways, Jesus supersedes the law. But he does not cancel it out. I have many friends who have no need for the Old Testament. And this breaks my heart. It is so rich in stories of God’s grace, and it provides the footing and understanding of everything in the New Testament. What they miss is how God’s law evolves (or more rightly, how it comes into better focus as the Law of Love as the pages turn, taking some time to understand the underpinnings of the Law).
Our passage for today, as an example: for without the Old Testament it is easy to misread these passages. “Therefore do not be anxious, saying, ‘What shall we eat?’ or ‘What shall we drink?’ or ‘What shall we wear?’” becomes simply “Don’t be anxious.” But that is to completely miss the point. The following verse is “For the Gentiles seek all these things: and your heavenly Father knows that you need them all. But seek first his kingdom and his righteousness.” In fact, this passage was a commentary on the Levitical code of dress and dietary requirements.
Jesus is saying, “Don’t worry so much about whether you are staying Kosher and don’t spend your whole day worrying about things that don’t matter. Seek God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and everything else will fall in place.”
Priorities. The Bible is teaching us about priorities. Examining priorities in our lives, which are so filled with “busy”ness and pressure, would not only do our blood pressure good, but probably our families, and our society as a whole.