Tuesday, July 15, 2014

A Thought

“Do not let sin reign in your mortal body … but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.  For sin shall not have dominion over you, for you are not under law but under grace.”  Romans 6:12-14

“You are not under law but under grace”.  Is it possible to quote a Bible verse word-for-word and still get it wrong?  I think so because this particular verse is often quoted when Christians are called to task and challenged for what others deem to be misconduct; that is, being less than ‘holy’.  The question, however, is not whether the verse is being misquoted but misappropriated.  The question centers on whether “law” captures the fullness of Torah (Torah as the first five books of the Bible, generally referred to by Christians as ‘law’).  We may even wonder if Paul, when speaking of ‘law’, is actually referring to Torah or to some other man-made religious law based loosely on components of Torah but rendered unduly restrictive as little more than a set of “rules”.

The scholar and theologian, Walter Brueggemann, says “our English rendering of Torah as ‘law’ is mischievous and problematic.  The word ‘law’ scarcely catches the point of the reading.  Torah means the entire written and cherished normative memory of the community, all the lore and narrative and poetry and song and old liturgy that had formed and shaped and authorized the imagination of the community” (Biblical perspectives on Evangelism, pg 74).  So it hardly seems likely St. Paul, a devout Jew himself, is suggesting Torah no longer has meaning for the people of The Lord.  Rather he is suggesting, I think, another created ‘law’ that has so bound a redeemed people that they can no longer function as the truly liberated people The Lord intended them to be.  Or perhaps he is trying to take ‘law’ out of Torah’s context.

There is indeed grace (call it Divine Mercy) that serves Divine Purpose, and Torah records this development within a spirit of grace not as restrictive but as defining; for, indeed, Torah is much more than just ‘Ten Commandments’ thought of primarily as “thou shalt not”.  At no time, however, is grace ever imparted to The Lord’s people as ‘excuses’ for which our own purposes are served.

Torah, then, can be understood as defining a people (specifically Israel) not strictly based on what one cannot do but, rather, based on what one is called to be.  We must not receive any portion of the Word of The Lord as restrictive or condemning lest we come to believe in a petty, arbitrary, and vindictive God who just cannot wait for a  chance to clobber someone.  We are reading the story of a God who could not wait for a chance to redeem and lift up a people to be all they are created and called to be.  This is our Holy Father’s story, thus it is our story; a story we must never forget.



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