Sunday, April 5, 2015

The Promises Of Men: An Easter Rumination

     The Feast of the Resurrection is the very heart of Christian faith. Without the Resurrection, there would be only the accounts of Jesus’s miracles to stand as evidence for His authority to proclaim the New Covenant. That Covenant is infinitely more important than any other statement in the history of religious faith. Let’s review it a moment:

Now a man came up to him and said, "Teacher, what good thing must I do to gain eternal life?" He said to him, "Why do you ask me about what is good? There is only one who is good. But if you want to enter into life, keep the commandments." "Which ones?" he asked. Jesus replied, "You shall not murder, you shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not give false witness, honor your father and mother and love your neighbor as yourself." [Matthew, 19:16-19.]
Now when the Pharisees heard that he had silenced the Sadducees, they assembled together. And one of them, an expert in religious law, asked him a question to test him: “Teacher, which commandment in the law is the greatest?” Jesus said to him, "You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the first and greatest commandment. And a second is like it: You shall love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments hang all the law and the prophets." [Matthew 22:37-40]

     Christ’s New Covenant replaced – indeed, it displaced – the Levitical Covenant of Moses and the years of Exodus. The significance of this event is seldom appreciated even by the foremost Christian writers and thinkers. They fail to ask the critical question, which, as it so often proves to be, consists of a single word: Why?

     [A brief but hopefully enlarging tangent: In episode V of Patrick McGoohan’s brilliant series The Prisoner, the keepers of the Village build a computer intended to ferret out the secrets McGoohan’s character was immured there to discover. McGoohan’s character destroys it with a one word question: the one above. Patrick McGoohan was a lifelong, devout Catholic. Think about it.]

     The Levitical Covenant, despite the endless repetitions of “I am the Lord” in the Book of Leviticus, went far beyond the will of God. It was Judaic Law as set forth by Moses, and it attempted to embrace virtually the whole of life of a man of pre-Christian times. Moses seems to have believed that the many dictates of his Law were necessary to discipline the Hebrews in preparation to fulfill their destiny as the Chosen People. Perhaps he was right...but his Law had some unintended consequences, as laws so often do.

     When there are many, many laws, people will naturally choose to adhere to some and ignore the rest. Not everyone will choose to adhere to the same ones. In accordance with this dynamic, life among the Jews of Judea changed greatly over the millennium-plus between the Exodus and the coming of Jesus. The laws which men believed to be in their individual interests were the ones they chose to obey; the rest were regarded as “suggestions.” This was compounded by the rise of a priestly caste that saw the Judaic religion as a source of status and profit, and used it, and the place of the Temple at Jerusalem as the heart of the creed, to those ends.

     Christ’s parables often told of men who had decided that commandments such as “Thou shalt not murder” as suggestions, and what would follow in retribution. His New Covenant stripped away the rituals and extra disciplines that surround Mosaic Law and left the irreducible core of God’s Will. He promised that those who would keep His commandments – the ones He gave to the “rich young man” of Matthew Chapter 19 – would know eternal life.

     We who believe take Him at His word, for His Resurrection made clear that He had full authority to proclaim the New Covenant...and that we could trust in His promise.

     The Theological Virtues follow by direct implication:
     We know that faith follows from such a decision: faith in the authority of the Lord.
     We know that hope is its necessary concomitant, for no mere mortal can conclusively prove that Jesus was the Son of God, nor that His promise was more trustworthy than that of any other man.
     We attend to one another in a spirit of charity because it’s the principle at the core of the New Covenant: to “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

     We practice the Cardinal Virtues – prudence, temperance, justice, and fortitude – because they alone are capable of both preparing us to meet the requirements of the ones above and sustaining us and our neighbors in our times of trial.

     And we wait, and pray, and repose our trust in His promise.

     He came: to open the Way.
     He taught: that we might know the Truth.
     He suffered and died: that we might have eternal Life.

     Praise Him, for He is risen, just as He said.

     Happy Easter, Gentle Readers. May God bless and keep you all.


Anonymous said...

"They fail to ask the critical question, which, as it so often proves to be, consists of a single word: Why?"

That most certainly is at the core. It is the one question humanity can't answer, because only the God of creation knows. That's what Abraham figured out -- the one God above all others is the God of "doing the right thing", and the only way He can know what the right thing is, would be to know why the creation exists in the first place. Without understanding purpose, one can't judge what is or isn't good. So we must turn to Him for guidance or be lost.

FriarBob said...

You appear to forget that these two commandments were nearly word-for-word direct quotes from the OT. Deut 6:5 and Lev 19:18, to be specific. Which are each part of that OT law you think was done away with. Right there in the very heart of the key books of it, no less.

Francis W. Porretto said...

Excuse me, "FriarBob," but you've made an unjustified and wholly incorrect statement that implies ignorance on my part. I forget very little, and you have forgotten the duty of courtesy toward someone whose free-to-all-readers website you've read, whose time and server space you're consuming, and who might be having a very trying day!

"To replace" does not necessarily mean "to replace with something 100% different." Didn't that occur to you?

Have a nice Easter.

Clyde said...

"His New Covenant stripped away the rituals and extra disciplines that surround Mosaic Law and left the irreducible core of God’s Will."

In other words, his New Covenant stripped away the Ceremonial Law (and Civil and Sacrificial Laws), and left the Moral Law.