Back on familiar territory, but is it the Promised Land? #E100
In the E100 we are well into the New Testament now. It is as if it has gone from black and white into colour. Everything seems more three dimensional and familiar and every story so far is very well known.
The last swathe of the E100 in the Old Testament was to do with the exile in Babylon. I felt that there was a whole chunk missing, when Ezra and Nehemiah bring the people back and bring back temple worship.
The Old Testament seems to be a cycle of hope and failure. It seems that God tells the people what to do, and then they plan to, but don’t. Then they find themselves far from God and then they decide to have another go at living God’s way and then forget that that was the plan. And so on.
In the New Testament it was interesting to read “The Sermon on the Mount” with the Old Testament as a backdrop. It was as if the people had got it wrong on two fronts. In one way, they had taken the Law too far. On the other, they hadn’t taken it far enough.
In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus revisits the themes contained in the Ten Commandments and then takes the spirit of the command to its full extent. So, although the “Law” was not to kill, Jesus stretches that to mean that one should not hate/be in conflict. The Law required justice to be done, but Jesus took it further and demanded mercy to be one’s instinctive response.
So, I liked to see that parallel between the Old and the New. There was the feeling that the people had missed the point of the Law. They had started to obsess over it, rather than catching the vision of human life, worship and social interaction that was within the Law.
There is a problem with the Sermon on the Mount, though. Jesus says:
“Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect.”
Now that’s a toughie. This was said in the context of loving one another – even one’s enemies.
What are people meant to do with a command to “Be perfect”? Do we think, “Fine, no problem: ta-dah!” and become perfect? I think that if you are told to be perfect, perhaps a more likely response it to think, “Well, that can’t happen.” It certainly provokes a small voice of humility within, if nothing else.
There is an interesting Old-New bit in Matthew 3 when John the Baptist is preaching. He is speaking to the teachers of the Law:
And do not think you can say to yourselves, ‘We have Abraham as our father.’ I tell you that out of these stones God can raise up children for Abraham.
It seems that from John the Baptist’s preaching, the direct descendancy from Abraham is not enough to be in line for the inheritances and fulfilled promises that God made to Abraham. It seems that the faithlessness of the people – the missing the point of the Law – has invalidated their claim. John the Baptist is being controversial here by suggesting that the inheritors could be the stones – presumably meaning that the inheritors could be anyone from anywhere – assuming that they “got” the idea – the idea that Jesus then elaborated on during the Sermon on the Mount and through other acts and utterances.
So I am interested to see how it works out in the rest of the life of Jesus part of the bible. I am not sure, but it seems to me as if the Promised Land bit came and went – ending with the exile, despite the return – and the New Testament goes *sharp intake of breath * metaphorical – and the Promised Land is not really to do with the physical place that the Israelites were promised, but is to do with whoever catches hold of the spirit of the Law, in the way that Jesus describes and actually lives it. Then, they are living in a “promised land”, which perhaps (?) I don’t know – is that what is referred to as “The Kingdom of God”, which is when you live wherever you are, in whatever actual political landscape you do, with God as your King – obeying him within the spirit of the Law as expounded in the Sermon on the Mount?
So, does anyone know – is The Kingdom of God the metaphorical equivalent of The Promised Land?