One of the biggest issues prevalent in the modern church today is how much to cling to orthodoxy. Or, in other words, how hard do we hold to the letter of the Law?
And I sort of get it. If we want to live ethical lives through the lens of a Christian worldview, we have to start from somewhere. For most Christian sects, then, that authoritarian “Law” is the Bible. Sure, groups like Catholics also give authority to the papacy, but that’s a topic for another day.
I suppose Leviticus may have unintentionally set a bad precedent for this. Don’t get me wrong, I think Leviticus is a wonderfully revolutionary book for its time, but taken at face value, it gets ultra-specific about what to do and what not to do. Of course, we know from a previous post that I’ve written that this was great for the people of that time because it helped them to understand where they stood with their God.
Of course, like all good things over time, this soured into strong legalism, a legalism that was around during the time of Jesus and even persists through today. Evangelical fundamentalists hold to the Bible as if it is the inerrant Word if God that should be taken literally at every corner. (Although you should kind of know this is baloney when they don’t follow rules like not wearing clothes of mixed fibers anymore.)
Here’s what I find fascinating, though: Jesus very much promoted this concept of the spirit of the Law instead of a literal law. When I mean that, I mean that Jesus was more concerned about the intention behind what the law stated rather than the law itself.
Where’s the proof for that?
We’ll talk at length about parables in another upcoming post, but for now, I want to highlight one story in particular. It’s long, and if you know it already, feel free to skip on down.
The Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25–37)
And behold, a lawyer stood up to put him to the test, saying, “Teacher, what shall I do to inherit eternal life?” He said to him, “What is written in the Law? How do you read it?” And he answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength and with all your mind, and your neighbor as yourself.” And he said to him, “You have answered correctly; do this, and you will live.”
But he, desiring to justify himself, said to Jesus, “And who is my neighbor?” Jesus replied, “A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road, and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine. Then he set him on his own animal and brought him to an inn and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him, and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’
Which of these three, do you think, proved to be a neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed him mercy.” And Jesus said to him, “You go, and do likewise.”
I think it’s safe to say that Jesus passively affirmed the man’s answer about “the one who showed him mercy.” This is more important than we ever talk about because Jesus never names a specific person or group of people as a neighbor.
Jesus, here, is promoting the spirit of the law through stories. And there are many other instances of this, too, throughout the Gospels.
So, what do we do about this?
It’s tough because it really opens a door for interpretation on things. Also, where do we draw the line between what is open for interpretation and what is pretty clear cut according to the Bible? For example, Jesus was pretty that there was a right way (Himself) and there was a wrong way (false prophets)…. But what exactly does that mean?
It’s tricky, but what I think we can definitively walk away from with this is that literalism in the law just doesn’t hold up. The Bible isn’t going to give us a 100% answer on everything, so we should stop trying to puzzle piece random verses together to make the Bible support our cause. Because really, you could support ANY idea doing that.
Let’s stop there for now. Like I said before, I want to get back into parables soon because I find Jesus’s prolific usage of them to be really, really fascinating. Catch you in the next post.