Teacher Of The Law

How To not be boringIn 1994, a previously unpublished document from the Dead Sea Scrolls saw the light of day. The Halakhic Scroll (4QMMT) discussed many points of the Law, including the purity of liquid streams, a rather esoteric subject, to say the least. However, this scroll forced many Christian scholars to reassess their view of Palestinian culture in the time of Jesus. Up to this point, that view was informed by Josephus, the Jewish historian to the Roman world in the first century AD. Josephus described Jewish life before the fall of Jerusalem in terms the Greco-Roman culture could understand. But, the minutia found in this Scroll and how that minutia divided the Essences from the Pharisees and the Sadducees forced many scholars to see different schools of thought in Palestine, not in the philosophic terms Josephus presented, but in terms of how the Torah was applied to everyday life. This shift to Torah application (Halakhic study) marked a new page in Gospel studies. The early Jesus movement (especially seen in Matthew’s gospel) marked their differences from Pharisee and Sadducee not only in a devotion to Jesus from Nazareth, but also in how the Law was applied to the community. Jesus was not only Lord and Savior, he was also the Teacher of the Law.

In Matthew’s gospel, Jesus exclaimed he came to fulfill the Law and the Prophets. As the note above stated, such fulfillment could be seen as either an example or as a scribe/interpreter. In the context of 5:19, Jesus meant both. He was the primary example of a moral life AND he was the primary teacher of the Law. He expected the leadership of the Christian community to follow in his footsteps as examples and teachers of the Law.

The example-teacher who fulfilled the Law and the Prophets was part of the cultural landscape in the time of Jesus. The Dead Sea Scrolls identified a “Teacher of Righteousness,” one who would give the populace a true interpretation of the Law, as opposed to the “Wicked Priest” who directed illegitimate Temple worship. Much ink has been spilt over the identity of this figure, with much dispute among modern scholars over its identity. All we need to note is: 1) the notion of this figure who existed outside the ruling elite in Jerusalem (i.e., not a Sadducee) and 2) an alternate interpretation of the Law that had legitimacy (i.e, not from the Pharisees). It does not take a stretch of the imagination to see the early Jewish-Christian community assume Jesus stood in the cultural shadow of this “Teacher of Righteousness.”

As this Teacher figure, Jesus would be the touchstone for interpretation the Christian community would follow. Those who were faithful to his interpretation would be “great in the Kingdom,” while those who gave a loose interpretation would be “least in the Kingdom.” It is interesting to note that both the faithful and loose teacher were saved, while the Pharisees were implicitly not saved (“unless you have a righteousness greater than that of Pharisees…”) In other words, not only were the Jewish Christian to live by a higher moral standard than the Pharisees (i.e., example), he must have a better interpretation of the Law than the Pharisees (scribe/interpreter). Jesus implied that the Pharisees’ interpretation of the Law was illegitimate.
So, how did Jesus interpret the Law? We can only answer that question in light of competing interpretations (as noted) and the context of interpretation at the time of Jesus. As noted in the introduction, past scholars read early Christianity through literary sources; these sources were culturally dependent. In other words, these sources were filtered through the philosophic world view of Greco-Roman culture. With the interest of Jewish scholars in the New Testament that has occurred in the past twenty years, there has been a reassessment of the world view Jesus lived in. Jesus’ world was affected by Greco-Roman culture, but was steeped in a real concern for the Torah and its purity. So, Jesus in Matthew’s gospel was concerned with following the Law, but a higher concern was interpreting the Law in its purest sense.

Jesus is not asking us to be perfect; he is asking us to pay attention to how we deal with one another and strive for a righteousness that surpasses what we need to do to get along with one another.

The righteousness that Jesus asks of us is not concerned with minimums but is concerned with caring for others as he did. It means loving as he did. Jesus lives the supreme act of love giving self totally. To follow Jesus daily, we must develop a daily habit of giving self to others. For a life habit of self-giving love is the only way we enter the kingdom of heaven.

The Kingdom of Heaven

My father would tell us that we could discover a person’s true values by observing what was around the house. If every corner were filled with things, the person valued inanimate objects. If the walls shined with pictures of family and friends, the person valued relationships. If there were green plants around, the person valued growth and life.

Our Gospel for today speaks to the value of the kingdom of heaven. How is this kingdom manifested? When God is present. When there is hospitality and kindness, joy and love, wisdom and understanding. These are expressions of God’s presence here and now.

The treasure we seek is not a thing in some place. It is the very presence of God revealed in the hearts of those who know what is right and act justly. It is revealed in a wise and understanding heart. Such a heart leads us to seek and treasure the people who mediate for us God’s loving and abiding presence This presence is the kingdom of heaven among us.

To be faithful disciples we must be willing to give our all to encounter God’s presence in the goodness we share with others. We encounter God’s presence in our self-giving response to the needs of others.

In everyday experiences we find ldting treasure- the kingdom of heaven among us.

Come After Me

I decided this week to begin cleaning the cupboards in my bedroom, one at a time! And treasures are found. What I noticed is that I collect candles – in all shapes, sizes and fragrances. Some I have used on our dinner table when guests have been invited to dinner. They lend a pleasant glow to the atmosphere. Some I have used in an emergency. When the electricity has gone out and I light one single candle, the light from that candle makes all the difference in the world!

In our Gospel today, Jesus goes to a Gentile region which the Jewish community considered to be in darkness. It is as though Jesus goes to a land of darkness so the light of his Good News won’t be missed. It is here, in this region of darkness that Jesus begins his saving work.

As Jesus begins his mission, he offers two commands: “Repent” and “Come after me.” Two invitations to walk into the light, revealing God’s Kingdom at hand. The “kingdom is at hand” when we turn from darkness and become Christ’s light for others.

Just as one candle can dispel the darkness, so can the little light each of us is dispel the darkness of indifference, confusion, selfishness and greed tgat surrounds us. All we need to do is repent and follow.