21 November 2014

Jewish Holy Days — Part 2

I received the following comment from my latest post. My response was too long to reply directly, so I created a new post.

Blade21292 wrote:
Yeshuah [sic] followed those feast days. Yeshuah said specifically that anyone who tried to undo the laws of Moses would be considered the least in Heaven. Yeshuah taught us to use our faith and our righteousness through Him to be a beacon. How can we be righteous through Him and not follow His example and His express teaching. The letters as canonized are from the Pope of the first Catholic church. The intent was not the teaching of the ways of The Christ as the center, but to cement the church and the pulpit as the focus, thereby making them untouchable by the governments. The early church even went so far as to forbid people learn to read so they could keep them under control.

17 “Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. 18 For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. 19 Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven. 20 For I tell you that unless your righteousness surpasses that of the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, you will certainly not enter the kingdom of heaven.

The argument is [that] He fulfilled and therefore ended the law. If so, why would he say this to the multitudes mere days before his crucifixion? If it were not meant to stand until ALL THINGS had passed, why say it personally to the masses?

Thank you so much for such great questions and observations. As I understand your points, I see several things that can be placed into two categories — the church (the canonization of the Bible, the intention behind that canonization, etc.) and Jesus (the original intent of Jesus and the continuation of the Law). I want to address these in reverse order.

Jesus and the Law
As you didn’t really address the passages I cited in the original post I can only assume that you’re in agreement with my initial interpretation of them but not my conclusions. Furthermore, it seems that you feel Matthew 5.17ff is some kind of trump card or overrules my original post and conclusions. I almost addressed Matthew 5 in my original post but I decided against it. It now appears that I made the wrong decision.

As I have addressed the eschatological understanding of ancient Judaism before, and, therefore, Jesus’ and the first followers understanding as well, I won’t go into great detail here. It suffices to say that “heaven and earth” doesn’t mean what we think it means. If it does then we must ask some very hard questions; questions that make some people who believe we must still follow the Mosaic Law feel very uncomfortable. If neither “the smallest letter, [nor] the least stroke of a pen” of the Law was to end before “heaven and earth” passed away, and “heaven and earth” means this planet (at least), then why don’t Jewish people today make the commanded pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the annual feasts? Why aren’t there animal sacrifices? Why is there no longer a Temple? These things are specifically commanded in the Torah but aren’t being followed. This isn’t a recent development in Jewish history. These questions can be summed up this way — Why haven’t the Jewish people followed every “smallest letter and the least stroke of a pen” of the Law for over two millennia if “heaven and earth” are still here?

There are about three possible answers to that question: 1) Jesus didn’t really say those things in Matthew 5.17ff. 2) Jesus did say them but he was (at the very least) a false prophet. Or, 3) the phrase “heaven and earth” means something other than what we think it does. Option 3 offers the best response to these inquiries.

Jesus and the rest of first century Judaism (and, most likely, beyond) understood “heaven and earth” as poetic imagery of the established power structure under consideration. In the context of Matthew 5.17ff, that structure would be Old Covenant Israel with it’s Law, Prophets, and cultic practices. Jesus was saying that he didn’t come to immediately end the Old Covenant. But it would end, i.e., brought to its fulfillment. This can be seen clearly by his statement, “For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished.” (verse 18; emphasis added). That is, the Law will end but not yet; not until “its purpose is achieved” (NLT). And, as we saw in the original post, that purpose of the Law was to be a custodian of the Jewish people until the coming of Christ and the establishment of G‑d’s Realm (Galatians 3.19ff).

You asked, “[If Jesus] fulfilled and therefore ended the law...why would he say this to the multitudes mere days before his crucifixion? If it were not meant to stand until ALL THINGS had passed, why say it personally to the masses?”

It seems from your questions that you understand my stance to be that the “fulfill[ment] and…[end of] the law” was the crucifixion of Jesus. That’s not my position. My view is that the law continued until the fall of Jerusalem in 70 CE. Which just “happened” to be about a generation (40 years) from Jesus’ death (again, see Jesus’ use of the phrase “this generation” in Matthew’s Gospel, specifically in chapters 23 and 24).

As I noted in the original post, the letter to the Hebrews clearly shows that the Law and it’s rituals were still continuing after the death of Jesus and the beginning of The Way. In chapter 8, the writer quoted Jeremiah 31.31-34 and then stated, “By calling this covenant ‘new,’ he has made the first one obsolete; and what is obsolete and outdated will soon disappear” (verse 13; NIV; emphasis added).

And even though St. Paul wrote that “Christ has brought the Law to an end” (Romans 10.4; GNT), he continued to practice it (see Acts 17.2; cf. Acts 21.24, Acts 21.26; and Acts 24.18).

But contrast Paul’s observance of the Law to the instructions given to the first Gentile converts in Acts 15. There’s no mention of them having to observe the Law. Why is that? Because the first followers of The Way of Jesus understood that they were living in the time between times — what scholars call “the already but not yet” — the Old Covenant age was coming to a close and the New Covenant age (or G‑d’s Realm) was starting. Once the Realm of G‑d was fully established, the Old Covenant Jewish age would no longer be enforced or needed because it was “obsolete and outdated” (cited above).

The purpose of the original post was to show why, as a follower of Jesus, I don’t follow the Mosaic Law including the Jewish Holy days. I believe that the purpose of the Law (to lead the Jewish people to G‑d’s Realm as revealed in Jesus) was fulfilled by the time Jerusalem fell in 70 CE. Since that time until now and going on into the future, G‑d’s Realm has been established and continues to grow and expand.

The church and the Bible
In the first part of your comments, you stated,

The letters as canonized are from the Pope of the first Catholic church. The intent was not the teaching of the ways of The Christ as the center, but to cement the church and the pulpit as the focus, thereby making them untouchable by the governments. The early church even went so far as to forbid people learn to read so they could keep them under control.

I’m sorry to say this, but these statements are inaccurate. If, by “the Pope,” you’re referring to Pope Innocent I (5th century), then you’re leaving out 400 years of development of the New Testament canon. Furthermore, in 367 CE, roughly 40 years before Pope Innocent I, Athanasius stated that our current list of New Testament books was “canonized.”

Further still, if you’re referring to the First Council of Nicea in 325 CE, there’s no record of the council even discussing the canon.

As to the intent of the “Catholic church” (which, at that point in history, was the only church) wanting itself to be “the center…[and] focus” instead of “the teaching of the ways of the Christ,” I completely disagree with this. While there may be some truth to it, by and large it’s just not veracious, especially in the very early days of the church. Now, granted, much later (say, by the time of the Reformation) these accusations are a lot more accurate.

Concerning the church “forbid[ding] people to learn to read so they could keep them under control”; again, that’s not quite right. The early followers of Jesus spoke (mostly) Greek. Their “Bibles” were written in that language, even the Jewish Scriptures. In the second century, the “Bible” was translated again into the common language of the people — Latin. In the 4th century, Jerome wrote the Vulgate (again in Latin) specifically for the common person. After Rome fell, however, the “Bible” was still in Latin and only really accessible by the elite (rich and clergy). So, it wasn’t so much of the clergy trying to “keep [people] under control” (although that did happen in some cases) as it was they were the only ones who could afford to get a proper education!

However, The Celtic Christian Church (c. 4th - 9th centuries) were some of the most literate people around reading, speaking, and writing Greek, Hebrew, and Latin. And there were other exceptions — German in the 8th century (Charlemagne) and Slavonic in the 9th century (Cyril and Methodius).

Lastly, of course, there’s the first English translation in the 14th century (John Wycliffe) and an updated Czechoslovakian (John Huss).Then, of course, the Reformation brought a slew of new translations (because of the printing press).

So, there’s been a whole history of people in the church translating the Bible into the languages of common people. This tradition goes on today with the Bible I recommend, The Common English Bible. If you haven’t given it a read, you really should.

Now, I say all of that to say this: If one has read this blog long enough, one will see that I have a really big problem with the “religious business institution” called the “church.” We have moved away from following The Way of Jesus as a way of living and made it into a “religion” and “business.” The ancient church and, to a great extent, the Celtic Christians, modeled following The Way of Jesus as a lifestyle — a way of living — adapting it to different cultures and societies. We should do the same today.

Thanks again for your comments and questions!



~~~
In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC

19 November 2014

Jewish Holy Days — A Question from a Reader

After making a Facebook post about the Feast Day of St. Hilda, a reader asked,

“Do you participate in these feasts in honor of these saints? Do you keep the Holy feast days from the Torah also?”

My initial response was that, yes, I do try to observe the feast days on the Christian calendar since they’re mostly special prayers and readings for the Daily Office, but, no, I don’t celebrate the feast days designated in the Torah. Of course, I certainly send out well-wishes to those who do.

But this got me thinking. Even though there wasn’t a follow-up question as to why I don’t celebrate the feast days designated in the Torah, I thought I would explain myself for those interested.

The short answer is I’m a follower of Jesus.

The long answer is a little more complicated.

The coming of G‑d’s Realm was part of the eschatological hope of ancient Judaism. That is, the Jews of Jesus time believed their current age would some day come to a close and the coming age — the age after their age — would be G‑d returning to G‑d’s people fully establishing G‑d’s Realm. We see this very early on. In Matthew’s telling of the Jesus story, Joseph dreamt that the child Mary was carrying would be the one who “saves [the] people from their sins” (Matthew 1.21; adapted). The writer interpreted this to be a fulfillment of Isaiah 7.14 and quoted that in the following verses noting that the child would be called “G‑d with us” (verse 23; adapted). G‑d was coming back to Israel.

In Luke’s telling of the Jesus story, Mary praises Yahweh by singing of G‑d’s overturning the powers and establishing the lowly and rescuing Israel, just as was promised (Luke 1.46-55).

After Jesus was born, his parents took him to the Temple for his circumcision and presentation. Upon seeing him, Simeon and Anna declared that G‑d was rescuing, not only Israel, but all of creation somehow through Jesus (Luke 2.21-38).


Jesus understood this as his vocation. One could say, without exaggeration, that Jesus’ ministry was ushering in the Realm of G‑d. In Mark’s telling of the Jesus story, Jesus said, “Now is the time! Here comes G‑d’s kingdom! Change your hearts and lives, and trust this good news” (Mark 1.15; adapted). If G‑d’s Realm really was coming (somehow through Jesus), that meant that the then current age was coming to a close.

In all the stories Jesus told, comparing the then current age with the coming age, there was no separation of a long delay. Jesus understood that he was bringing the then current age to a close. He clearly saw that his generation would be the final generation of that age. In explaining the parable (or story) about the weeds (Matthew 13.24-29), Jesus said —

“The one who plants the good seed is the Human One. The field is the world. And the good seeds are the followers of the kingdom. But the weeds are the followers of the evil one. The enemy who planted them is the devil. The harvest is the end of the present age. The harvesters are the angels. Just as people gather weeds and burn them in the fire, so it will be at the end of the present age. The Human One will send his angels, and they will gather out of his kingdom all things that cause people to fall away and all people who sin. He will throw them into a burning furnace. People there will be weeping and grinding their teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in their Father’s kingdom. Those who have ears should hear” (Matthew 13.36-43; emphasis added).

This ties directly into what Jesus said to the religious leaders of his day. He told them that they would be held accountable for “all the righteous blood that has been poured out on the earth, from the blood of that righteous man Abel to the blood of Zechariah the son of Barachiah, whom you killed between the temple and the altar. I assure you that all these things will come upon this generation” (Matthew 23.13ff; emphasis added).

After Jesus declared that the Temple would be destroyed (23.38; cf. Matthew 24.1-2), the disciples asked him when that would happen and tied it directly to the close of their age (verse 3). Then, in one of the most misunderstood passages in all of the New Testament (Matthew 24), Jesus reiterates what he just said to the religious leaders, “[The Human One] will send his angels with the sound of a great trumpet, and they will gather his chosen ones from the four corners of the earth, from one end of the sky to the other...I assure you that this generation won’t pass away until all these things happen” (verses 31, 34; emphasis added).

Why would all of this happen? Because, G‑d’s Realm was coming — somehow — through Jesus.

The New Testament writers were keen on this point, too. The writer to the Hebrews clearly spells out that the cultic practices of Judaism were but shadows of the reality found in Christ and the Realm of G‑d (Hebrews 10). That age, i.e., the Old Covnenatal Jewish age, was “obsolete...and close to disappearing” (Hebrews 8.13).

In his letter to the Colossians, Paul stated the same thing when he wrote, “So don’t let anyone judge you about eating or drinking or about a festival, a new moon observance, or sabbaths. These religious practices are only a shadow of what was coming—the body that cast the shadow is Christ” (Colossians 2.16-17).

In Romans, Paul put it very plainly when he wrote, “Christ has brought the Law to an end” (Romans 10.4; GNT).

Why? Because the Law and its “religious practices” served their purpose. And that purpose was to point away from itself to Christ. Paul explains it this way to the followers of Jesus in Galatia —

Before faith came, we were guarded under the Law, locked up until faith that was coming would be revealed, so that the Law became our custodian until Christ so that we might be made righteous by faith. But now that faith has come, we are no longer under a custodian (Galatians 3.23-25; emphasis added).

So, the reason why I don’t follow the feast days of the Torah is because I’m a follower of Jesus. I believe that those stories and rituals and celebrations were mere shadows that pointed away from themselves to the reality of the person of Christ and G‑d’s Realm.



~~~
In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC

05 November 2014

Oklahoma Politics — Ugh...

Last night, the Republicans won control of the Senate. Or, one could say, the Democrats lost what little control of the Senate they had.

Here in Oklahoma, most of the incumbents kept their positions. That is, the ruling party is mostly the Republican party. For my Republican friends, they’re elated. For my friends who are Democrats, not so much.

I’m not happy.

In fact, I’m a little irritated and sad.

Not because my party lost, but because we didn’t have to. We gave up. We forfeited. That is, no one showed up to vote.

Some figures I’ve seen show about 40% of registered voters turned out to perform their “civic duty.”

Just let that sink in.

Only 4 out of 10 of our fellow Oklahomans even bothered to raise their voices.

What’s more, Oklahoma is a “red state.” That is, the state is overwhelmingly controlled by the Republican party.

Or that’s what we’re led to believe.

In fact, it’s not. There are more registered Democrats in Oklahoma than Republicans.

Now let that sink in.

According to the Oklahoma Election Board, the parties are just about evenly split with the Democrats having a slight lead — 43.7 Democrat, 43.6 Republican, 12.7 Independent. There are two things here: 1) Independants and 2) Democrat voter turnout. First, let’s talk about the Independents.

For the longest time, I was a registered Independent. The reason I registered as an Independant is probably close to the same reason others have done the same — they don’t like the two party system! They feel that neither side speaks for them.

And then I went to vote in a local election.

In Oklahoma, Independents can’t vote in local or mid-term elections. The only election a registered Independent can vote in is the national election. This is unfortunate. Oklahoma must change its laws to allow 12.7% of its population to have a voice in the electoral process. Period. The idea that one must be part of the “two party system” is an archaic way of seeing the world.

In my opinion, there’s another reason that Oklahoma doesn’t allow registered Independents vote and it’s quite sinister.

Those in power don’t want them to.

If the other political parties had a voice, those in power could soon find themselves looking for another line of work (and good riddance to them!). So, we’ve enacted laws to silence 12.7% of our families, friends, and neighbors. And that’s really the only reason Independents aren’t allowed to vote. We just don’t want them to voice their views.

However, there’s something we can do in the time between now and when the laws change — registered Independents need to change their party affiliation. While I realize that this may feel like one’s compromising one’s views, it’s really not. It gives one a voice when one didn’t have it before. What Independents need to do is find those candidates who support changes to our voting laws and join their party — whether Democrat or Republican. Once those people are elected into office, and the laws change, then exit that party and sign up as an Independent.

Turning now to voter turnout…

I don’t want to hear one word from the Democrats about the way things are in this “great state”! Not one!

As I noted above, registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans. Sure, it’s not by much but every vote counts and they would be enough for real change to happen. There’s no reason Oklahoma can’t be a “blue state” again.

Oh? Didn’t you know that Oklahoma used to be a “blue state”? According to this article, in 1960 “Democrats outnumbered Republicans 82 percent to 17.6 percent. In 1980, it was 75.8 percent Democratic and 22.8 percent Republican. In 2000, it was 56.7 percent Democratic and 35 percent Republican.”


Of course, this will only work if Democrats get off their collective high horses and vote!  I’m so sick of hearing how horrible and backwards this state is when 60% of our fellow citizens don’t even show up when it counts!

I hear it all the time — I even used to say it myself — “Why should I vote? Nothing ever changes.” Let me reply to this as gently as possible — if you didn’t vote, you’re the reason nothing ever changes! Again, 60% of my fellow Oklahomans didn’t even bother to show up. And, I could almost guarantee that 100% of that 60% will be complaining about the government.

I’ve never been one to really get to heavily involved with politics, but yesterday’s election and results have sparked something within me that might just push me over the edge.

Christ have mercy.



~~~
In the Love of the Three in One,

Br. Jack+, LC