30 January 2008

St. Matthew Bible Study - Lesson 15

When I lived in Seattle, the winters were always gloomy. Supposedly, they had one of the highest suicide rates in the country. It didn’t rain the way everyone imagines, with an actual accumulation of water each day. No, it merely misted all day every day, just enough to make your face wet and fog up people’s glasses. It also was the kind of dampness that cooled you to the bone. Each day, on the way to the University of Washington, I would pass places that offered light therapy to combat the effects of Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD).

I think I have BSAD, Bible Study Affected Disorder. For some reason, I’m just not too jazzed about the whole idea. And, posting my notes seems less than thrilling since the start of the year. But, blogging has been the same way. I’ve always had an attention deficit problem. Not the official diagnosed kind, just that I lose interest in things and lately that has been blogging. I’ve been doing some reading and genealogy, plus started my spring cleaning. Everything seems more interesting than blogging at the moment. Maybe BSAD is really Blogger Situational Affective Disorder. Hopefully, they will find a cure soon.

And now, let’s get on with it.

Chapter 15
It’s interesting to see how each chapter seems to show an increase in the tension between Jesus and the Pharisees. And, we see how their hearts are not just hardened to Jesus’ message, but their pride is so consuming that they have clearly moved from disdain to jealousy to now envy. No wonder pride is such a deadly sin and can find such hideous and barbaric forms to express itself in.

Rules are rules

This chapter starts out with the Pharisees questioning Jesus about why His disciples don’t follow the laws. These laws are the laws the Pharisees came up with, not the Law of Moses. The class notes say, “Since the Jews’ return from the Babylonian Captivity, hundred of religious stipulations and rules had been added to the Law in an attempt to ensure no danger of someone inadvertently breaking it. In Deuteronomy 4:2, however, the descendants of the twelve tribes of Israel had been instructed by Moses not to add anything to the Law nor subtract from it: ‘You shall not add to the word which I command you, nor take from it; that you may keep the commandments of the Lord your God which I command you.’ The scribes’ and Pharisees’ additions to the Law kept them from being the kind of witnesses to the world that God originally had intended. Jesus cuts through the built-up calluses of human traditions that obscure the spirit of the original Law to make the point that moral purity and the keeping of God’s word begins within the depths of a person’s heart.”

Father Echert said that whatever you do insincerely or with the wrong motives has no merit, or what you do while not in a state of grace has no merit (for you personally). He mentioned that there were 72 scrolls of oral tradition that were destroyed (by Divine Providence) when the temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in 70AD. In the following century, there was a rabbi that managed to reconstruct the laws into what is the Mishnah, which is a (second) collection filled with specifications on the Sabbath and ritual purity. This is the first time I had heard of it, so check out the link for some more information.

Halakah and Korban
Jesus is trying to show the people that it is more important to understand the reasons for the laws and that what is in your heart, the sincerity, is more important than making sure you dot your i’s and cross your t’s. The laws the Pharisees added were called Halakah. These are the laws and ordinances not specifically found in Scripture, but had developed from the Pharisees interpretations of the Law.

The Pharisees had the idea that what was unclean could defile what was pure or clean, but nothing that was clean could “cleanse” what was defiled. We saw this in a prior chapter where the Pharisees believed defilement could only go in one direction, for when you were touched by a leper you were unclean and had to go through a ritual and become pure again. However, in contrast to this, Jesus touches many unclean people and His touch alone cures them, makes them clean. Even this is forbidden by Halakah and is part of what irritates them so much about Jesus -- He is disregarding their laws and this is why they question Him about His disciples -- they are not following halakah by washing their hands before eating. Jesus is trying to show them that ritual observance of the law is hollow and how they are practicing it has clouded the real meaning and importance of the Law itself. The class notes mention they "keep the letter of the Law while they ignore its spirit."

When the Pharisees criticize Jesus' disciples for not washing their hands, Jesus calls them hypocrites and points out how they themselves are not just breaking a ritual or tradition, but one of the commandments -- honor your mother and father. The Pharisees have found a legal "loophole" where they are getting out of financially supporting their parents. (Shows where their hearts are, or should I say lack of a heart, how callous). By giving alms, called Korban, they are giving money they should be using to support their parents to the Temple, in attempt to make themselves look good for being so generous. The notes from our study say, "...people are responsible for providing for their parents who are sick, elderly, or otherwise unable to care for themselves. The Pharisees devised a way in which a person could declare his wealth to be korban. After a person's death, his wealth would be turned over to the Temple, but in the meantime it was considered already placed on the altar and was unavailable for other uses. This allowed a person to ignore financial responsibility for his parents while still maintaining a veneer of religious respectability..." Father Echert said that is this a two-fold sin in that they are not keeping the commandment to care for their parents and they are prideful/hypocritical. Their offer is not pleasing to God because you need proper intention and to be in a state of grace -- their offering has no merit.

Jesus further rebukes them by telling them it's not what goes into the body that defiles, but what "comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart, and defiles a man" (Matthew 15:18). Here, we see Jesus preparing a transition. One is no longer bound by Old Testament standards of ritual purity.

The Canaanite woman and the second loaves and fishes
Drawing a parallel between purity and impurity, Matthew shows Jesus going to Tyre and Sidon where he finds a Canaanite woman. She is a complete "foreigner" to the Jews in every way. She asks Jesus to heal her daughter who is possessed by a demon. First, Jesus rebukes her and tells her He is only here to gather the lost sheep of Israel. She persists and shows great faith and humility. Jesus then heals her daughter instantly by saying, "O woman, great is your faith! Be it done for you as you desire." This miracle demonstrates who really has faith instead of just appearing to like the Pharisees. Jesus is also showing that He is here, not just for Judah, not just for the 12 tribes, but for all.

The second miracle of the loaves and fishes demonstrates that what Jesus had done for the Jews, he now does for the Gentiles. And, yes, there are TWO miracles of the loaves and fishes, so keep 'em straight! This miracle also foreshadows the Eucharist, much the same as the prior miracle of loaves and fishes. We see once again the super abundance of God's gifts to His people.

And, I thought this was interesting from the notes.
The Old Testament proclaimed the Father openly, and the Son more obscurely. The New Testament manifested the Son, and suggested the deity of the Spirit. Now the Spirit Himself dwells among us, and supplies us with a clearer demonstration of Himself.
-St. Gregory of Nazianzen


gemoftheocean said...

Hey girl, just do what you can. I do enjoy reading the notes though I don't always comment on them!


Anonymous said...

Swiss Miss,

Now I know what lesson to study. I have been unable to attend the bible study for the past two weeks. Lesson 16 here I come! Thanks,