“I gave them the Beatitudes, and all they do is quote Leviticus...”
I can see Jesus saying this, sighing and sadly shaking his head.
Leviticus, of course, is part of the Torah, the first five books of the Hebrew Scriptures, which Christians refer to as the Old Testament.
Data-driven scholars tell us that the Torah contains 613 commandments, the basis of all Jewish law.
The quote references our tendency to cherry-pick verses from those 613 commandments condemning certain behaviors of others we particularly abhor — all the while personally failing to live up to the one commandment of love found in the Beatitudes.
The early followers of Jesus were not known as Christians, but followers of the Way.
It’s interesting that Jewish law is also known as halakha. A literal translation might be “the way to behave” or better yet, “the way of walking.”
In this sense, halakha was not a collection of precepts that could be taken individually, but a complete worldview that had to be lived.
All those behaviors, from sexual mores to proscriptions of mistreating foreigners, bearing a grudge, or working on the Sabbath, were what it meant to be a follower of Yahweh.
With law a considerable part of the first five books, it is easy to think that this “way” was simply formulaic — all you had to do to be a good Israelite was to follow the law.
But from the very beginning of Genesis, the Scriptures tell us that this must be internalized and affirmed.
In the third chapter, after Adam and Eve have their history-altering fruit snack, God says to them, “Where are you?”
Adam confesses that they were hiding, ashamed of their newly discovered nakedness, but who plays hide and seek with an all-knowing God?
In the very next chapter, a jealous and furious Cain kills his brother Abel.
Again, a God who obviously knows what has happened, asks Cain where Abel is.
Still angry, but now fearful as well, Cain replies, “Am I my brother’s keeper?” It was rhetorical.
These two questions, one asked by God and one by Cain, and neither really answered, hover over all Jewish Scripture, and the New Testament, as well.
Over and over again, regardless of age, I must confront these questions.
Where am I in relation to my God, my purpose, my truest self?
Am I my brother’s, my sister’s keeper? And how do I live that answer with each new passing day?