We Christians have never quite recovered from the third basic change in our faith: the switch in the second century which transformed our church from a Semitic to a Greek thinking community. Most people today regard the other three fundamental changes as steps forward in our imitation of Jesus. Scholars and historians don't always look favorably on this change. It turned us into an analytical, either/or people, quite different from the synthesizing, both/and mentality of the historical Jesus and all the authors of our Christian Scriptures.
Our ancestors in the faith were committed to looking at their experiences of the risen Jesus from every angle possible, always surfacing new dimensions of their faith. They reveled in contradictions like, "Those who gain their lives will lose them." Only by employing such contradictions were they, at times, able to convey the depth of the experiences their faith in Jesus brought them.
Once Greek thought and philosophy "hijacked" Christianity, we began to speak of our faith experiences in either/or categories. Contradictions were anathema. Now there could only be one "orthodox" theology, one way of expressing our faith.
One of the most famous spin-offs of Greek thought was the 16th century battle between Catholics and Reformers over the question, "How are we saved?" The Reformers, quoting Paul, claimed Christians were saved by their faith in Jesus. Catholics, quoting James, claimed we're saved by our actions.
Both sides, following their Greek thought patterns, refused to give in. It was either works or faith. No compromises. No insight that it could be both faith and works. Only 40 years ago when Council-inspired participants in Lutheran/Catholic dialogue returned to the thought patterns of our sacred authors did we finally find the common ground those authors presumed their readers would have taken from their writings.
That's why today's three readings are significant. They're the product of Semitic thinking authors who never in their wildest nightmares could foresee they'd one day be read and interpreted by Greek thinkers.
Our first and third passages emphasize the action aspect of our dedication to God.
Moses reminds his soon-to-enter-the-Promised-Land community, "I set before you . . . a blessing and a curse: a blessing for obeying the commandments of Yahweh, your God, which I enjoin on you today; a curse if you do not obey the commandments of Yahweh, your God . . . ." It's not enough just to say, "I'm committed to Yahweh!" One must also be determined to carry out the concrete actions Yahweh demands.
In a parallel way, Matthew's Jesus ends his Sermon on the Mount with, "Not everyone who says to me, 'Lord, Lord,' will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only the one who does the will of my Father in heaven." Just as Moses gave his people a choice between a curse or blessing, so Jesus gives us a choice between building our faith on rock or on sand.
On the other hand, Paul puts faith front and center. Dealing with some who think salvation revolves only around fulfilling all 613 laws of Moses, the Apostle reminds the Roman church, "We consider that a person is justified by faith apart from works of the law." If one just follows those Jewish laws, what's the reason behind Jesus' death and resurrection? Our faith in Jesus' dying and rising is the force behind our own dying and rising.
Greek thought process certainly gives us a succinct, clear expression of our faith. But it falls horribly short of the expressions of faith which our ancestors in that faith originally passed on to us.