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Breath of the Spirit

Pastoral, Liturgical, Teaching, and Social Justice Moments brought to you by DignityUSA.

Breath of the Spirit is our electronic spiritual and liturgical resource for our members and potential members. Nothing can replace your chapter or other faith community but we hope you will find further support here for integrating your spirituality with your sexuality and all the strands of your life.

As Paul reminds the Corinthian community 11 chapters later in today’s letter, we still have a covenant to follow: it’s the one Jesus entered into with Yahweh; a covenant in which we totally give ourselves over to those around us and become one with them, a covenant we renew every time we take from the cup during the Eucharist.

MARCH 8, 2015: THIRD SUNDAY OF LENT

Readings:

Exodus 20:1-17
I Corinthians 1:22-25
John 2:13-25

Technically, we Gentile Christians aren’t bound by Scripture’s Ten Commandments. Only Jewish Christians – and Jews themselves - are responsible for carrying them out. But before we start to run amuck and indulge in all sorts of immoral behavior, there are a few things we must understand.

These ten regulations comprise the central part of a covenant between Yahweh and the Israelites. A covenant is a contract, an agreement between at least two parties. Among other things, covenants impose specific responsibilities on each of the parties. “You can expect this and that from me; I can expect that and this from you.” That’s why those who originally entered into this particular agreement on Mt. Sinai didn’t refer to these ten stipulations as “commandments.” Instead, they regarded them as their Ten Responsibilities: ten actions Yahweh could legally expect them to carry out because of the contract they signed with him/her. All Jews are presumed to have obligated themselves to this covenant; a covenant which also included 603 other responsibilities: the Mosaic Law.

But what about non-Jews? Yahweh, for instance, didn’t deliver my ancestors from slavery in Egypt in the 13th century BCE; they came from Europe to America in the 19th century CE because of economic pressures.

Paul was forced to deal with this question when he began to convert Gentiles to Christianity.

Jesus’ original followers were all Jews, just as the historical Jesus was. So they logically presumed any non-Jew who wanted to become one of his disciples would first convert to Judaism and only then to Christianity.

Paul disagreed. As we know from Galatians 3, the Apostle was convinced that Christians imitated not the historical Jesus, but the risen Jesus, who is neither slave or free, male or female, Jew or Gentile. He/she is a “new creation.” Paul believed that Gentile Christians were obligated to follow a covenant, but it was the one Yahweh made with Abraham hundreds of years before Moses’ Sinai contract. In that Genesis 15:6 covenant, Abraham only had the responsibility to “put his faith in Yahweh;” no ten commandments, no 613 regulations.

Since Paul believed that the risen Jesus is actually Yahweh among us, then, as he reminds the Corinthians, Christ – Paul’s title for the risen Jesus – “is the power of God and wisdom of God.” By putting our faith in the Christ, and doing what he asks of us, we Gentile Christians are actually fulfilling the responsibilities of the original covenant Yahweh made with Yahweh’s people back in Genesis 15.

Of course, the vast majority of 1st century Jews didn’t agree with Paul’s argument. (Neither did a lot of Jewish Christians.) That’s why, by the end of that century, John the evangelist seems to have given up on converting Jews to Christianity. His gospel Jesus has morphed into a replacer instead of a reformer of Judaism.

In today’s gospel pericope, for instance, the evangelist demonstrates how Jesus has replaced that revered Jewish institution, the temple. “Destroy this temple,” Jesus proclaims, and in three days I will raise it up.” Of course, as the evangelist reminds his readers, Jesus wasn’t speaking about the ancient Jerusalem center of worship: “He was speaking about the temple of his body.”

As Paul reminds the Corinthian community 11 chapters later in today’s letter, we still have a covenant to follow: it’s the one Jesus entered into with Yahweh; a covenant in which we totally give ourselves over to those around us and become one with them, a covenant we renew every time we take from the cup during the Eucharist.

Perhaps after trying to imitate Jesus, we Gentile Christians might think it easier just to keep the Ten Commandments. Is that why we have them, instead of Jesus’ covenant, posted in so many of our churches?

    

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