Monday, July 21, 2014

Borders

Scholars of Mosaic law note that the sets of laws are often grouped according to the ten commandments.  That there are laws about proper worship, and then laws about roles.  There are laws about killings and laws about sexual mores and laws about justice.  But sometimes you get groups of laws that don’t seem to be connected at all, like in Deuteronomy 22:

A woman shall not wear man's clothing, nor shall a man put on a woman's clothing; for whoever does these things is an abomination to the LORD your God.
If you happen to come upon a bird's nest along the way, in any tree or on the ground, with young ones or eggs, and the mother sitting on the young or on the eggs, you shall not take the mother with the young; you shall certainly let the mother go, but the young you may take for yourself, in order that it may be well with you and that you may prolong your days.
When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof, so that you will not bring bloodguilt on your house if anyone falls from it.
You shall not sow your vineyard with two kinds of seed, or all the produce of the seed which you have sown and the increase of the vineyard will become defiled.
 You shall not plow with an ox and a donkey together.
 You shall not wear a material mixed of wool and linen together.
 Deut. 22:5-11 (New American Standard)

These laws just seem completely random.  But they aren’t.  In fact, the connection between not wearing another sex’s clothes and having a parapet on the roof gets to a deep theme in the Old Testament.  All of these laws have to do with setting proper boundaries.  That God created a natural order to things, and that things separated should not be mixed.  It is obvious that a roof on which people work and sleep (which they did in the ancient world, and in many places in the world today) should have a wall to protect people.  Even so, the OT claims that there needs to be walls placed between the sexes, walls placed between seeds, walls placed between species and walls placed between kinds of seeds, because mixing them brings disaster.  It is for this reason that there are food laws in the OT, and laws which declare that certain nations must be enculturated (perhaps up to 10 generations!) before they can be full citizens in Israel.  There must be an absolute border between Israelites and Canaanites, which is why the Canaanites were no longer supposed to exist as a race.  Some boarders cannot be crossed for any reason.

And yet when Jesus came on the scene, he seemed to have a different point of view.  The law that separated lepers and non-lepers, Jesus just ignored, touching lepers.  The laws that separated Jew and Gentiles, Jesus often ignored.  The laws that held men and women in different roles Jesus sometimes ignored (which is why Mary was allowed to have the male role of student, although Martha wanted her to take a more proper feminine role).  And what about Canaanites?

And a Canaanite woman from that region came out and began to cry out, saying, "Have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David; my daughter is cruelly demon-possessed." But He did not answer her a word. And His disciples came and implored Him, saying, "Send her away, because she keeps shouting at us." But He answered and said, "I was sent only to the lost sheep of the house of Israel." But she came and began to bow down before Him, saying, "Lord, help me!" And He answered and said, "It is not good to take the children's bread and throw it to the dogs." But she said, "Yes, Lord; but even the dogs feed on the crumbs which fall from their masters' table." Then Jesus said to her, "O woman, your faith is great; it shall be done for you as you wish." And her daughter was healed at once.  Matthew 15:22-28

At first, Jesus seems to be affirming the border of the Mosaic law—there is a firm distinction between Canaanite and Israelite, and they shall never pass.  In fact, Jesus calls her a dog.  But when she accepts this term, and claims that even dogs get crumbs, Jesus does a complete turnaround.  Why?  Because faith—trust and devotion to God—trumps all the other borders.  Borders mean nothing when there is faith and love.  In as much as the OT law affirms borders, Jesus breaks them.  Jesus insists that the very things that are separated by walls—male and female, Jew and Gentile, Moabite and Israelite, leper and healthy, sinner and saint—are no longer separated, but are, in fact, united by faith and love. 

And yet we have trouble with this even today.  We Christians want to re-establish borders because ultimately our love and faith isn’t strong enough to overcome our instinct to set up walls.  We want to distinguish Christian and non-Christian, homeless and housed, male and female, Jew and Palestinian, citizen and illegal immigrant, belonging to the right church group or the wrong one—all the very kinds of borders that Jesus did away with.  As quickly as Jesus takes down our walls and replaces them with love, we build new ones. 


We can either have walls, or we may have love.  We may either have borders or we may have a unity of faith.