“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you tithe mint, dill, and cummin, and have neglected the weightier matters of the law: justice and mercy and faith.” (Matt 23:23). Look at this ‘Faith’ in Matthew’s Gospel.
Never before have I looked at faith as a ‘weightier matter of the law’. And so, in the midst of a new thought, let’s follow Matthew in this. When the consideration is given to Jesus’ religious context, all discussions surrounding this text places us, again, in the Old Testament— the Law and the Prophets.
To begin with, faith in the Old Testament is man’s reaction to God’s action— developing a very vital sense of the omnipotence, omniscience and omnipresence of God. In it’s oldest traditions, faith is collective. The community experienced the ‘acts of God’ on their behalf and as ‘a people’ developed a reaction attitude of both ‘fear’ and ‘trust’. To be sure, the Old Testament history is considered to be a ‘salvation history’, told from a view of covenant— ‘relationship with God’. “If you will be my people, I will be your God!”
For Isaiah, faith and being are one and the same. Weiser has suggested that Isaiah deserves the title as ‘The Prophet of Faith’. From the earliest days of his calling, he speaks to kings as though faith is ‘the only’ state of existence. “I will wait for the Lord, who is hiding his face from the house of Jacob, and I will hope in him.” (Isaiah 8:17) It is not until The Exile that the ‘object of faith’ becomes an issue. Convinced that Yahweh/God had forsaken them in the events which led to the destruction of the Temple and the deportations, Israel now sat by the waters of Babylon and wept as they remembered Zion. The Lord’s song could not be sung in a strange land.
What is “This LAW” in “This STRANGE LAND” that enables the ‘powers that be’ to justify this eternal “STRANGE FRUIT” killing of men; in cold blood; ‘On Camera’ while the whole world watches? Taking absolutely NO THOUGHT for “Justice”??? Once, a mistake… ‘shame on you’. Twice… a bad decision… ‘shame on me’. NOW? Terence Crutcher, Alton Sterling, Sandra Bland, Walter Scott, Eric Harris, Dontre Hamilton. Then there is Eric Garner, John Crawford, Michael Brown, Jr., Ezell Ford, Dante Parks, Tanisha Anderson, Akai Gurley. Oh, and Tamir Rice, Ramain Brisbon, Jerame Reid, Tony Robinson, Phillip White, Eric Harris, and Freddie Gray! Let’s not forget Sam Dubose, Philando Castile, Jamar Clark, Jeremy McDole, William Chapman, II, Sean Reed. Will not forget Breonna Taylor, George Floyd, David McAtee, Ariane McCree, Terrance Franklin…….. Weeping! While “The Lord’s Song in this Strange Land” is banished into to… Cyberspace!
With Ezra and Nehemiah’s restoration of the Temple and Law; the establishment of the Rabbinical tradition; and the canonization of scripture, faith is now ‘obedience to the Law’. No longer a relationship where God’s acts are seen as ‘present’ in the history of Israel and their participation, their deeds no longer determined their destiny. Schlatter provokes thought when he writes “Faith loses the character of present decision in the historical situation and thus represents itself as something static and enduring, as the form of consciousness which results from the entrance of scriptural doctrine therein.”
Now that the ‘object of faith’ has become ‘The Law’, it is no small thing that in summing up ‘The Law’, Jesus has placed ‘The Lord, Our God’ back in the very center of life. In this ‘woe’ over the preoccupation with laws that are of little substance— (not even the TEN, which he reduces to TWO), he says to the Pharisees and scribes, return to the ‘law of faith’.
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