Monday, July 16

The New Commandment

Mark 3:
1 And he entered again into the synagogue; and there was a man there which had a withered hand.
2 And they watched him, whether he would heal him on the sabbath day; that they might accuse him.
3 And he saith unto the man which had the withered hand, Stand forth.
4 And he saith unto them, Is it lawful to do good on the sabbath days, or to do evil? to save life, or to kill? But they held their peace.
5 And when he had looked round about on them with anger, being grieved for the hardness of their hearts, he saith unto the man, Stretch forth thine hand. And he stretched it out: and his hand was restored whole as the other.

Should Jesus have healed the man with the withered hand? In a law that was handed from God, to Moses, and then to the Jewish people, this was a prohibited activity for the Sabbath day. I’m sure Jesus disciples were confused; the man who proclaimed himself to be the Messiah, the son of God, was going against God’s law in a very public manner. Jesus not only healed the man on the Sabbath, he got angry at the Pharisees for even thinking of rebuking him for it.

Indeed, Jesus did similar things on a number of occasions (e.g. Matthew 12:1-13). His message was that individual action guided by compassion can supersede any holy law. Love and goodwill is far more important than heeding to religious tradition, and the laws of the land. The hypocrisy of the Pharisees was that they were doing what they saw as right, upholding the sacred Torah that Jehovah himself had given to his chosen people, but in the process committed a greater injustice. In this case it was not allowing the man with the withered hand to be healed, but more explicit examples can be found in the parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:25-37), where a priest passed the beaten man on the road because it would have been considered unclean to touch a dead man. And also, with the accused adulteress (John 8:1-11), the men were about to kill the woman for adultery (as the law required), before Jesus stopped them with his famous saying: “Let those who are without sin cast the first stone.” The woman was considered immoral by the law, and yet the act of stoning a person is a far more inhumane act.

All of this will probably sound like common sense to you, but while morality has arguably progressed through the centuries, hypocrisy has not. In the same vein of the Pharisees placing religious law above compassion; when are modern Christians hindered from pure love and compassion due to their religious beliefs? The Church has a terrible record of placing doctrinal purity over moral purity. The Medieval Catholic Church burnt heretics at the stake, led a crusade against the Muslims, and excommunicated anyone who did not yield to their authority. While that does not happen now, division between people of different religions or branches of religions (i.e. Protestant and Catholic) through an air of religious superiority is common. The more conservative churches have a questionable record of tolerance, with racism, sexism, and homophobia prevalent in a lot of church environments. The point is when you consider yourself more moral or religious than someone else (maybe because they are “living in sexual immorality”, or “have ignorant beliefs”), you cannot love your neighbour as yourself; at the most you can attempt to ‘save them from their unrighteousness’ out of pity.

I am reminded of Matthew 7:1-5, where Jesus rebuked the hypocrisy of moral superiority. Whatever religion someone is, whatever beliefs they hold, whatever sexual persuasion they may be, whatever personality flaws a person may have, and whatever section of society they belong to, you and I are no better. As with the case of Jesus and the adulteress, the only action worthy of real moral rebuke is that of hurting another person through anger, hate, or intolerance. We are all human, and should strive to better show our love and compassion to others (Jesus dubbed this the 'New Commandment'), and not busy ourselves with separating certain social leanings as good and evil, moral and immoral.

7 Comments:

Blogger mewithoutYou said...

christians today often do things that they feel are what G-d wants them to do (like judging others), but they fail to realize that they are just turning them away from christianity. love instead of judging. this new commandment is not stressed enough today. this is a great blog. keep it up.

5:26 AM  
Anonymous Nick said...

Ahoy Tim,

As they often do, a thought struck me last night. It is often said today that the "Nuremburg defence" (I was only following orders) is not accepted.

How are we to examine the story of Abraham and Isaac? If the story is allegorical, what moral message are we meant to derive from Abraham being willing to sacrifice his son because God said so, and only stopping when God was satisfied by the resoluteness of his faith?

Rather than being satisfied in his faith, should not God bitch-slap Abraham for actually being willing to do this. Are not wrongs committed in the name of the Lord still wrongs? Or does God accept the Nuremburg defence?

7:23 PM  
Blogger mewithoutYou said...

i think that the nuremburg defense is acceptable after all isn't the Lord of all able to override something that He said previously?

2:33 AM  
Anonymous Nick said...

According to that story, the 'I was following orders' defence is okay.

According to modern legal & judicial thought, such thinking is erroneous and this defence won't wash.


They can't both be right.

11:29 PM  
Blogger Paul said...

You're a bright young man and your writings on Christian Existentialism are very illuminating, but I think you have more to learn about Jesus' teaching, just as I do. So, excuse me for challenging you on some points.

Jesus did indeed busy himself with many of the behaviours you find detestable. He had strong opinions about good and evil in society. Amongst his targets: evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander (Matt 15:19). You say that "the only action worthy of real moral rebuke is that of hurting another person through anger, hate, or intolerance." What of stealing, adultery, pedophilia, etc.?

Jesus rebuked the adulteress for her sin: "go and from now on sin no more", but he did not condemn her.

Jesus upheld the Jewish law (Matt 5:17-20), but his teaching was to surpass it (e.g. Matt 5:43-44) -- not supercede it. What he had a problem with was certain Jewish traditions or culture (Matt 15:3-9). Jesus wasn't breaking the Sabbath when he healed the man's hand, because his correct understanding of the Sabbath allowed for such good works on the day (Mark 2:27; John 7:21-24).

I believe you may be adopting a postmodern (PM) understanding of tolerance which implies that you should accept all viewpoints without judgement, regardless of their morality. PM says there are no absolute truths and morality is relative. In PM, morality is relative to culture or tradition, which was exactly what Jesus was fighting against in his time (John 7:24). The traditional understanding of tolerance is that of forbearing. Jesus never accepted immoral viewpoints, but did indeed forbear us (Matt 17:17). Jesus' message was that individual action guided by compassion can supercede any tradition or culture. This includes our current postmodernist culture.

Might I say that you have an air of religious superiority in judging the church by its most evil deeds of the past, but mentioning none of your own sins. I am not pleased to say it, but you sound more like the Pharisee than the tax collector (Luke 18:9-14) when you judge Christians in this manner. You might consider that the church is influenced from its surrounding culture and in authoritarian cultures you will see that reflected in the church. If you were in Germany in the 1930's you would likely have some authoritarian attitudes regardless of your religious beliefs. Rather than Christian beliefs you could blame culture for the behaviour of evil men? Certainly, it wasn't only Christians who committed evil in the past. The church shouldn't be influenced by its surrounding culture, it should uphold the true values of Christ at all times, but remember that the church is only made up of sinners, just like you and I. It is my sincere wish that all the good, non-hypocritical people would join and takeover the church, but unfortunately God can find none.

12:48 AM  
Blogger Timothy said...

Hi Paul,

I only just noticed your comment, so I apologise if it has been months. Anyhow, you're right, I have more to learn about the teachings of Jesus, as we all. I believe you have misinterpreted my post, or otherwise I did not explain my thoughts clearly enough.

You said "What of stealing, adultery, pedophilia, etc.?" I would never claim that Jesus did not care about these issues, but show me an example of Jesus going out of his way to condemn an adulterer? Or a thief? This is not about right/wrong, this is about priorities. Furthermore, how is pedophilia not hurting another human being? As with stealing.

You said "Jesus wasn't breaking the Sabbath when he healed the man's hand, because his correct understanding of the Sabbath allowed for such good works on the day" -- I agree with this. The Pharisees obviously did not, and they were the religious scholars of the time. That was my point.

You said "I believe you may be adopting a postmodern (PM) understanding of tolerance which implies that you should accept all viewpoints without judgement, regardless of their morality. PM says there are no absolute truths and morality is relative." -- No, no, no, no, no! I am familiar with moral relativity and I do not believe that I was espousing anything similar to that. In my post, I talked about many moral absolutes, just not ones that you yourself agree with. That is not postmodernism, it is merely a different point of view :)

You said "Might I say that you have an air of religious superiority in judging the church by its most evil deeds of the past, but mentioning none of your own sins. I am not pleased to say it, but you sound more like the Pharisee than the tax collector" -- The problem with viewing one blog post and then judging a person is that it will often lead to a misunderstanding. You'll find a number of my posts on this blog freely admit to my own failings. For instance, I have spent alot of time speaking on consumerism and the dangers of capitalism to Christians. I have mentioned in my blog that the reason I do this is not because I feel I am in a moral position to teach down to people. Just the opposite, I write about it because it is what I myself need to hear the most. It is my greatest weakness.

I feel able, however, to judge the church. While you would find alot of churches in 1930s Germany that had the culture of authoritarianism throughout its teachings, but why can't I judge them for that? It sounds like you're beginning to take on the postmodernist perspective, where everyone's morality is shaped by their culture, and hence should be free from judgement. There were also many Christians in 1930s Germany who resisted, such as Dietrich Bonhoeffer. Did I ever claim to be of the same calibre as those who can withstand cultural presssures to the point of death?

Anyhow, while I believe you misunderstood me your criticisms were well received. One problem I have is that I sometimes do not communicate ideas very clearly, and they often lead to the wrong impressions. Thanks for reading!

9:23 PM  
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11:38 AM  

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