Day 6

Prayer for the day

The LORD is my strength and my song, and he has become my salvation.

Scripture for the day

Genesis 16-17, Matthew 5:27-48

This passage in the Sermon on the Mount has been one of the most hotly contested passages in scripture. People argue endlessly about the meanings and applications, but part of what it says resonates with our passage in Genesis today. Jesus says a lot about the kingdom of God, and the nature of that kingdom, in his sermon. He talks about how upside-down (or as my theology prof put it, right-side-up) the kingdom of God seems to those not part of it. Everything is topsy-turvy.

It seems like God specializes in the topsy-turvy. Jesus tells us to love our enemies. A man nearly a hundred years old is promised a child who will become many nations. God must have a sense of humour. We read things in Matthew like “go the extra mile…turn the other cheek” and we turn them into cute colloquialisms, missing the absolutely paradigm-shattering nature of Jesus’ teaching. We look at the story of Abram as a lovely story about an old man and woman who really want a baby, and we miss the incredible power of the plan of God.

In Genesis, God is working to form a people, and he does so in some incredibly mysterious ways. But along the way, we see beauty in the work. God creates a covenant with his people, starting with Abram. He says that their bodies will be physically marked (circumcision) in order to set them apart. They will bear in their flesh the “brand” of God.

When I was young, brand was everything. If you didn’t wear Levi’s Red Tab jeans to school, you were worth slightly less than nothing. Your label marked you, for good or ill, as belonging to a certain group of people.
In Matthew, Jesus takes the brand idea a little further. Not only will flesh be marked, but our very lives, our spirits, will be marked by the brand of God. The people of God will not be only those who bear the mark of circumcision, but those whose lives have been transformed so that they live by “kingdom ethics” where one’s word is taken at face value because of personal integrity, where one’s relationships are guarded zealously and carefully in order to glorify God, where one follows the steps of Jesus into places of danger non-violently, where one loves even the worst, the enemy. God is continuing his work of creating a people, and calls them to respond by living as true Kingdom people.

May that work of God be realized in you today.


3 thoughts on “Topsy-Turvy

  1. kIngdom ethics, on the surface anyway, seem to go beyond the letter of Kingdom laws as well. I can see why this passage is so hotly contested. Jesus tells people what they have heard, presumably from the laws that Moses handed down, ( can i make that presumption) and then adds these ethics to them. is he spiritualizing them? in the sense that he is revealing the spirit of the law (himself) and not just the face of them? the contest must come from our petty argumentative hearts then, which are accustomed to approaching situations and weighing consequences on a case by case, how does this affect me and mine basis. is the kingdom about us? or is it about the king? If it is about us and our personal comfort and safety and dignity then the ethics it demands are, at best, counter intuitive. I am in schools during the day, and have come across many a local representation of an anti bullying campaign that promotes a certain ethos. it says, resist evil like getting hit in the face by firmly challenging the person hitting you in the face. or by intervening with your friends on behalf of someone getting hit in the face. make the aggressor aware that their behavior isn’t encouraged or acceptable or entertaining. if you are a parent, create an atmosphere of greater social engagement, better supervision and be pervasive about getting your kids educated about the causes, effects, prevention and responses to bullies and bullying. this is not to forget that the certain type of violence which stems from an imbalance of power, and that is designed to bolster that imbalance is pervasive throughout all of humanity and society. it doesn’t just manifest itself in schools.

    maybe our hearts aren’t that petty after all. we live under the constant threat of violence from police with Guns and prisons to throw us in, from governments with conscription orders, and from ordinary citizens who take what we would call extreme measures. when is violence sanctioned? when isn’t it? the duality here reflects itself in how we interpret this scripture.

    to me, the key is not in endlessly arguing how this kingdom living affects us, but how it reflects God/ vs 46 and 48 explain that the reason we would ever take on such strange way of behaving. it is to represent our heritage in God. Maybe even to secure our heritage. ( though i see the problem in saying such a thing) i mean, abraham was given a covenant, the sign of which was the circumcision. God told abraham that to be uncircumcised was to break the covenant, not just the sign of it. that uncircumsized man, whomever he was, he was to be disinherited. circumsision was not the covenant. his progeny and inheritance were.

  2. is there, in God’s mind, a parallel between those who would live out the identification of the circumcision, and those who would live out the identification of the kingdom values? is expecting children in your 90’s just as odd and counter intuitive as expecting to inherit a lineage from an ancient hebrew, and God himself? and from what i have heard you say here, and what i have read, does God command the circumcision in the same way that Jesus commands we turn the other cheek, or love our enemies? do we risk being disinherited if we choose not to abide by the ethos? like john said to the generation of vipers- bring fruit worthy of repentance- Rocks could make children for God if God desired it.

    when sarai suggested to Abram that he should sleep with Hagar to create the lineage that God promised, and Abram agreed, it didn’t work out for him. He got a son, But he did not collect the promise. Did the wealth that Abram collect in Egypt on account of his lying about his wife being his wife lead to the strife between him and his family? am i being too simple about all of this? God’s promise, In God’s way, In God’s time? in my day to day spiritual walk i tend to drift between two ends of a swimming pool… what is God’s role in my life, and what is my role in God’s kingdom. The nice thing about a circumcision, or a tattoo, or a Jesus fish on your car is that it can’t be done in half-measure. Moment by moment, the ethos of living the kingdom values can be. I choose to yield to God in some ways, some days, and other ways and days i don’t. The only one who can draw a continuous line through my interactions, linking them to self preservation and fulfillment, or to heritage as God’s inheritance,( besides God?) is me . True God is merciful, but he is not mocked.

  3. the king james says ‘ But I say unto you, That whosoever shall put away his wife, saving for the cause of fornication, causeth her to commit adultery’ the niv says ‘But I tell you that anyone who divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, makes her the victim of adultery’ in my limited understanding these concepts seem disperate. how are they the same?

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