The gist of a sermon by Pope Leo the Great, as posted on Facebook today by musician/monk John Michael Talbot, is:
"The law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ" (John 1:17).
Well, right on, Pope Leo. As I, in my chronological reading of the Bible, plod through the "wilderness" of Numbers and Leviticus and the laws about - well, about everything - the contrast between the New Covenant and the old is striking to say the least.
In my last post I joked about writing a murder mystery, "Murder in the Promised Land". A Levite judge and his Edomite sidekick would, like Brother Cadfael of "Masterpiece Theater", solve crimes according to the law and social context of their theocratic society. A good murder/mystery is a morality play, with the detective delivering edgy homilies about the seamy underside of respectable society. Reading through Moses, one sees an entire society of throroughly stiffnecked sinners being slowly whipped into shape by the enthusiastic education and application of a cradle-to-grave Law:
Hey lady DON'T grab the private parts of the guy beating the tar out of your husband - if you do, we'll cut off your hand. Use a stick, a poker, a skillet but NOT your hand.
Hey fella when you sack some pagan town DON'T rape the pretty women. If you want a female survivor bring her home and treat her well for a month and then, if you want, marry her, if not, send her on her way.
Hey husband, DON'T sleep with your mother-in-law. (Can't imagine they needed to enforce that one very often, but you never know.....)
And the premise behind it all is......priests, continually tell them what's wrong. Punish all wrongdoing without fear or favor. Do this and remind them of both the shortterm and longterm consequences of disobedience, and that if they obey, "all will be well with you."
But they couldn't. You might as well ask salamanders to sing Handel. Because of the radical depravity of their hearts, there would be no everlasting Kingdom of God on earth, no truly peculiar people. The Chosen would envy the heathens, act the heathens, and as a result be judged like the heathens.
And why?? Many reasons but two things jump out at me. First, the blood-soaked land of Israel cried out for justice and vengeance but there was just too much iniquity with no suitable sacrifice. Everything was soaked in sin. Lawbreaking was not a rare horror leading to instant death, like Sudden Infant Death Syndrome. Instead it became as common and as expected as the croup. In short it was an epidemic beyond the abilities of the priests to control.
Second, although the Law was given through the Spirit and the prophets spoke to the people through the Spirit, the people themselves did not have God's empowering, morally guiding Spirit in them. So - salamanders singing Handel, again. The problem persists today, and will until the Last Trump. In societies that value freedom (the West), people are dying from the sins of freedom: substance abuse, STDs, obesity, greed-related crime and practices, and suicide because they just can't take it anymore. Families are dying because one parent or the other is "free" to express their inborn, demonic pride. In more structured societies, people are dying from policy tyranny, "honor killings", racial and religious bigotry, and suicide because they just can't take it anymore.
Oh wretched man that I am, who can deliver me?!
Thanks be to God.....for the permissable one-for-all sacrifice of the Perfect Lamb. The perfect Law, perfectly satisfied.
Thanks be to God...for the indwelling Holy Spirit who gives freedom with obedience to the individual, and unity of love and purpose among His people. That Spirit which is a seal, a promise, of the Great Day after which no-one will say, "where is the Lord" because we all will know Him, from the greatest to the least, and even formerly sin-soaked spiritual salamanders will sing "Hallelujah!"