Sunday, April 05, 2009

Road to Emmaus message, "Uncle Tom's Cabin" reaction

Today is Palm Sunday, and I don't have to be at work till 6pm, so I was able to go to church. They just started a new series at my church called "Sightings: Jesus in the Old Testament." The logo looks like this (an obvious play on the movie Signs):


Today the sermon was from Luke 24 and was on how the newly-resurrected Jesus used the Old Testament to tell the two men on the road to Emmaus about himself. The verse goes: "And beginning with Moses and all the Prophets, he interpreted to them in all the Scriptures the things concerning himself" (Luke 24:27, English Standard Version). The pastor pointed out that with these guys, disappointed as they were at their expectations of a Messiah not being fulfiled, Jesus didn't go back to what he did on Earth - he knew from asking them about what they were talking about that they knew that stuff. Instead, he went back to the Old Testament - the Jews' foundational text - and pointed out where he had shown up then and what he had done.

In the King James Version (which I also have a copy of), it says, "And beginning at Moses and all the prophets, he expounded unto them in all the scriptures the things concerning himself." Expound means "to set forth or state in detail." Basically, he not only told them these things, but went into detail about them. The Greek word there is diermeneuo, which means "to unfold the meaning of what is said, explain, expound" and also (interestingly) "to translate into one's native language." Like a lot of Greek words in the Bible, it's a combination of two other words: Dia, which is defined as "a primary preposition denoting the channel of an act" and has been translated as a long list of English words and phrases that fit that definition (such as "through" and "by the means of"), and Hermeneuo, which means "to explain in words, expound," "to interpret," or "to translate what has been spoken or written in a foreign tongue into the vernacular." More interesting still, the word Hermeneuo, according to the lexicon I'm using, is "from a presumed derivative of" the word Hermes, as in the Greek god, who was apparently associated with language (makes sense since he was a herald).

Anyway, the word can be said to mean, therefore, "the channel through which words are explained." The "translation" tie is interesting, because a translation also helps to explain words.

The sermon stuck with me mainly because it touches on a key issue I have been having: resolving the Old Testament with my supposedly New Testament-based faith. There's always a lot of debate in Christian circles about whether we have to follow the old Jewish laws and all that, for one, and I never figured out how that stuff applied to me either. One explanation I've heard is that we are to do them if they are repeated in the New Testament (although this is tricky, because we should obviously follow the Ten Commandments, and not all of them are repeated in the New Testament). A good number of them are.

I guess one could say the Ten Commandments are repeated, because Jesus said that the two greatest commands were "Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, with all your strength, and with all your mind" and "Love your neighbor as yourself." The Ten Commandments are pretty much covered under these. If you love God with all your heart, soul, strength, and mind, you wouldn't worship other gods, make idols, or take his name in vain, and you'd observe the Sabbath as holy. That's Commandments 1-4. Then, if you loved your neighbor as yourself, you'd honor your parents and you wouldn't murder, commit adultery, steal, lie, or covet. That's Commandments 5-10.

There's one passage I find interesting on this note. It's Mark 12:28-34. Here it is (in ESV):

"And one of the scribes came up and heard them disputing with one another, and seeing that he [Jesus] answered them well, asked him, 'Which commandment is the most important of all?' Jesus answered, 'The most important is, "Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength." The second is this: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." There is no other commandment greater than these.' And the scribe said to him, 'You are right, Teacher. You have truly said that he is one, and there is no other besides him. And to love him with all the heart and with all the understanding, and with all the strength, and to love one's neighbor as oneself, is much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices.' And when Jesus saw that he answered wisely, he said to him, 'You are not far from the kingdom of God.' And after that no one dared to ask him any more questions."
This scribe gets it, I guess. Somewhere in the Old Testament - I forget where - God says he desires obedience more than sacrifice.

It's interesting where Jesus starts. He starts with the phrase "Hear O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one." Any Jew in the crowd that day (Jesus was in the Temple teaching during this passage) would've recognized those words: Shema Yisrael Adonai Eloheinu Adonai Echad. It's the first part of the Shema Yisrael (sometimes known as just the Shema), a key text in Jewish prayer services. They'd all heard it, and probably prayed it themselves. Then Jesus continues with "And you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength." Veohavto Ays Adonoy Elohecho Bechol Levovcho Uvechol Nafshecho Uvechol Meodecho. This is yet another part of the Shema. Then he gives the second command: "You shall love your neighbor as yourself." This is from the book of Leviticus, the third book of Moses, where much of the Jewish traditional law comes from. His audience - including his questioner, who as a scribe would be well-educated in the writings of Moses - would be familiar with this (as would Jesus himself, who received a typical Jewish male's education while on Earth, we can assume, seeing how he did with the teachers at the Temple at age 12).

The scribe responds with saying, "You're right. This is all true." But he goes further. He says to do these things is "much more than all whole burnt offerings and sacrifices."

I wouldn't be surprised if that scribe got in a heap of trouble after this. I mean, think about where we are when this exchange takes place. In the TEMPLE. You want to see sacrifices - this is where it all happens. We know priests and other holy men are present at this moment, due to the questioning of Jesus by them that took place before this. Those guys were probably in utter horror at this scribe's words. I mean, he is defending words that come straight from the Mosaic law, which is fine. But Mosaic law also instituted the sacrifice system that this scribe is so veiledly bashing by saying to do these commands Jesus mentions is "much more" than those sacrifices. Actually, the NIV makes this even more clear - this translation says that he says these commands are "more important" than the sacrifices. Wow. That scribe was taking a serious risk, and I think he probably knew it. The Greek word used there is pleion, which means "greater in quantity, the more part, very many, greater in quality, superior, more excellent." Wait! "Greater in quality"? Is that what the guy's saying? That these commands are "greater in quality" and "superior" to the sacrifices? Uh-oh. VERY risky thing to say, especially in the Temple with law-loving priests and Pharisees around.

Yet Jesus sees the risk, I think. The next verse says Jesus "saw that he answered wisely." The King James says "discreetly," meaning with discretion or prudence. In other words, in a discerning way. The guy's using his brain. And Jesus rewards the risk! He says, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." Huh.

Apparently this whole situation dumbfounded the religious leaders, cause the story ends with "And after that, no one dared to ask him any more questions." These leaders had asked Jesus questions about the source of his authority, about paying taxes to the oppressive Roman government, and about the resurrection believed to happen at the end of days (along with an implied question about the "levirate marriage" tradition, where a brother of a dead man was required to marry his brother's widow so that the woman might have children to carry on the dead man's name). These are all heady subjects. Yet with just this one thing about commandments and sacrifices, they're so scared (there's certainly fear there; notice the phrase "no one dared to ask him") they stop asking Jesus stuff. I wonder why.

Anyway, enough about that.

Just before writing this, I finished reading Uncle Tom's Cabin for my U.S. lit class. I've read it before (in high school) but this time it struck me differently. Maybe because I read it as one long story rather than a few chapters at a time as in high school. (Maybe there's some merit to reading the whole book in one go after all). I felt more for poor Uncle Tom being taken from his family and sold down South, for poor Eliza trying to remain with her child, for the saintly Evangeline who dies too soon. I found deeper contempt for the cruel slave owner Simon Legree as well.

But strangely enough this book touched me on a religious note as well. Seeing Uncle Tom relying on God even through the horrible treatment by Legree, and by his example getting Cassy and even Legree's two cruel overseers, Sambo and Quimbo, interested in God, really touched me. I found myself thinking, "I wish I had faith like that."

During the sermon today, the pastor talked about how Jesus saw how small of a concept of Jesus the two men on the road to Emmaus had, and so he expanded their view by showing how he'd appeared in the Old Testament. I realize now I too have a small concept of Jesus. I might have thought he was big once, but, like the word sown among rocks, it didn't sink down deep enough. I always thought myself more like the weeds in that parable, where the word is choked by "the cares of this world and the deceitfulness of riches" and "proves unfruitful." But maybe I'm a bit of both.

I was very "Christian" once. But then came high school. BOOM. My Grandma dies, despite all our prayers. BOOM. The whole Kyle fiasco, from which my heart emerged feeling broken. BOOM. A really tough junior year academically (not to mention 9/11 the fall of that year). BOOM. My other grandmother dies after never recovering from a stroke.

And since then...BOOM. My maternal grandfather died. BOOM. My friend Tammy does a 180 and becomes an evolution-defending atheist, and my arguments to the contrary make no impact. BOOM. I join InterVarsity, and then leave it, feeling unfulfilled by what it has to offer. BOOM. Kyle returns into my life, and I have to forcibly ignore him to finally get him off my back. BOOM. I lose a job I really liked at a Christian bookstore and am without a job for three months. BOOM. No responses from a whole ton of résumés I sent out for office jobs I was qualified for (thanks to all the office skill classes I'd taken). BOOM. I get transferred after only about 2 months at the store I'm at. BOOM. My other grandfather dies after a long struggle with a stomach illness. BOOM. My uncle dies about 6 months later, leaving my poor aunt parentless and a widow. BOOM. University work becomes hard for me to handle, and the inability to go to church for months on end due to work gets to me. BOOM. I get transferred yet again, after about a year and a half at the Encinitas store. BOOM. With my superiors apparently not satisfied with my bakery work, I get put out on the floor instead, where I admit I didn't do too well (maybe due to lack of training). BOOM. After finally getting back in the bakery, our department manager, who I liked, is demoted and transferred, supposedly because our work as employees isn't enough to make her look like a good manager. BOOM. I do something on the phone I shouldn't have done, and am frantic about being fired for it. BOOM. My hours have been being cut so much that I didn't have enough for my health insurance hour requirement for weeks (until I finally spoke up).

I know it's bad to focus on the negative, but I can't help it. I have to get out this feeling.

I'm going to go now so I can change shirts for work and stuff before I have to go. Later.

Oh, P.S. I made a video for Ravenclaw Hour, an Earth Hour-esque event done on MyLeaky, the Harry Potter community on The Leaky Cauldron that I'm a part of. Here it is. Enjoy!