When God changes the rules

By Alan Bean

In a recent post, I responded to a Curtis Knapp, a Baptist pastor in Kansas who believes the federal government ought to be executing homosexuals in accordance with the twentieth chapter of Leviticus.  I suggested that when the Bible is read through a Christological lens, the admonitions of Leviticus can be taken seriously, but not literally.  They are still in the Bible, but they are trumped by the higher vision of God revealed in Jesus (and in many parts of the Hebrew scriptures as well).

I gave a single example from the Sermon on the Mount in which Jesus clearly distinguishes his message from the “eye-for-an-eye” demands of the Mosaic law.  But there are plenty of other examples.

In a captivating post called “When the atheists are right” law professor (and Friends of Justice board member) Mark Osler, points to the story of the Prodigal Son.  Responding to a Christian father who thought it was his duty to consign his dead son to hell, Osler introduces an alternative take on grace and the character of God.

And there, in the Book of Luke, is the story of the prodigal son — the younger of two, who demanded his inheritance and then squandered it through “dissolute living.” He hits bottom, having run through the money, and resolves to return to his father and repent. However, before he has a chance to say anything, his father runs to him, puts his arms around him and kisses him. There is love there, before repentance, even in the apparent absence of repentance. There is love before all; that is what Christ directs us to do.

The Elder Brother’s rejection of the Prodigal was solidly rooted in precept and principal, but it couldn’t be squared with the gracious heart of God.

Fred Clark’s Slacktivist blog uses Peter’s vision in Acts 10 in which a sheet containing animals which were “unclean” according to Levitical law accompanied by the spoken command: “arise, Peter, kill and eat.”

And what he understood was that his vision was not about dietary laws regarding “all kinds of four-footed creatures and reptiles and birds of the air.” What Peter understood about Peter’s vision was that it was about Gentiles — about outsiders, about those people whom the laws of Moses said were law-breakers, unclean, an abomination.

Here is what Peter himself said about his own vision:

You yourselves know that it is unlawful for a Jew to associate with or to visit a Gentile; but God has shown me that I should not call anyone profane or unclean.

In Acts 10, God changed the rules.  Peter wasn’t informed that his interpretation of the dietary rules was wrong or that the ancient wall between Jew and Gentile was based on a misunderstanding; he was informed that a new vision of faith in action had burst upon the world.  If Peter interpreted his vision in light of the Jew-Gentile divide, we should apply it to the current antagonism between gay and straight Christians.

The Sunday after Barack Obama came out for marriage equality, Dallas pastor Freddie Haynes made a bold stand in the pulpit of Friendship-West Baptist Church in which he asked why Christians are so eager to major in areas that Jesus minored in.  Jesus majored in deliverance and compassion; judgment was a minor issue (unless he was talking about preachers).

This morning, my wife and I encountered these familiar words from Luke 13.  The setting is the healing of a woman who had been crippled for eighteen years.  Jesus’ religious critics are appalled that a Rabbi would heal on the sabbath, a clear violation of biblical teaching and rabbinic tradition.

Jesus replies,

You hypocrites!  Does not each of you on the sabbath untie his ox or his donkey from the manger, and lead it away to give it water?  And ought not this woman, a daughter of Abraham whom Satan bound for eighteen long years, be set free from this bondage on the sabbath day?

In other words, the cold word of the law melts when brought into contact with the compassionate heart of God.  The lesson: whenever we find a disconnect between the clear word of scripture and the grace of God revealed in Jesus; we go with Jesus.  Every time.  All the way.

2 thoughts on “When God changes the rules

  1. For freedom Christ has set us free. God bestows extravagant grace so that we can bestow extravagant grace. That is what it means to live in God’s kingdom.

  2. “. . . the cold word of the law melts when brought into contact with the compasssionate heart of God.” wonderful!

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