Saturday, November 21, 2015

The Humblest Man in the World--by Linden Malki

Moses was described as the most humble--the "meekest" man alive (Numbers 12:3).  This did not mean that he was weak, or wimpy, and he did have a few major problems with anger. After his blowup with the Egyptian overseer and forced exile, God spent 40 years making him into the man He needed.  From the hotshot at the Palace, he became a desert shepherd whose reaction to God's calling was to say he couldn't do it--but he did it anyway.   Later, when he came down from the mountain to find the people out of control, his first reaction was anger and frustration.  When God mirrored Moses' anger, Moses sobered up really fast, and did what I think God really wanted him to do--start thinking  rather than just throwing things.   There was nothing weak about Moses--the key is that he was willing to listen to God.

Moses' greatest legacy is what became called The Law of Moses.  Moses, however, never claimed credit for any more than listening to God and being His messenger.  The idea of Law wasn't new; there were already law codes in use by early civilizations at the time. One of the amazing things about this legal tradition is that it wasn't the work of a king or politician.  In fact, the ideal is that it had the capability to develop a community that didn't require a human king as long as the people took it seriously.  Of course, what happened is that the community that received it didn't live up to its potential, and finally asked for a king.  But even the Kings of Israel were held liable for following it themselves as well as leading the people in its way.

Jesus lived in a country under two sets of authorities: Roman law and the Jewish law.  He dealt with Jewish law by offering a way to live with it--with humility, recognizing human inability to follow it on their own, and offering mercy and forgiveness to those who want to do the right thing enough to turn over their self-will to God's will. He is not asking us to be weak--He is offering the strength to live up to God's calling for us. Jesus said surprisingly little about the politics of His world; paid his taxes as required, and at one time answered a challenge by recommending giving Caesar what he was owed, and God what He is owed. (There is, of course, the underlying understanding that that the land promised to Abraham actually belonged to God, as does the whole world.) Jesus refused to get drawn into politics beyond dealing politely with honest politicians and scathing with those who played the letter of the law into earthly status for themselves. 

The New Testament writers in general recommended going along with the local governments as far as was consistent with their calling to spread the Gospel, and not get hung up on the traditional law that did not lead to humility and service.  The classic opposite to this is Islam, which teaches that any law outside of God's law (as given to Muhammad) is blasphemous and idolatrous, and religious law cannot be altered or updated. What happens is confrontation between varying interpretations and traditions, most of which see the others as illegitimate. I don't forget a Lebanese friend some years ago pointing out that under Islamic law, Muslims can only legitimately be ruled by Muslims;  that non-Muslims have no rights or privileges under a Muslim government except as  granted them by Muslims, and land that has ever been ruled by Muslims is rightfully theirs forever.

We live in a country based on a respect for God's law but respect for individual  conscience  as well. This has always led to tensions, hopefully handled with humility. We need to remember that human governments make lousy churches, and churches make poor governments.  We need, as Jesus said, to be as "wise as serpents and harmless as doves." (Matthew 10:16) 

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