When it comes to the Bible, one of our biggest struggles as Christians is how to interpret the Old Testament. How do we appreciate the transformative nature of Jesus’ life, death and resurrection without discounting or dismissing the blessings God was already bestowing on the world through the people of Israel? Too many times, Christians have leaned on this simplified caricature in which the God of the Old Testament was angry, retributive, and legalistic, but luckily Jesus showed up to reveal that God is actually loving and not so interested in those pointless rules. This narrative is borne out of one of the oldest heresies in the Christian church, Marcionism. Marcion of Sinope was a 2nd century Christian leader who taught that the God of the Old Testament was a different, subordinate god who was not consistent with the Supreme God revealed in Jesus. He argued that we should throw out the Old Testament and only consider to be scripture the parts of the New Testament which do not reference the God of the Old Testament. The church expelled Marcion, but remnants of his theology are still with us. While we might be tempted by surface level interpretations to draw a sharp contrast between the Old and New Testament, we must unequivocally resist this narrative that cold law was replaced by warm love whenever it rears its ugly head.


In our Old Testament lesson this week, we hear this beautiful passage from Micah: “What does the Lord require of you but to do justice, and to love kindness, and to walk humbly with your God?” Does that sound angry, retributive, or legalistic? Absolutely not. Because the truth is, the Jewish faith has always affirmed that God is loving and merciful, and that we in turn are called to love others. In the first century BC, there was a rabbi named Hillel the Elder. One day a prospective convert came up to him and said he would only accept Judaism if a rabbi could explain the whole Torah while he stood on one foot. Hillel said, “What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation of this—go and study it!”


Jesus himself affirmed the teachings of the Old Testament. When he told us to love God and love our neighbors, he wasn’t making up something new, he was quoting Deuteronomy! The law, even when practiced very strictly, has always been in service to God and neighbor. And, as Episcopalians, we should be able to empathize with this. There are many Christians who would view the Book of Common Prayer as legalistic, arguing that worship and prayer should be more free flowing from the Spirit. But we know that our liturgy and prayers aren’t restrictive rules, but rather an opportunity to pray in community with words that have been passed down for generations. We know that our common prayer is a powerful spiritual experience that brings us closer to God and to our neighbors. So let’s commit ourselves to shedding harmful stereotypes of the Old Testament and the Jewish faith. Let’s find the beauty in Christ Jesus without having to denigrate the revelations of God that came before.


This post was written by our Parish Administrator, Rishabh Bajekal

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