Saturday of the First Week of Lent
How well do we know the Old Testament? Honestly. Are we familiar with it? Do we have a sense of the character of it. This question has come to mind twice now this week.
The first time was unrelated to these readings but is worth sharing. I was with my small group, we call ourselves Homegroup, and we are going through Luke currently. We just finished Chapter 10 and read the Parable of the Good Samaritan. I have not only heard, but said phrases like “the idea of a good Samaritan would have been unheard of to a Jewish audience.” We were in for a surprise.
Our Bible study resource took us on a little detour to 2 Chronicles 28:9-15. The scene first depicts the converse of good Samaritans, but then things change. A prophet arises and those from Samaria are obedient to the call to not commit the evil they had planned. Four even go beyond the command to stop stealing these people and care for those from Judah, and return them home safely (they were in the process of taking them back to Samaria as war prisoners). There, hidden among the names I can’t pronounce and behind chapters of indiscernible genealogies, were several good Samaritans. In 2 Chronicles I discovered several Samaritans living what Jesus would one day teach in today’s gospel, to love one’s enemies.
Since I was soundly humbled earlier this week, I took the lesson to heart. As I read the Gospel and Jesus uttered the words, “You have heard it said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy’,” I sought out the cross-reference in my Bible. I was taken back to Leviticus 19:17-18. It reads, “‘You shall not bear hatred for your brother in your heart. Though you may have to reprove your fellow man, do not incur sin because of him. Take no revenge and cherish no grudge against your fellow countrymen. You shall love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.”
Nowhere in the text does it say you should hate your enemy. Instead that is a perversion that one might assume Jesus was teaching against. Suddenly, the readings the church has chosen for today seem adequately paired. These are not two readings praising God’s law paired with Jesus the divine revisionist, but instead, they are paired with the one who properly calls us back to the right understanding of the law. This is the advantage we have as Christians. We get to approach the Old Testament, not in opposition to Christ, but illuminated by Christ.
Sure, there are scenes that don’t make sense to us. There are laws that seem cold and callous. There are battles and judgements that seem wrong to us. And we should wrestle with those and find good commentaries on those. But just because much of what was written 3,000+ years ago seems foreign to us, does not mean that we should be too hasty in accepting any Jesus vs the Old Testament interpretations.
Jesus explicitly calls us to love our enemies not because the Old Testament demanded that we hate them, but because we (like my children) will be quick to seek any exception we can find.
- Spencer Hargadon