By The Rt. Rev. Shannon Sherwood Johnston
Deuteronomy 13 is concerned entirely with the exclusive sovereignty of the God of Israel. This chapter continues the grave subject of idolatry that was taken up in Chapter 12 and details three situations of threat to the faith of Israel. The overarching message here is that any source, regardless of the manifestation, affection or scope it commands, that seeks to lead the people into the ways of following other gods must be put to death or, in the case of entire communities, utterly destroyed and burned so that the people are completely purged of the evil that threatens Israel’s pure faith and devotion. The severity of these penalties is counterbalanced by the compassion that God will show to the faithful people, in which they will multiply and prosper. Chapter 14 begins with detail of the dietary laws that mark a people who are separated to be a holy people, that is, a people who live in the nearest possible relationship to God. Some of this may seem esoteric or removed from us, but we must remember that the world of ancient Israel was absolutely defined by “sacred” vs. “profane,” clean and unclean, and to take part in the sacred and clean was a question of nothing less than knowing God or not. Next, the same is true with regard to stewardship of all possessions, and so the first fruits and the tithes are strictly holy and dedicated to God. Being inheritors and owners of a rich land, we must make rich offerings, both for our own enjoyment and for the relief of the poor. Chapter 15 in effect poses the premise that there would be no chronic poverty if God’s will is always fulfilled and then provides a scheme for the remission of debts (note the psychological realism of vs. 9-10!). To be sure, it is acknowledged that there will always be poverty among the people, but the point here is our own ungrudging imitation of God’s grace toward those indebted. If only we were indeed so divinely disposed!
Psalm 57 is a combination of supplication in time of trouble and statements of steadfast trust (how often do we hold such trust when we are hard-pressed?). In the face of difficulty and even terror, affirmation of the life of the human spirit that knows God’s presence is beautifully expressed: God’s loving kindness is greater than all else.
In three of the best known and most loved of all parables, Luke 15 examines the question “Does God care about those who have lost their way?” In the most vivid examples, Jesus leaves no doubt: not only does God care about the lost but also seeks, finds, and embraces them (us). No matter if we experience ourselves to be the hearers of Jesus’ parables or the objects of them, the redemptive lesson could not be more clear: joy in heaven trumps judgment when the lost are found and restored.
In what ways do Deuteronomy’s rules about purity and stewardship still matter?
Why are these parables about “the lost” in Luke so enduring and popular?
Be my strength, O God, and find me when I cannot find my way. Amen.
The Rt. Rev. Shannon Sherwood Johnston is the Bishop of Virginia