Signpost for 23 February 2014: Lev 19:1-2,9-18; Ps 119:33-40; 1 Cor 3 10-11, 16-23; Matt 5: 38-48.
I am thinking this week that our readings are all about naughtiness. Not the kind of naughtiness we were thinking about last week, though – lust, adultery and divorce.
Leviticus can be a very annoying book for we 21st century humans to read – too many rules and regulations and some of them clearly mad to our modern eyes and ears. But it wasn’t written for us, it was written for 13th century BCE people, and an ungrateful lot they were. God’s rescued them from slavery, promised a land of milk and honey and, alright, it’s a bit of a round about journey (and who’s fault is that?) but they are typical naughty children, even if they are children of God. They are always moaning there’s nothing to eat (Exodus 16:3), always asking for a drink of water (Exodus 15:24 and 17:2) and all they want are the latest shiny toys that the other children have to play with (Exodus 32:1-6).
So this reading from Leviticus is pointing out to them that the promised land is not for naughty children, it’s for grown-ups with responsibilities to each other. Verse 18 shows us that the idea of loving your neighbour isn’t a just a New Testament thing, but there is a difference. If we read Leviticus carefully, the first part of verse 18 ends up by making it clear that your 13th century BCE neighbour was to be found among ‘your own people’. This is a ‘don’t do as the naughty people around you in Cannan do, show them how different you are’ moment.
Now jump in your Biblical Tardis and time travel one thousand three hundred years into the future where the naughty Jews are yet again slaves (of the Romans this time). And there’s Yeshua using some words we still use in the modern world – shirt off your back, go the extra mile, turn the other cheek – although we tend to completely misunderstand them these days. Hence, Harvard Business school has flogged verse 41 to death and neo liberal politicians and economists have ensured a lot of people think verse 39 is a bit wet. As for verse 43, it’s not a direct quote from the OT. It’s what narrow-minded religionists (like some of the Sadducees, Pharisees and Essenes) inferred from the OT. Naughty, naughty, naughty.
Which brings us to the naughty Corinthians, again. Only this time it’s not the flesh pots of Corinth that Paul is really telling off, it’s those you might call the naughty first century vicars. Early Corinthian church leaders, in fact. That’s who he is really warning in 1 Cor 3:17. 1 Cor 3:6-9 makes the context clearer. Then, 1 Cor 3: 18 makes more sense to me if I see it as referring to the other leaders of the church more than the average Corinthian church-goer. And, since, chapters 1 and 2 are all about wisdom, who is likely to foolishly consider themselves wiser than average than the bloke(s) up front?
Yet Paul’s words were probably read out not just to naughty Corinthian church leaders but to their congregations as a whole too. So when he says that God is no longer to be found only in a sacred building (The Temple in Jerusalem) but also amongst any sacred body of believers, it is a nice surprise that Paul says such a thing to the naughty Corinthians: even these people of ‘flesh’, these toddlers in faith (3:1), even they are ‘the temple’. Doesn’t that suggest that God works within our very real human relationships, our naughtiness not withstanding?