Today I wanted to explore one of my favourite moments from the gospel, when Jesus teaches on the law – by which I mean the Old Testament law.
As a Christian, I’ve often heard sermons that are disparaging the law of Moses. And whilst it’s fair to say the Old Testament law has its limits (as any written code does), and also that it isn’t a means to salvation (per Paul), I still think it’s rather fabulous. It was when I read the Old Testament and the first five books in particular that my faith really came alive as a teenager – and that’s never gone away. If you weren’t aware, the logo for Faith in Grey Places is inspired by Aaron’s staff after it budded (Numbers 17:1–8).
In this particular passage, Matthew 15:1–12, Jesus teaches on the Old Testament law. He rips apart a traditional teaching of the Pharisees that, in practice, allowed people to neglect their parents. And Jesus affirms the validity of what Moses taught.
It’s not the only time that Jesus said Moses understood something that Jesus’ contemporaries completely missed. In John 5:45–47, Jesus said that he won’t be the one who ultimately accuses his detractors, it’ll be Moses instead – the very person who teachers of the law thought would be on their side.
What I particularly appreciate about this passage in Matthew’s gospel (and its parallel in Mark 7:1–23) is how Jesus distinguishes between contemporary traditions (the “mere rules taught by men”) and what had been established in the Old Testament law. I’ve heard it said that the problem with Jesus’ detractors was how they wanted to keep the law religiously. And that, because the law was dubious, keeping it religiously was definitely bad. But that’s not what Jesus said here. Instead, Jesus showed how a certain tradition contravened the law.
Now of course, there’s a lot more to be said about the relationship between the Old Testament law and Matthew’s gospel, and indeed the rest of the New Testament. But today, I wanted to show the iniquity of this tradition for what it was – and can still be.
So, I offer you another short satire. It also references the temple tax (Matthew 17:24–27) and paying the poll-tax to Caesar Matthew 22:15–22. (The NET notes that the poll-tax was levied on subject peoples, not on Roman citizens.)
Putting God before grifters in your household budget
(I imagine Jacob Fleece as very posh and unflappable.)
Alex: Hello and welcome to Daily Conversations, I’m your host, Alexander/Alexandra. Today I have with me financial, legal and religious expert, Jacob Fleece, to give us his insights on household budgets. Jacob, welcome.
Jacob: Thank you Alex.
Alex: So, tell us your tips for balancing the books in these difficult times?
Jacob: Well, it’s all to do with prioritisation.
Alex: Ah yes, paying the rent or mortgage first, then utilities, then the groceries.
Jacob: No, no, no, no, no. (BEAT) This is about putting God first.
Alex: Ah, you mean acknowledging that what we have is from God, and seeking to honour him in how we earn money, spend money and give money?
Jacob: No, no, no, no, no. (BEAT) This is about assessing your means.
Alex: Oh, you mean planning your budget and avoiding expensive debts like credit card spending and ‘buy now pay later’ schemes?
Jacob: No, no, no, no, no. (BEAT) It’s about asking who the best people are to make financial decisions.
Alex: Oh OK. And by that, are you thinking small scale, like giving money to your local food bank instead of food, so that they can spend it on what’s most needed? Or are you thinking big scale, like paying taxes so that governments can build and maintain infrastructure?
Jacob: No, no, no, no, no. And Alex I must challenge any idea of paying taxes to Caesar willingly. Far be it from me to criticise our fiscal system but, at best, taxes are necessary evil.
Alex: And would you include the temple tax in that assessment?
Jacob: Oh no, no, no, no, no, of course not!
Alex: OK. So uh (clears throat) what are your tips for balancing household budgets?
Jacob: Let me give you an example. These days it’s very common to see working adults giving financial support to their elderly parents.
Alex: Yes, indeed, especially elderly mothers after they’ve been widowed. Financial support is one way that people honour their parents in accordance with the law of Moses.
Jacob: But this puts a very hard burden on working families. (BEAT) However, if you were to say to your elderly relative that whatever profit they might have received from you is now going to be a gift devoted to God, then they can’t really argue.
Alex: How do you mean?
Jacob: Well, no elderly parent can possibly say that they are more important than God. So they also can’t say they should receive payments in priority over God.
Alex: But in practice, what you’re describing is a reason not to give your parents anything at all.
Jacob: Well, yes.
Alex: Hmm. (BEAT) Let’s just process that a moment. Would you ever say to yourself that, because God is more important than you,…
Jacob: (clears throat loudly)
Alex: …that because God is more important than you…
Jacob: (snappish) Yes, yes.
Alex: Let me finish – that because God is more important than you…
Jacob: Just get to the question!
Alex: Would you ever say to yourself that whatever you would have spent on food for yourself is now a gift devoted to God?
Jacob: No, no, no, no, no, don’t be ridiculous! I couldn’t live without food.
Alex: Ah. But your elderly parents can?
Jacob: Of course. I thought that was obvious.
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