Scripture for Sunday: Genesis 29.15-28 (Jacob & Laban); Psalm 105.1-11; Romans 8.26-39; Matthew 13.31-33,44-52 (Parables of mustard seed, yeast, pearl, treasure and fishing).
There’s a video floating around on the internet in which a judge in an American court gives a lenient sentence to a recent immigrant from Africa for speeding because of the honesty of the man’s son.
It raises an interesting question. Should laws be enforced rigorously, literally and strictly? Or should there be room for manoeuvre – following the spirit rather than the letter of the law?
This is not a new question. It challenged the leaders of the Jewish faith in Jesus’ time – but in their case, the debate was not about civil law, but the interpretation of the Law of Moses, the Levitical code – something that went well beyond the ten commandments of Moses.
Jesus presented a God who is willing to be very forgiving in terms of giving us the benefit of the doubt. There were those who found his words offensive. Nevertheless, Jesus presents a God who expects us to bear the responsibility for our actions, who will hold us to account, but is also a God of adaptability.
This God sometimes seems to stand back and let things happen as we follow our own wills, but there is an accounting – at times sooner rather than later, as when the trickster, Jacob, is himself tricked by his uncle, Laban, into marrying Leah, Laban’s older daughter, before Rachel, the younger daughter whom Jacob really wants.
To give people an idea of what God would really like for humanity and the world, Jesus told some stories – parables. Often, when describing the kingdom of God, Jesus would use illustrations that are “over the top,” to convey the idea that the kingdom is far, far beyond even our greatest imaginings. These illustrations sometimes came with subtle hints about God’s view of purity – for example, mustard and yeast were both regarded as ritually unclean under the Law. The parable of the fish in the net in a way deals with that by returning to one of Jesus’ earlier themes: leave the judging to God.
Jesus encourages us to be well-trained in terms of recognising and applying what has gone before – the value of tradition – as well as what is new – the application of living justly, mercifully and humbly. Given our fallibility, we must hope for a lenient judgement when the time comes, accepting our uncertainty in a spirit of humility.