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  • The blog header depicts an important and yet mis-understood New Testament scene, Jesus flogging the money-changers out of the temple. I selected it because the faith that gives us consolation can also make us very uncomfortable. Both Divine Mercy and Divine Justice meet in Jesus. Priests are ministers of reconciliation, but never at the cost of truth. In or out of season, we must be courageous in preaching and living out the Gospel of Life. The title of my blog is a play on words, not Flogger Priest but Blogger Priest.

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Old versus New Testament Morality

downloadQuestion

We read in Leviticus 24:17-22:

“Anyone who takes the life of a human being is to be put to death. Anyone who takes the life of someone’s animal must make restitution—life for life. Anyone who injures their neighbor is to be injured in the same manner: fracture for fracture, eye for eye, tooth for tooth. The one who has inflicted the injury must suffer the same injury. Whoever kills an animal must make restitution, but whoever kills a human being is to be put to death. You are to have the same law for the foreigner and the native-born. I am the Lord your God.”

However, in contrast we read in Matthew 5:38-42:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘Eye for eye, and tooth for tooth.’ But I tell you, do not resist an evil person. If anyone slaps you on the right cheek, turn to them the other cheek also. And if anyone wants to sue you and take your shirt, hand over your coat as well. If anyone forces you to go one mile, go with them two miles. Give to the one who asks you, and do not turn away from the one who wants to borrow from you.”

These passages directly contradict each other.  How can the Bible be God’s inspired Word if it be inconsistent?  How are we supposed to know which to follow?  What do we believe?

Response

Remember that for the Christian it is a question not only of what we believe but WHO we believe.  Jesus is God’s Incarnate Son.  As such, he has the authority to abrogate or change elements of both Levitical and Mosaic Law.  He does this clearly in regard to the Writ of Divorce.  He says that from Genesis (natural law) this was not the way things were supposed to be.  Moses allowed divorce because of the hardness of hearts.  Jesus disallows it.  The weight is with Jesus because as divine, he is the formal lawgiver.  Note the scene of the Transfiguration.  He is viewed conversing with Moses and Elijah.  Jesus is the fulfillment or consummation of the Law and the Prophets.

One must not read the Bible as if it were a Morality Manual.  It is a collection of different types of literature written over many centuries.  God’s revelation comes through the prism of changing cultures and situations.  While there are certain teachings that will always apply because of our fixed human nature; there are other disciplines and laws that change with the seasons of history, particularly because of spiritual and material advancement.  I was going to say “maturity” but given terrorism, war and oppression, I am not convinced that men and women are any better (morally) today than in the past.  Just as our capacity for good has expanded, so has our ability to commit the most repellent evils.

While the commandments retain their force (it is wrong to steal, murder, etc.), the disciplinary laws of Leviticus do not apply to Christianity. We must distinguish between the divine law and man’s interpretation of the law. St. Paul makes it very clear that we are no longer under the yoke of the old Jewish law. Rather, we are given by Christ the two-fold commandments of love. Again, just as Jesus could rescind the Mosaic Law about a Writ of Divorce, his teachings and practice mitigated any response of vengeance. Indeed, following the precepts of Christ, the Church nullifies the law for ritual circumcision.  Faith and baptism is the manner we enter this new People of God.  Justice is still real but ultimate punishment belongs to God. Jesus urges us to practice mercy. We would no more seek to enforce Levitical laws than we would want Muslims to enforce Sharia laws.

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