Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Ordinary Time - Havine an Identity

Let your steadfast love become my comfort according to your promise to your servant.

Let your mercy come to me, that I may live; for your law is my delight.

Let the arrogant be put to shame, because they have subverted me with guile; as for me, I will meditate on your precepts. (Psalm 119:76-78)

It’s puzzling to imagine why someone would luxuriate in law. In our society, laws are important, and they serve as both protections and boundaries. They bring order and provide a basis for governance.

But laws, in general, do not bring us joy. They are just laws and are often subject to change. We’re glad they’re around, but we don’t really need to think about them all the time.

The psalmist, however, speaks of the Jewish Law lovingly and with devotion. The Law is portrayed as something that brings delight, something that draws the worshipper into meditation.

How can this be? Most of us have some idea of the ancient Jewish Law. It was formed around what we call the Ten Commandments, but there were also many other laws in the Old Testament pertaining to justice, dietary restrictions, and social interactions. We might see devotion to the Law as legalism, something we Christians believe has no hold on us. We see legalism as a bad deal.

But for the ancient Hebrew people, it was probably different. Their ancestors had come out of Egypt where they had been a slave population for generations. Their identity was wrapped up in oppression and servitude, confused and complicated by the religious mythologies of the Egyptians. The Law was, for them, not simply boundaries and restrictions—it was something that formed a new identity for them, an identity as a special people, loved by God, rescued by God, and gathered into a nation so that they would be the light of the world.

Jesus didn’t speak disparagingly about the Law. He said, “Do not think that I have come to abolish the law or the prophets; I have come not to abolish but to fulfill.” (Matthew 5:17) He summed up the entire Jewish Law and the declarations of the ancient prophets of Israel in one word: Love. Love for God, love for others. (Matthew 22:34-40) For followers of Jesus, true identity is found in that love.

People usually get in trouble when they base their identities in some other place or thing. If my identity is my work or my career, then I have to do everything I can to protect it. And when it goes away, I don’t know who I am anymore. If my identity is found in my loneliness, then medicating that pain is my highest priority. If my identity is in a past hurt, then I will forever try to nurture my pain, because without it, I am nothing.

But if my identity is in Jesus, as a broken person loved and redeemed by God, then those other sub-identities have no final hold on my life. Protectionism loses its power. Loneliness can no longer demand acts of adultery or promiscuity. Past offenses remain real, but they can no longer drag us back into a history that is no more, but must release us into a future that comes from the preferences of God.

Everyone has some kind of identity. Ours is in Jesus.

Let your mercy come to me, that I may live; for your love is my delight.

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