Thinking Things Through | House of Horne

Onesimus

I’m hoping someone out there can help me understand something. In light of this:

You shall not give up to his master a slave who has escaped from his master to you. He shall dwell with you, in your midst, in the place that he shall choose within one of your towns, wherever it suits him. You shall not wrong him.
Deuteronomy 23:15-16

Why did Paul give up Onesimus to his master (see Philemon 8-16)? Was it to make restitution for the theft which appears to have taken place?

A Rebellious Son

I was listening to Deuteronomy this morning when a phrase caught my ear.

If a man has a stubborn and rebellious son who will not obey the voice of his father or the voice of his mother, and, though they discipline him, will not listen to them, then his father and his mother shall take hold of him and bring him out to the elders of his city at the gate of the place where he lives, and they shall say to the elders of his city, ‘This our son is stubborn and rebellious; he will not obey our voice; he is a glutton and a drunkard.’ Then all the men of the city shall stone him to death with stones. So you shall purge the evil from your midst, and all Israel shall hear, and fear.
Deuteronomy 21:18-21

Now look at what Jesus has to say about his accusers.

For John came neither eating nor drinking, and they say, ‘He has a demon.’ The Son of Man came eating and drinking, and they say, ‘Look at him! A glutton and a drunkard, a friend of tax collectors and sinners!’ Yet wisdom is justified by her deeds.
Matthew 11:18-19

Jesus was not merely being insulted. He was being called a rebellious son of Israel, worthy of death! Now what about that reference to wisdom? Interestingly, the only other place the phrase “glutton and drunkard” is found (other than the parallel passage in Luke 7) is in Proverbs.

Hear, my son, and be wise,
and direct your heart in the way.
Be not among drunkards
or among gluttonous eaters of meat,
for the drunkard and the glutton will come to poverty,
and slumber will clothe them with rags.
Proverbs 23:19-21

So what deeds of Wisdom is Jesus referring to? Let’s back up in Proverbs a bit.

Wisdom has built her house;
she has hewn her seven pillars.
She has slaughtered her beasts; she has mixed her wine;
she has also set her table.
She has sent out her young women to call
from the highest places in the town,
“Whoever is simple, let him turn in here!”
To him who lacks sense she says,
“Come, eat of my bread
and drink of the wine I have mixed.
Leave your simple ways, and live,
and walk in the way of insight.”
Proverbs 9:1-6

It seems to me Jesus is accusing his accusers of chasing folly rather than embracing wisdom by mistaking the feasting and mirth of the kingdom for gluttony and drunkenness. I’m guessing we have a similar problem in the culture of the American church today.

Clean Water

“Thus says the Lord of hosts: Ask the priests about the law: ‘If someone carries holy meat in the fold of his garment and touches with his fold bread or stew or wine or oil or any kind of food, does it become holy?’” The priests answered and said, “No.” Then Haggai said, “If someone who is unclean by contact with a dead body touches any of these, does it become unclean?” The priests answered and said, “It does become unclean.”
Haggai 2:11-13

A basic principle taught by the clean and unclean laws was that death spreads. Call it the Transitive Property of Death. To be unclean was to be ritually dead, unable to worship, unable to approach God. Touch an unclean object, even hidden within a cover, and the uncleanliness spread to you. Leviticus 11 teaches this in detail.

And there was a woman who had had a discharge of blood for twelve years, and who had suffered much under many physicians, and had spent all that she had, and was no better but rather grew worse. She had heard the reports about Jesus and came up behind him in the crowd and touched his garment. For she said, “If I touch even his garments, I will be made well.” And immediately the flow of blood dried up, and she felt in her body that she was healed of her disease.
Mark 5:25-29

Shockingly, when Jesus came on the scene, the exact opposite happened. Death had no dominion. Rather, life spread in abundance from the person of Jesus, even if he was covered by a garment. The woman with the flow of blood was permanently unclean (Leviticus 15:25), like a leper. So her healing was not merely medical, but rather made her fit to worship again. Whether the woman or a leper, whoever Jesus touched became clean. If their uncleanliness was due to an infirmity, then the infirmity yielded to the new life of Jesus and was healed. We see this pattern over and over in the Gospels, and it completely turns the entire framework of clean and unclean on its head.

From slave to master

You shall not covet your neighbor’s house; you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife, or his male servant, or his female servant, or his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.
Exodus 20:17

And you shall not covet your neighbor’s wife. And you shall not desire your neighbor’s house, his field, or his male servant, or his female servant, his ox, or his donkey, or anything that is your neighbor’s.
Deuteronomy 5:21

I was at a luncheon a couple months ago with Jim Jordan and seem to recall he made reference to the change made to the tenth commandment between Exodus and Deuteronomy. As you can see from the verses, the wife is moved from a position of being inside the house, one of the possessions of the man that are part of the household, to being outside/above the house, which would put her in a position of mastery over the house and its possessions.

Here’s an idea regarding this change in the command. When the ten commandments were first given, Israel had just left Egypt, the house of slavery (Exodus 5:2). The second telling of the ten commandments takes place right before Israel enters to possess the land (Deuteronomy 5:33) at the end of Moses’ life. I’m wondering if the tenth command mirrors this change in Israel’s status as they move from slaves in Egypt to a position of mastery in the promised land. I’m sure it has significance beyond this reference to the history of redemption, but it seems to tie in with Israel’s changing status.

Devour widow’s houses

And in the hearing of all the people he said to his disciples, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
Luke 20:45-47

Last week we received our house tax appraisal for 2007. The value of our home had been raised well above what we recently paid for it. Perhaps some folks would find it gratifying to know that the state government agrees with their assessment of the potential value of the house. I found it extremely frustrating that my annual “rent” payment to the government (you know, the money I pay Texas so it grants me permission to continue dwelling in my home for another year) was going up so much.

A couple days later I headed downtown to protest the appraisal. Given that we had just bought the house and I had all the paperwork with me, it proved quite straight forward to get the appraisal lowered to the amount we had paid for the house.

While I was sitting in the cubicle talking to the appraiser, I overheard a portion of a conversation in the cubicle next to me. From what I heard, I surmised the woman was 1) quite elderly; 2) likely a widow; and 3) living on social security. And she was basically saying that the new appraisal on her home might force her out of it. And the response from the scribe appraiser was, so sorry, but we don’t make the rules.

How have we come to this, where injustice is such a part of our lives that we have institutionalized the devouring of widow’s homes?

Not metaphorical messiness

Where there are no oxen, the manger is clean,
but abundant crops come by the strength of the ox.
Proverbs 14:4

I find this verse very encouraging as a parent. So much is said about the blessings of children in the Bible, yet being a parent sometimes feels overwhelming. Tricia “sets about her work vigorously; her arms are strong for her tasks” (Proverbs 31:17), yet it is difficult to keep up with a full household day in and day out.

But God wants us to know that wisdom counts the cost, and that messiness is in some cases the cost of abundance! Not metaphorical messiness… real messiness.

Notice the proverb assumes we value cleanliness, and does not directly challenge that value. Messiness isn’t wise in and of itself. In fact, I believe it could easily be argued that in many cases messiness is unwise because it makes the household harder to run.

But assuming that you value neatness and organization in your home, this proverb challenges us to count the cost and realize that neatness is not a virtue above all others, and must be set aside at times. So I encourage all the homemakers reading this to take heart and be of good cheer. Cleanliness is not, in and of itself, next to Godliness.

Garage gleanings

When you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, neither shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. And you shall not strip your vineyard bare, neither shall you gather the fallen grapes of your vineyard. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God. ~ Leviticus 19:9-10

And when you reap the harvest of your land, you shall not reap your field right up to its edge, nor shall you gather the gleanings after your harvest. You shall leave them for the poor and for the sojourner: I am the Lord your God. ~ Leviticus 23:22

When you reap your harvest in your field and forget a sheaf in the field, you shall not go back to get it. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow, that the Lord your God may bless you in all the work of your hands. When you beat your olive trees, you shall not go over them again. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. When you gather the grapes of your vineyard, you shall not strip it afterward. It shall be for the sojourner, the fatherless, and the widow. You shall remember that you were a slave in the land of Egypt; therefore I command you to do this. ~ Deuteronomy 24:19-22

And Ruth the Moabite said to Naomi, “Let me go to the field and glean among the ears of grain after him in whose sight I shall find favor.” And she said to her, “Go, my daughter.” So she set out and went and gleaned in the field after the reapers, and she happened to come to the part of the field belonging to Boaz, who was of the clan of Elimelech. ~ Ruth 2:2-3

Think of it. God commanded farmers to be inefficient at what they do for the sake of the poor. They were not to maximize their “stewardship” of their resources but were to instead allow economic inefficiency to benefit the poor.

This is so contrary to the drumbeat of stewardship and resourcefulness that receives most of the attention in the American church (at least in my experience). The gleaning laws were not about some special act of charity. Rather, in the normal course of your work and life, you were to be a bit sloppy and inefficient so others might benefit. You were not to be faithful in the little acts of diligence so God would bless your work. Instead, you were to neglect what might be considered normal diligent work so that God would bless you.

But how might this apply to the very non-agrarian life most of us live? One pattern that Tricia and I have tried to establish that might be an application is this: we don’t do garage sales. In the normal course of things, all that stuff that might go into a garage sale goes to Goodwill. Oh, we sell an occasional large item on eBay or Craigslist. But rather than seeking to capitalize on the clothes, toys, and household items that need a new home, we pass them along with the hope that they might help the poor. In this way we aspire to “not reap your field right up to its edge”.

In what other ways might we live out the gleaning laws today? Where should our normal view of diligent stewardship give way to a Godly inefficiency that benefits the poor?

Blessed and BLESSED

In Luke 11:27, a woman declares:

“Blessed is the womb that bore you, and the breasts at which you nursed!”

Back in Luke 1, Elizabeth had declared to Mary:

“Blessed are you among women, and blessed is the fruit of your womb!”

Mary responded by saying:

“My soul magnifies the Lord, and my spirit rejoices in God my Savior, or he has looked on the humble estate of his servant. For behold, from now on all generations will call me blessed…”

Yet when Jesus responds to the woman’s statement of Luke 11:27, he says:

“Blessed rather are those who hear the word of God and keep it!”

Which leaves me confused. Not regarding the content or truth of what Jesus says, but rather the purpose of what appears to me to be a purposefully broken parallel between the two conversations. Why does Luke present such a sharp contrast between the two events?

For some reason this sequence reminds me of Jesus’ claim in Luke 7:28:

“I tell you, among those born of women none is greater than John. Yet the one who is least in the kingdom of God is greater than he.”

Is the transition away from Mary blessedness analogous, that her blessedness is in the context of the shadows of night, and that in the dawning of the new day / new creation blessedness takes on a new order of magnitude, dwarfing that which came before? In other words, is the transition between Luke 1 and Luke 11 pointing to the turning point in redemptive history when the word became flesh and dwelt among us?

Job the firstborn?

Here’s a thought. What distinguishes the sons of God? Faith. What distinguishes the firstborn of God? Faithful perseverance through suffering. Compare Job 1:3 to Job 42:12. Job’s inheritance from the Lord has doubled, hinting at the double-portion received by the firstborn son. What took place between these two accountings of Job’s inheritance? A whole lot of suffering.

I can think of at least one other firstborn son who demonstrated his standing via suffering (Philippians 2:5-11).