03 April 2010

Apr 3

Reference links:
Old Testament

Today's reading may win the prize for the most downright factual section title. Actually, a quick aside on section titles. They were not part of the original text, and I find them to be rather distracting. They often imply how a passage should be interpreted, which I feel biases my reading. But the section title today just pointed out an inescapable fact about today's reading: it is full of "Miscellaneous Regulations".

There are way too many regulations to call out individual to deal with them individually, but I will point out the most interesting ones. Right off the bat, first sentence of the reading, we get,
If a man’s testicles are crushed or his penis is cut off, he may not be admitted to the assembly of the Lord.
Fortunately, as a woman, I do not cringe the way that I guess some of my more masculine readers do when reading such a passage. In any case, this regulation does not seem particularly fair, especially since I am guessing most of those men did not choose to end up in that particular state of injuries.

Much more fair is this regulation on slavery,
If slaves should escape from their masters and take refuge with you, you must not hand them over to their masters. Let them live among you in any town they choose, and do not oppress them.
I rather like this next regulation,
A newly married man must not be drafted into the army or be given any other official responsibilities. He must be free to spend one year at home, bringing happiness to the wife he has married.
Also, to come full circle, anatomically,
If two Israelite men get into a fight and the wife of one tries to rescue her husband by grabbing the testicles of the other man, you must cut off her hand. Show her no pity.
The punishment seems rather extreme, but I do agree that grabbing a man's testicles should not be considered a reasonable way to help your husband.

On a high level, it seems like the regulations have two main concerns: purity and fairness. These can be further divided into sexual purity and sanitary purity on the one hand and mercy and justice on the other hand. Now, this may not be a complete categorization, but it helps me understand why some of the regulations seem more relevant than others.

The purity regulations, by and large, do not seem particularly interesting. The sexual purity laws seem kind of silly. The sanitary purity laws just seem like common sense.

The fairness laws are more interesting. The justice laws seem harsh, centered around the "eye for an eye" mentality. These laws seem to be focused on making sure the Israelites fear doing wrong (such as yesterday's regulation that a disobedient son should be stoned). The mercy laws, on the other hand, are rather appealing, and formalized mercy seems like something that we could use more of.

Finaly, today's reading once again maligns poor Balaam's reputation.
Instead, they [the Moabites] hired Balaam son of Beor from Pethor in distant Aram-naharaim to curse you. But the Lord your God refused to listen to Balaam. He turned the intended curse into a blessing because the Lord your God loves you.
Now, when we read that story before, it seemed that Balaam was pretty willing to go along with God's will, whatever that ended up being. He did not seem to particularly want to curse the Israelites. Poor Balaam.

New Testament

Today we are continuing on with the theme of "people who reject Jesus and his disciples will suffer". I am rather perplexed by one of the examples,
And you people of Capernaum, will you be honored in heaven? No, you will go down to the place of the dead.
Wait, isn't Capernaum the place where Jesus taught regularly and healed many and healed the servant of the Roman officer? If it was actually such a terrible place, why was that not mentioned any of the times that Jesus' visits to Capernaum were actually being described?

Jesus thanks God for hiding the truth from those who think themselves wise and clever and revealing it to the childlike. I cannot really understand a mindset that thinks that the truth is something to be hidden, that the truth should only be revealed to those who somehow deserve it. Since I cannot understand such a view point, to me Jesus' prayer just sounds petty, "Nya, nya! I don't like you, so God does not reveal the truth to you."

Today we read the story of the Good Samaritan (apparently, only in Luke). This is one of those stories that contains a good life lesson completely independent of Jesus' divinity or existence. The setup for this story is a that an expert in religious law asked Jesus which was the most important commandment. Jesus reflects the question back and the man replies that the most important commandments are,

You must love the Lord your God with all your heart, all your soul, all your strength, and all your mind.’ And, ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.
This part of the story bears a non-trivial resemblance to stories in Matthew and Mark. The man asks, "And who is my neighbor?" Jesus responds with the story of the Good Samaritan. A Jewish man was injured by the side of the road. A priest and a temple assistant both walked by and ignored him, but a detested Samaritan came and cared for the injured man. The lesson of this story is that everyone is your neighbor, and so you should show love to everyone.

Psalms and Proverbs

Today's psalm is a psalm of praise. This stands in start contrast to yesterday's psalm, which was all about God's rejection. On the one hand, I know that I should not read a collection of poetry as a coherent narrative. On the other hand, it is sometimes difficult to get my head around the day-to-day mood swings.

But then, I would rather have variety than not. Today's proverbs continue the theme of praising the godly and condemning the wicked.