The Bare Minimum Wages of Sin


Today’s readings (click below to open in new tab/window):
Psalms 143; 147:12-20, Ruth 2:14-23, 2 Corinthians 3:1-18, Matthew 5:27-37

Mosaic law instructed farmers not to harvest the outermost edges of their fields, nor to retrieve what was scattered during the harvest. The remnants were left for the poor and the immigrant. When Boaz instructed his field hands to let Ruth, a Moabite immigrant, glean among the sheaves they had reaped and to pull stalks for her from the bundles, he went beyond what was required. While his reasons were not entirely selfless, we can infer he was not the kind of person who held onto things just because he could.

When Jesus spoke about temptations like adultery, he said “anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” Jesus understood the difference between being tempted and surrendering to temptation. His larger message was that we shouldn’t be a people who skirt the technical boundaries of what is legal, regardless of whether it is right (a lusty look but not a touch), but a people who cultivate hearts that see others as more than an extension of our own needs and desires.

In his letter to the Corinthians, Paul described the law of Moses as written on stone, and the law of Christ as written on the heart. He called the first the law of death, and the second the law of life. A law carved in stone for everyone to read allows us to settle for the minimum amount of effort because then we’ve met our requirements. It encourages us to figure out exactly what we can get away with before earning punishment. Under a law of stone, we can trade our conscience and sense of ethics for a checklist.

The world tells us to make claim on all that we legally can, to think of justice as the greatest retribution we can legally extract, and to see others as competitors. This is the law of stone and death. The law of heart and life doesn’t leave the poor and alien scrounging at the edge of our fields because we are obligated to, but welcomes them to the table out of love.

Comfort: The law of love brings life.

Challenge: Loving your neighbor as Christ commands requires you to use your head and heart. Ask whether you are doing what is required, or what is loving.

Prayer: God of Life, teach me to read and obey what you have written on my heart. Amen.

Discussion: Many unethical actions are technically legal. Are there any that particularly bother you?

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