Deuteronomy 30:15-20I talked about the Deutoronomy texts last year during all the Jeremiah passages. This passage pretty well sums up what I was saying. Follow the commandments and you'll get what you want, don't, and your safety can not be guaranteed. Sounds like the neighborhood “protection” gang.
Sirach 15:15-20Sirach gives us the slightly softened version of the law. This verse is partially one answer to the question of why there are commandments at all. Why couldn't God have just created us as creatures who understood the law and didn't want to break it? Why did God make evil people? This says he doesn't command evil or give anyone permission to sin. For reasons not explained here, or anywhere I know of, he wanted people to have choices.
If you look at what some of the other gods of that time were doing (that is, what other stories said), you could say this is an improvement. Other gods would put thoughts into people's heads or treat them as play things. But if you say we can improve on gods, then can't we can't continue to do so now, like they did then. We could, and have, improved on the commandments and The Sermon on the Mount. Why not bring our gods up to date with that?
1 Corinthians 3:1-9Paul is known for saying he has something that others don't, so this speaking down to the Corinthians is nothing new. I don't hear it much these days, and don't think it would be received well in very many circles. It would be interesting to hear the response from those who read this or heard this at the time.
Apollos is a preacher, a contemporary of Paul's. He is mentioned elsewhere, such as the book of Acts. He has some authority, but had to be taught a few things too. The issue here is that Paul doesn't want them making sects out of whatever differences they might be perceiving between the two men. The whole point of worshiping is that there is a higher authority. Mere mortals are just doing their best to get you in touch with God.
Of course, he didn't stop this completely natural human tendency. And how could he? If what he was attempting to do could actually be done, then it shouldn't matter. If both of the men were capable of bringing you in touch with the Holy Spirit, then it wouldn't matter if their methods differed slightly. Once you got there, you'd know what either of them meant. The problem is, there is no test. There is no certainty that one arrives at. Some say they get there, but none of them can turn around and consistently get others to the same place. The “jealously and quarreling” has never ended.
We've gone downhill in the Sermon on the Mount rather quickly, from the salt of the earth to fools, from the “least” in heaven to burning in hell. We've gone from fulfilling the law to expanding them to not just actions, but to thoughts. A mere insult is as bad as murder. An insult (“fool”) that Jesus is known to use. This is some of what Barrack Obama talked about when he said it would impossible to implement this into law in his keynote address to the Call to Renewal's Building a Covenant for a New America conference in 2006.
It gets a little better with talk of reconciling, but that talk is about “brothers” going to “the altar”. We could allow for the use of the male pronoun, but it's pretty clear we're just talking about other believers. There is nothing here at all similar to the Good Samaritan or some of the other stories about reaching out beyond your own tribe. A little of that comes next week, but you have to tease it out.
Then we get back to more thought crimes and telling people to deny their human nature. If eliminating bad actions was as easy as telling people to stop thinking about them, this would be great. As we know from centuries of experience, it's just naive. It would also be nice if we could simply say, “be honest” as the last few verses do, and have all people start acting honestly. That's fine as advice for how to live your life, but you still have to figure out if others are living that way.