Deuteronomy 29:1‐30:20; Luke 11:37‐12:7; Psalm 78:1‐31; Proverbs 12:19‐20
The idea of law in the Near East was not unique to the Hebrews. Law collections existed 500 years before Moses. The Pentateuch expresses a variation of these traditions called a suzerainty treaty. A suzerain covenant was granted by a powerful and independent overlord to weaker and dependent vassals. The covenant guaranteed the vassal certain benefits, including protection. In return, the vassal was obligated to remain loyal to the suzerain alone and to keep the stipulations of the agreement. If the stipulations were not kept, certain curses and punishments came into play. The passage in Deuteronomy illustrates some of these curses.
The covenant is remarkable because it extends this kind of relationship to almighty God. As such, the law became the manifestation of a beautiful bilateral relationship. The heart of the law was justice and love within a framework of holiness.
In the passage in Luke, Jesus chides the Pharisees because they forgot this basic fact. Instead, in their zeal to keep the law, they created burdensome practices to ensure its enactment. The Pharisees were not “bad guys.” On the contrary, they operated under the best intentions. But they illustrate the danger of misdirected piety.
Piety is like a precious gift from a loved one. It has value as long as it directs our attention to the beloved. However, when the gift accumulates value apart from the beloved, it leads to idolatry. People of faith are susceptible to this subtle sin. Lord, open our eyes to the beautiful idols that cloud our contemplation of you.
St. Matthews Episcopal Church