Last week in worship we laid a solid foundation. Matthew 7.12 served as a measure against which all sayings and actions of Jesus--at least in the Gospel of Matthew--could be weighed. "What you would, that which you would that others do to you, do to others." We're still in the realm of ethics this week. Yet we rewind to Leviticus, the law code in the Torah.
It's Black History Month, and I fear engaging in cliche´ here; but I couldn't help but think of Langston Hughes today. One of the first poems that stuck in my mind from English 111 during my early college days was his poem, "Harlem," which reads:
What happens to a dream deferred?
Does it dry up
like a raisin in the sun?
Or fester like a sore--
And then run?
Does it stink like rotten meat?
Or crust and sugar over--
like a syrupy sweet?
Maybe it just sags
like a heavy load.
Or does it explode?
As I've lived with this poem now for almost twenty years, I'm fascinated by what's underneath the surface of it. Whatever it is, the same is at work in the world of scripture--both NT and OT. On the surface, we may wonder if this "dream" inspired mountainous intellectuals of color to "explode" onto the social conscience of America, paving the way for the ongoing struggle for a new world where each individual would treat every other (regardless) the exact way she or he wants to be treated by any individual (regardless). There's an underneath the surface to this poem.
Well, I also believe there's an underneath the surface to all this talk of God's law code. You've already gotten it from last week's stuff, but it never hurts to arrive home by a new route. As always, I'll try to save something for Sunday. However, for time's sake, I'll just make the leap here: the law code is a revelation of God.
Back to Huges' poem for a second. Revelation is exactly what's underneath the surface. The question then becomes, "What is revealed?" We're dealing with a "dream deferred." Whatever the nature of this "dream," we can absolutely say that this "dream" does something. And we can say that its doing doesn't seem to be within the grasp of our own will. The "dream" doesn't play favorites; and, whether it ends up stinky, rotten, and saggy or sugar-crusted, syrupy-sweet, and explosive, the very nature of the "dream" is unchanging. Why? because human will is at work on the surface of this poem. And human will is the deferring agent. Underneath the surface human will is impotent. Underneath the surface--what we're calling the "dream" here--is the true determiner of fate.
Something's definitely at work underneath the surface of the law codes in Leviticus (and, of course, at the root of Jesus' teachings in Matthew). This "something" cannot be moved by human will. It can, however, be deferred; and, in Jesus' day, that clearly looked something like a segregated society of clean and unclean (have's and have-not's). But, what happens to a dream deferred?
We'll talk more on Sunday; but, in the meantime, look at Leviticus 9.1-2. Watch the repeated phrase in verses 10, 12, 14, 16, and 18. Here's a huge clue (pun intended): Start each law with this phrase in mind--"If I am to be like YHWH, then..."; and then ask yourself, "What does this law say about God's character?"
Is God giving rules here, or is something else going on?