First, Psalm 119 with its overt holier-than-thou attitude reads: “Many are my persecutors and my adversaries, yet I do not swerve from your decrees. I look at the faithless with disgust, because they do not keep your commands. Consider how I love your precepts; preserve my life according to your steadfast love.” Then, the story of Moses and Aaron’s competition with Egyptian sorcerers to see whose gods were bigger. Moses tries to free the Israelites from Egypt by destroying everyone’s water source, punishing the whole country, including the Israelites, for Pharaoh’s greed. Finally, the Apostle Paul tells the church that we are “a fragrance of death to death” to those who are perishing, and an aroma “from life to life” to those being saved. He calls us ministers of a new spiritual covenant that brings life, against an old covenant of “the letter” which “kills”. This is a striking text to find beside Psalm 119 in the lectionary, since that psalm is an eulogy to the Torah (the Law).
What do I make of it?
I could juxtapose the holier-than-thou psalmist against Paul’s flaunting humility, and Moses’ river of blood against the Christian spiritual covenant that gives life. I will not, firstly because it would be antisemitic and offensive to my Jewish friends. Second, it would be a heretical reading to imply the New Testament God is radically different from the Hebrew Testament one, especially since Paul affirms, just the same as Moses, “death unto death” to those who are perishing.
Today we stand informed by two thousand years of an evolving Christian tradition. We have a progressive community, and we love texts about love and our ministry of reconciliation. These texts make us uncomfortable with their animosity, the drawing of lines between us and them. I believe in a Gospel that builds bridges, not walls. Yet today, I am challenged. Not everyone can be welcome if we really want all to be welcome. What does it mean to take a firm stance and unapologetically be on the side of the God we believe in?
During this COVID-19 crisis, I have seen many Christian groups put people in danger by downplaying the virus in the name of faith. The president of my country (Brazil) prayed that God would enlighten researchers and scientists to find a treatment. Yet, he has systematically cut funds for science and is pressuring people to keep working for the sake of the economy. Xenophobia and racism have again become loud: earlier this year I heard educated Christians at my university imply the virus was God’s punishment against China for being godless and communist.
We believe in a God of love and kindness, of truth and reason. We believe in a gospel of reconciliation and forgiveness. We believe in caring for the most vulnerable and celebrating life. As we meditate on the Scriptures, we are challenged to take a side. Sometimes there is us, and there is them. Even if it makes us uncomfortable, we must not cower from drawing a line. At times, we must even insist, against evil superstition and against a false Christian god allied with greed, that our God is bigger.
Lucas (Fava) Coque
photo credit: @davidclode on Upsplash