Bible study hasn’t always been my first choice at Yearly Meeting. I have great admiration and respect for those Friends who study faithfully, and for those who love the bible. It’s just that I’ve often had trouble connecting what I heard in bible study sessions to what I could do as a Friend on Monday morning. I’ve also consistently chosen worship fellowship over worship study, seeking the personal sharing over what I have thought to be intellectual discussions.
This year, two things combined to bring me to bible study sessions. First – Jeff Dudiak’s title was fascinating, ‘Radicalizing Spirit: The Challenge of Contemporary Quakerism’ (sounds like something for today…or Monday morning). Second, I’ve committed to write a daily ‘blog’ on my time at Yearly Meeting, so that Friends not here in person might be able to share in some of the experience of this week of Spiritual Community.
Jeff is a member of Edmonton Monthly Meeting, and an Associate Professor of Philosophy at Kings University College, University of Alberta.
He began by recalling to us the parable of Jesus healing the man with the withered hand (Matthew 12: 9 – 14) and encouraged us to hear not the familiar tale nor one whose relevance is past, but to experience the story as in that time – a moment of the highest drama.
The Pharisees ask Jesus if it is right to heal on the Sabbath, and he asks them in turn, if they had one sheep that fell into a pit, would they not save it. Then he asks if a man is not worth more than a sheep.
Jeff acknowledged that Jesus clearly does break the law, then went on to point out that this was Jesus ‘at his radical best’ – tugging on Superman’s cape and spitting into the wind. He knows his actions will provoke the establishment and he doesn’t flinch. This was the anarchistic and revolutionary Jesus – more than brave and defiant, he was also wise – not an innocent, but not a wrecking ball
This was beginning to sound like the kind of tension that attracts me – there’s a puzzle here.
“Jewish listeners to this story were being called to a radical perspective on Judaism”, Jeff told us, “Neither obedience nor defiance, yet both obedience and defiance.” Jesus said, “I come not to abolish the law, but to fulfill”
What does this term fulfillment mean to us? (OK – now it’s getting down to Monday morning). The Pharisees of the day were a bit like the good people we elect to committees now. They were the idealists, uncompromising in their principles. We need them. Perhaps an example is the increasing application of the peace testimony in ever more minute details (hmmm – is that me?)
On the other hand, we can discover something we think is good, attribute it to God and then call it a leading. So there is the external force (the law), and the internal nudging.
Again, Jeff reminded us that living ‘with and in’ the power of God, there is no distinction. It’s that tension and balance again. Love without justice is without worth, and law without Love is empty. Love without law is impotent.
To fulfill the law – we need to go beyond obligation – love transforms the law.
Fulfillment means relationship with the law is transformed – becomes inner, inscribed on the heart. Law fulfilled is a matter of the heart.
Fulfillment is excessive – breaking boundaries – freeing
What will Monday morning looked like if I am intentional about fulfilling the law rather than ‘keeping it’ – excessive, freeing? This is a possibility I want to ponder
For an audio of the first lecture, click this linkDiscussion after Bible Study