Advent Reflections Update #2

So now that it’s Lent, I have found my Advent reflections notebook. Ah, timeliness.

Luke 1:6: “Both of them [Zechariah and Elizabeth] were upright in the sight of God, observing all the Lord’s commandments and regulations blamelessly.”

Zechariah and Elizabeth were the parents of John the Baptist (Jesus’s cousin and the prophet who proclaimed his coming). Just in case that didn’t click right away.

In my faith tradition (which is mixed, to be sure), I learned that only Jesus is without sin. If this is so,  how could Zechariah and Elizabeth be blameless? Is it simply because they made all the appropriate repentance and sacrifices when they did sin?

So…first of all, is it possible to be human without sinning?

Certain faith traditions teach that God set up the Judaic laws so that they would be impossible to keep, showing everyone their need for salvation. However…built in to the laws are the acts necessary for atonement. So if you covet your neighbor’s sheep, but then atone for your covetousness, have you broken the law? Have you sinned?

From the perspective of modern laws, the answer would be yes, of course you did. After serving jail time for dealing drugs, the dealer is still a convict. Atonement does not undo one’s crime.

So, again, is it possible to be human without sinning? As a sinner, I have been taught over and over that the answer to this question is no. To be human is to be a sinner. But this answer must be taken with a grain of salt, since it comes from sinners.

A second question arises. If being human means being a sinner, but Jesus did not sin, was he truly human?

Lots of questions. Here’s what I think. I don’t believe Judaic law is impossible to keep. I think it is possible to be human and refrain from sin. But I don’t think anyone does, aside from Jesus. I think Jesus came to show us our potential as human beings, starting with keeping the law and refraining from sin.

If you read Leviticus, you’ll find it is full of “thou shalt not”s. Does God want us to just not do things? No. If God just wanted us to keep the letter of his law, Jesus would have been right behind the Pharisees.

But Jesus did a lot more than keep the law. He showed us the other side, the fullness of the law. You can keep the letter of the law and still sin. Sin is a matter of the heart.

Let me put this another way. Say it is against the law to use a pesticide called DDT. Ann does not use DDT–in fact, she does not use any pesticides, since she does not grow any food. But she buys DDT-sprayed apples from George, since they are cheaper than the DDT-free apples that Joann grows. Is Ann guilty of breaking the law?

Under moderns laws (at least in the United States), no. Ann has done nothing wrong. But if this law is from God, then yes, she has sinned. Because she has encouraged George to sin and discouraged Joann in her attempt to live by the law. In fact, Ann’s choice may even cause Joann to sin, since a lack of customers may force Joann to use DDT so her apples can compete in the marketplace.

This is why I have a problem with the idea of “private faith”. So many people out there believe that, if they use no metaphorical pesticides, they are okay with God. If they don’t swear, if they don’t have sex before they get married, if they avoid Disney movies…they are good and righteous and a-okay with God. In the meantime, they sin by looking down on people who do swear, have sex, etc.  These people, in my eyes, are Pharisees. And yes, I’ve been one. I still am, sometimes.
Jesus showed us that we must LOVE one another, that our relationships with one another are paramount. The list of “thou shalt not”s is a list of acts that detract from relationships. How can you love and support your neighbor if you are having fantasies about his wife? How can you love and support Ai Lin if you buy toys from the manufacturer that pollutes her home with toxic waste?

Believe it or not, shopping can be a sin, depending on what you buy and your reasons for buying it. Globalization makes it harder and harder to NOT sin. You have to do a lot of research, and KNOW what you’re buying and how it was produced.

Or you could shop local, get to know the businesspeople in your area, build relationships and support the folks around you. Hm. Maybe this is what God wants us to do.

To bring this back to Zechariah and Elizabeth, what kind of people do you think they were? I’ll bet that they were pretty good about keeping the laws. They didn’t violate the law a whole lot, and they atoned whenever they did. But I’ll also bet that Zechariah and Elizabeth truly loved each other and their community. They probably pitched in whenever someone needed help, whether that meant taking care of the sick or harvesting the olives before a freeze. I’m certain they did not condemn others for messing up, but helped them pick up the pieces instead.

At least, these are the type of parents I would choose for a prophet.

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