October 5 Reflection

17th Sunday after Pentecost (October 5 2014)

New Identity in Christ

 

BIBLE READINGS

Exodus 20:1-20
Philippians 3:4b-14

REFLECTION

I once heard a different version about the origin of the Ten Commandments from the one that we have in the Bible. According to this version, before there were Ten Commandments, there were only two commandments: thou shall not steal and thou shall not commit adultery.

God traveled around the world to try to give these two commandments to any nations who wanted them. And God found a rich kingdom whose people lived a luxurious life and offered the commandments to them.

How much are they? asked these people.

They are free, answered God.

And what are the commandments? they asked again.

God said, Thou shall not steal and thou shall not commit adultery.

Well, said these people, We know theyre free, but were going to ruin our weekend if we accept those commandments. So, we have to say, No.’”.

So God travelled around the world again and found a powerful nation who had conquered many other nations and offered them the commandments.

How much are they? asked this nation.

God said, They are free.

And what are they? asked them.

God answered, Thou shall not steal and thou shall not commit adultery.

And they said, Well, they dont suit our lifestyle so no thank you.

Finally, after travelling around the world again, God found the people of Israel, wandering in the middle of a desert and offered the commandments to them. Now, unlike the previous nations, the people of Israel had nothing with them: no money, no food, nothing. They had left everything that they had in Egypt and were very tired after being pursued by the Egyptian army.

So they asked God, How much are the commandments?

And God gave the same answer that God had given to the other two nations, They are free.

In that case, said the people of Israel, Could we take ten please?

 

There is a truth in this joke: the Ten Commandments were originally received not as a burden, but with joy as a sign of freedom. The commandments were given after the deliverance of the people of Israel from slavery in Egypt. The deliverance was the birth of the people of Israel. A new nation had been formed. What were previously different tribes living in the land of Egypt had now become a new people.

The Ten Commandments thus were given as rules to govern the people of Israel. But they were actually less of rules and more of a constitution that articulated the reason why the new people of Israel emerged and what was expected of them. As such, the Ten Commandments defined the new identity that the people of Israel must have in their newfound freedom.

Yes, the people of Israel were now free, but their freedom did not mean that they could do whatever they liked. Their freedom did not mean that they belonged to no one. The opening words of the Ten Commandments made this very clear: I am the Lord your God who had delivered you from Egypt. The people of Israel did not free themselves from the Egyptians; God was the one who delivered them from slavery. And God did not deliver them from slavery so that they could become masters of their own life. God freed them so that they would worship and follow God and God only. God had replaced Pharaoh. As such, their life must now reflect their new ruler.

The Ten Commandments thus were not a law. They were more significant than a law. The Commandments were the identity of a people who chose to obey not the rulers of this world, but God. The people of Israel ought to follow the commandments not out of fear of being punished, but because the commandments were their new identity as a new people.

In a similar vein, Paul too found a new identity in Christ. In his letter to the Philippians, he described his old identity as an unblemished Jew. Unlike the new additions to the Jewish faith that were circumcised much later in their life, he was circumcised when he was only eight days old, just like what the Jewish tradition required. He was a true descendant of pure Jewish blood of the tribe of Benjamin: a tribe whose ancestor, Benjamin, was not like the other ancestors of Israel who sold their own brother, Joseph, as a slave. He was a member of the Pharisee: a group of Jewish people who maintained strict obedience to the Jewish law. He was even previously a proud persecutor of the Christian church, which was then considered as a rebellious sect of the Jewish faith.

But Paul said that all these badges of honor had become nothing when he found Christ (or, more accurately, when Christ found him). His new identity in Christ surpassed all who he was and all that he had achieved in his previous life. Now, he had only one goal in his life: to know Christ and the power of Christs resurrection and to suffer like Christ so that he too could be risen into a new life. His life now belonged to Christ. He indeed had found a new life and he did not want to look back to the past, but forward to the future where Christ awaited him.

He knew that his salvation was assured no longer by his obedience to the Jewish law, but by his faith in Christ. His salvation was now based on his new identity in Christ. His obedience to God was no longer born out of his fear of losing his salvation, but because he was now a new person in Christ who had already made him his own. His obedience was no longer an attempt be righteous, but a natural character of someone who had been made righteous in Christ Jesus.

One of the most troublesome Princes in the world today, I believe, is Prince Harry of Great Britain. He is famous for his wild behaviors outside of the Buckingham Palace. Once, he attended a fancy dress party in Wiltshire where he wore a NAZI German uniform with the symbol of the swastika on his left arm. His act was made worse by the fact that, a few days after the party, the British royal family would take a leading role in the Holocaust Memorial Day.

In another incident, in a party in Las Vegas, a girl took a picture of him wearing nothing but an African necklace and bracelets. Apparently, when the photo was taken, Harry was playing a drunken game of strip billiards with people he barely knew. The photo spread all around the world and caused a furor. The Chief of the General Staff of the British army said that such an act was against a section of the British army code of conduct and was unbecoming of an army officer like Harry.[1]

Some people, however, ask the public to let him be. They argue that Harry is just behaving like any other young person his age. But other people argue that he is not like any other young person his age. He is a Prince, an heir to the British throne and he has to act like one. He does not need to behave to be qualified as a Prince. He is already a Prince. He has enjoyed the privileges of being a Prince thus he needs to mind his behaviors because that is what is expected of him.

Our new life in Christ also requires a new set of Christ-like characters and behaviors that conform to that life. No, we dont need to be more like Christ in our life so that we could be accepted in His Kingdom. Christ has already made us his-own. Now we need to reflect the characters of Christ to whom we belong, just like the people of Israel must reflect the characters of God who freed them from the land of slavery and made them into a new nation. Our character and behavior must be born out of and shaped by this new identity that we have in Christ.

No, we dont need to be reminded, every year in the church, that we shall not steal or murder or tell lies or cheat on our partners, etc. We are no longer children who need to be given a list of dos and donts. But we do need to remind ourselves that we have a new identity in Christ and we need to reflect that identity in our relationship with God and with other people.

The way we treat other people in our life will reflect who we really are. Whether or not other people can see Christ in our life will depend on whom we direct our life towards: God or the idols of our society. Christ has made us his-own. So let us now let his life infuse and influence every part of our relationship with God and with others.

Amen.

[1] From an article by Penny Junor on http://www.dailymail.co.uk (UPDATED: 00:59 AEST, 10 September 2014)