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Holy Shofar

December 23rd, 2007 · Posted by Hugo · 6 Comments

I attended Shofar last Sunday. I have many questions and thoughts I’d like to share, but I’ll try to stick to one particular subject right now: the subject of the sermon. The sermon was presented by a guest speaker, I’m afraid I forgot his name.

The key idea presented was pretty much the “Be Holy, for God is Holy” meme. The source of this meme is the Old Testament, in particular, Leviticus. Peter refers to this meme in 1 Peter 1:16. The question that comes next in my mind is, what does it mean to be holy?

The general idea that seems to feature amongst Shofarians (please correct me if I’m wrong), is that Jesus came to “raise the bar”. They seem to believe, and this was the topic of the sermon as well, that they are supposed to be more “pure” than the Pharisees…

The Pharisees were not mentioned in the sermon, but I refer to them because they were the group that had exceedingly high standards in Jesus’ time. They believed that God would deliver the Jews from Roman oppression once they had eradicated the sin in their community. To quote from Brian McLaren’s The Secret Message of Jesus (amazon, kalahari), Chapter 2, The Political Message of Jesus:

A fourth group, the Pharisees, had a different diagnosis and prescription [for the question of why they are under Roman oppression]: “The Lord would send Messiah to deliver us if we would just become purer. If we would obey the Bible’s teachings more rigorously, God would liberate us. There’s too much sin and not enough piety among us. If there were more righteous people like us and fewer sinners among us — fewer prostitutes, drunks, and Roman collaborators — then Roman domination would be brought to and end by God. It’s the fault of those notorious sinners that we remain under the heel of the Roman boot! Religious piety and rigor — that’s the answer!”

The Pharisees bore the brunt of some of Jesus’ harshest words. I’m trying to figure out in what ways the things Jesus said to the Pharisees translates to our contemporary context. I’m also spending many hours pondering whether Shofar’s idea of what “holiness” means, differs from that of the Pharisees. I’m still struggling with finding an answer to that question, the similarities seem rather significant to me? (Cue a Shofarian quoting Matthew 5:20 at me, leading to a discussion of what “righteousness” means. sigh.)

The way I understand Jesus, having read the likes of Marcus Borg, the core of his message stands in a kind of juxtaposition to the rule-based idea of holiness found in Leviticus. The new emphasis: Be compassionate, for God is compassionate. A clear echo but adjustment of the Leviticus meme? (I don’t have a copy of the Marcus Borg book here right now).

An example of a verse often quoted in support of the “raising the bar” idea, is Matthew 5:27-28:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (NIV)

This verse is often used by fundamentalists to condemn any form of physical attraction, to the extent of even discouraging or condemning passionate kissing. The first thing to realise is that Jesus often employed hyperbole. I’m convinced understanding texts such as these, requires critical thinking. Critical thinking does not require much modern knowledge, I don’t see any reason to think Jesus’ audience were not intelligent. Often speaking in parables, I’m sure the aim was to get people to think in particular ways, to get them to ask the right questions, rather than to give them easy answers. But I digress. Hyperbole…

Imagine for a second some sexual harassment, some lustful obsession with a married woman, or something else that is similar. These people could argue they did not transgress the “do not commit adultery” commandment, for it did not lead to actual sex. The point of this lesson then, is that it isn’t about the final act. It is about the value. The legalistic approach to morality, the law-based approach, ultimately lends itself to finding loopholes, or else obsession with the things you are “not allowed to do”. My understanding of the New Testament, therefore, is one that is much more concerned with the values underlying immoral acts, than a legalistic “do this, don’t do that”, black-and-white, Sith-like morality.

Compare this:

You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (NIV)

and this:

You have heard it said that “you should say thank you”. But I tell you that anyone who says “thank you”, but is not truly grateful, commits a sin worse than mere ungratefulness. In addition to having an ungrateful heart, he or she commits dishonesty.

The latter was the opening line of a previous post of mine: Saying Thank You vs Being Grateful.

I’m not attending Shofar today, due to a lack of time. I hope to share some more thoughts and questions that popped into my head last Sunday, before year’s end.

Categories: Shofar
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6 responses so far ↓

  • 1 Hugo // Dec 23, 2007 at 6:35 pm

    Apologies to the Shofar crowd if this post seems excessively critical. It is indeed focused on one particular meme, the application of which still confuzzles me, given my current understanding. I will try to point out the things I understand and appreciate as well, as time permits.

  • 2 Johan Swarts // Dec 23, 2007 at 9:06 pm


    Ek hoop jou partytjie was / is heerlik. Is spyt ek kan nie daar wees nie.

    Geseënde Kersfees

  • 3 gerhard // Dec 27, 2007 at 5:13 pm

    excessively critical???? not critical enough :!!!

    You have heard that it was said, ‘Do not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart. (NIV)

    it means, don’t look at someone lustfully 😛 ie. dont give the hot office babe a look once over ….
    we all know you ain’t looking at her because
    she is pretty, you are looking at her because you wanna f$%k her. repeatedly. the verse is there to deny u ur nature because nature is evil and will get you into trouble.. i mean reallly, because its ‘unnatural’ for you to want to be ‘natural’ god didnt want you to be natural … he didnt create you so that you can enjoy urself, he created you to make you struggle for him every day.. so you need to deny your deepest yearnings .. because gosh darnit , he made you perfect so why would you want to be happy with that 😛 i mean honestly .. what do you think life is? a gift? no … its a burden … you better remember that 😛

  • 4 Hugo // Dec 27, 2007 at 5:25 pm

    Peace, gerhard. Peace… I’m not convinced you understand the point of my post completely (but I’m also not convinced you don’t).

    With regards to that last bit about gifts/burdens, Lousirr agrees with you, he just doesn’t know whether he’s agreeing with your conscious thoughts or with that which he reads between the lines… hmmm… 😉

  • 5 Hugo // Dec 27, 2007 at 6:14 pm

    Besides, this is not true for me:

    we all know you ain’t looking at her because
    she is pretty, you are looking at her because you wanna f$%k her.

    unless it doesn’t apply to me on the grounds that I don’t give hot babes “a look once over”?

    It seems to me that you are making the same mistake as the fundamentalistic Christians in not recognising the historical context and the use of hyperbole. Unless that isn’t really your mistake, but rather intentional in order to show the flip-side of the coin for fundies’ perspectives?

  • 6 The Supernatural Exists… // Jan 13, 2008 at 9:46 am

    […] my 16 December visit to Shofar, I learned another interesting thing about their language and definitions that tends to confuse the […]

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