The other day I was looking at Matthew 4:12-25, where Jesus goes into Galilee to begin his public ministry. Jesus says: “Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” Matthew notes that Jesus’ actions were to fulfill the words of the prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 9:1-4), as Jesus brings light to a darkened world.
That got me thinking about the people of Galilee and whether or not they even realized they were living in darkness. I doubt they did. They were used to the darkness, so they considered it normal. It wasn’t until the light of Christ dawned on them that they would have seen the contrast between the darkness they were in and the reign of God (i.e. the “kingdom of heaven”) that comes through Jesus Christ.
I figure the same goes for our own day as well. There is so much darkness around us that we grow accustomed to it, consider it “normal.” There’s murder, abortion, adultery, sexual sins, thieving, lying, slander, and all manner of darkness around us. In fact, often there is a thin veneer of sophistication placed over these sins, like the brick walls of my house which simply cover over the cheap 1/4 inch plywood underneath. The veneer covers over the baseness and tries to make it look acceptable.
In looking at the text from Matthew and Isaiah and considering our own time in the context of these texts, I also got to thinking about what, exactly, sin is. At it’s base, it’s a rebellion against God’s will for us. His will is summarized in the Ten Commandments, and further summarized by the admonition that we are to love the Lord our God with all our heart, soul, and mind, and our neighbor as ourself (cf. Matthew 22:34-40). If we treat the Lord as our God, trusting only in Him for all good things, then it will naturally follow that we will love others as we love ourselves, for we won’t feel the need to deprive them of anything.
Yet, as we see in the world today, we can’t perfectly do these things. All sin derives from a failure to treat the Lord as our God. Yet, there’s a deeper question: why these Ten Commandments, and not others? That is, why does the Lord tell us that we are to treat Him only as our God, use His name rightly, take time to rest to hear His Word, honor our parents, safeguard the lives of others, honor our spouse, protect the property of others, protect the reputation of others, be content with our own homes, and be content with our own property? Why these Ten Commandments and not others?
At the heart of it all is that these Ten Commandments are inscribed on our hearts as the natural order of things. We call this “natural law,” but all it means is that all people have a natural sense that the rules prescribed in the Ten Commandments are how things ought to be. When we violate them, we tend to feel like something is wrong. We call this feeling our conscience speaking to us, but it derives from the fact that we have violated the natural order of things. When God gave Moses the Ten Commandments He was giving a clear exposition of what He had already written on our hearts as the natural order of things.
In the beginning, when God created all things, He set up a natural order. One man and one woman were to come together in marriage as one. They were to have children and care for them, with the children respecting them as those placed over them to love and care for them. People were to live in perfect communion with God and each other forever.
Yet, Adam and Eve’s sin disrupted this natural order of things. Their sin introduced decay and death into the world, as well as alienation between them and God and them and each other. And so all sin descends from this first sin. Now, we live in a world where things are turned on their head: spouses cheat on each other, people of the same sex marry, mothers kills their children, people murder each other, people steal and cheat each other, people lie to gain some advantage over another person. We are so overwhelmed by the darkness that we often do not realize it.
Yet, into this darkness comes the light of Christ as carried through generations of the Church. The Church diagnoses the problem and then gives the cure. The Church points out the darkness around us, using the Law of God, and then reveals the light of Christ through the Gospel. So, sin is pointed out and then forgiven. People are shown the darkness that surrounds us and then shown the way of life through the light of Christ. The Church loves sinners enough to tell them the truth, because the people of the Church are also sinners to whom the truth and light have been revealed through Jesus Christ. The Church clings to Christ and shines his light as a beacon to those still groping in the darkness.
So, pointing out sin is not about hating the other person. It’s about loving the other person enough to tell them the truth of what God’s Word says. Really, it’s about diagnosing what is wrong when people feel that something in their lives is broken or not right or somehow “off.” Like a ruler, God’s Law shows what is not in line with the natural order of things. The more we conform to the natural order, the more things will go well for us. Only the light of Christ can show us this, though. Only by God’s Word working upon us can we receive Christ’s light. Then, we trust that he will conform us more and more in his image, rather than in the image of the fallen Adam into which we were born. Christ came to forgive us freely and to give us his light, and the Church is called to spread this forgiveness and light freely to others, trusting in the power of the Word of God to accomplish this.
[Image in public domain via Wikimedia Commons (http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3A%D0%90%D0%B4%D0%B0%D0%BC_%D0%B8_%D0%95%D0%B2%D0%B0_%D0%9B%D0%B0%D0%B7%D0%B0%D1%80%D0%BE%D0%BF%D0%BE%D0%BB%D0%B5.JPG)]