Today’s Parasha is called mishpatim; which literally means judgments. But these are not judgments in the sense of evaluation of evidence to make a decision, these are judgments in the sense of laws intended to guide the daily lives of God’s covenant people in justice and righteousness. And since the Israelites had just been released from slavery, the first of God’s mishpatim deals with slaves and servants. In Exodus 21:2 we read: “When you acquire a Hebrew slave, for six years he shall work and in the seventh year he shall go free…” The painful experiences of the Israelites in Egypt are also behind the mishpatim to have empathy for the foreigner. Exodus 22:21 states: “You shall not wrong a sojourner or oppress him, for you were sojourners in the land of Egypt.” By the way that’s the verse I use when Jewish people ask me what I do for a living. 😉
Let’s talk big-picture: The Israelites were not only commanded to recognize God’s holiness and to worship Him and Him alone, but they were also commanded to maintain proper relationships with one another. And this is why the Lord addressed the subject of slavery and empathy for the foreigner. In what is commonly referred to as the Ten Commandments, the first four of these commandments focused on Israel’s relationship with God ( Ex. 20: 1-11) and the next six focused on their relationship with one another (Ex. 20: 12-17). Centuries later, when one of the Pharisees asked Yeshua which command was the greatest, He responded, Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind. This is the greatest and most important command. The second is like it: Love your neighbor as yourself. All the Law and the Prophets depend on these two commands (Mt. 22: 37-40). And Messiah’s new command is to “love one another” just as He has loved us. And in Romans 13:8-10, Rav Shaul the Apostle Paul answered the question, “What does this look like?” He said, “Do not owe anyone anything, except to love one another, for the one who loves another has fulfilled the law. The commandments: Do not commit adultery; do not murder; do not steal; do not covet; and whatever other commandment— all are summed up by this: Love your neighbor as yourself. Love does no wrong to a neighbor. Love, therefore, is the fulfillment of the law.”
Here’s where I’m going with this: In order to evaluate the maturity of our relationship with God, we should evaluate the quality of our relationships with one another. Let me repeat that. In order to evaluate the maturity of our relationship with God, we should evaluate the quality of our relationships with one another.
Let’s be honest about it, our tendency is to live lives of semi-isolation. And a major reason for that is that we’re afraid that we will get hurt if we really put ourselves out there for people. Well you know what, we will get hurt; and other people will be hurt by us! We’re all part of a fallen race in a fallen place. But here’s the deal; over the long-haul, despite the up and down rhythm of life, if we learn to find joy and purpose in loving God and serving God by serving others, at the end of the day everything kind of comes out in wash. And in terms of not only the right here right now, but also with regard to the eternal existence to come; this kind of big-picture perspective is what walking by faith looks like in terms of having certainty about things hoped for and conviction about things not seen (cf. Heb. 11:1). And so in view of our future glory, I think our present attitude needs to get to the point where we can honestly say, “You know what, if this is as good as it gets, I’m okay with that.”
I know for myself I will probably die in the pulpit. And I mean that in a literal physical sense, because in a comedic sense I already die on a regular basis. 😉 But I’m okay with that. In fact, I’m more than okay with that; it’s actually pretty good because when all is said and done, it’s all better than I deserve, and when I look up all I see is grace, why, because once I was a slave to my own insecurities and fear of getting hurt which held me back from fully loving God and fully serving God by serving others. And that means, in a very positive way what was once true, is true no more!