Tuesday, July 12, 2016

Tefillin and Wonderbra

Sam the Eagle weighs in ...
God gave his word to man with the intention that it be used to address every moment of human existence in its every aspect.

To those who have never lived this exercise (and it is very much an exercise), that may sound a little tedious and even holier-than-thou. We’ve all met people who are “Jesus this, Jesus that” 24/7 and wondered what exactly they were trying to prove.

God meant, I believe, that we should come to think and live in fellowship with him at all times.

How About Them Jays?

This does not mean that every word that comes out of our mouths ought to be some kind of self-conscious, awkward attempt to inflict our worldview on any poor unsuspecting pagan within hearing range. Despite the fact that it’s most surely true, the best answer to “How about them Jays?” is not always “They’d be better if they knew the Lord”.

When Moses led Israel into the land of promise, he instructed them like so:
“Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might. And these words that I command you today shall be on your heart. You shall teach them diligently to your children, and shall talk of them when you sit in your house, and when you walk by the way, and when you lie down, and when you rise. You shall bind them as a sign on your hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes. You shall write them on the doorposts of your house and on your gates.”
On the hand and between the eyes. Hmm.

Putting Things in Little Boxes

Some Jews take this passage quite literally. The term “phylactery” or tefillin refers to a little box filled with parchment inscribed with verses from the Torah that orthodox Jewish men bind to their forehead or arm during morning prayers. Perhaps this is what Moses intended, though scholars admit they are not sure.

And with good reason. Moses says of the Feast of Unleavened Bread, “It [the annual feast] shall be to you as a sign on your hand and as a memorial between your eyes”. Again, the ritual of redeeming every firstborn donkey was to be “as a mark on your hand or frontlets between your eyes”.

When we read “like” or “as” in English, we are trained to think of similes: figures of speech. This is no different. But whether or not a Jew chose to literally bind a little box to his arm or wear it on his head is largely beside the point: the devout Israelite was to remember, to reflect, to occupy himself with thoughts of Jehovah and appreciation of what he had done, and then to behave consistently with these truths:

Forehead — God’s word was to condition the MIND.

Arm — God’s word was to control all that one DID.

For the Christian, nothing has changed, though many of us confine much of our contemplation of Jesus Christ to Sunday services. This is regrettable, because it robs us of the ongoing consciousness of his presence, an awareness that is both reassuring and thoroughly challenging — and very much intended by God.

Everyday Consciousness

Like all children of our generation, my brothers and I watched a fair bit of TV. For a few years our television sat in the basement rather than up in the living room where it might be a distraction to visitors, which meant that our viewing was often minimally supervised. My brothers and I became convinced that my father’s occasional appearance had a supernatural effect on what we were watching. The moment my father’s feet were heard on the stairs, someone onscreen would tell an off-colour joke, make a distasteful innuendo or contemplate having an affair, and we’d turn around to see what we came to refer to as Dad’s “Sam the Eagle” look. That, or we’d be caught staring glaze-eyed at yet another Wonderbra commercial.

Hey, it lifts AND separates.

My father possessed no such magical powers, of course. What really happened is that our jaded little hearts became sensitized to sin the moment we became conscious of Dad’s presence.

I think this is what Moses had in mind: the perpetual effort to remain conscious of the presence and values of the One to whom we belong and to whom we owe everything.

All Things Are Pure

To the pure, all things are pure. This is clearly not because all things themselves are pure: manifestly, they are not. Try working out in a gym and listening to the lyrics of the electro-noise pumping through the speakers. Try going through a morning at work without overhearing (or thinking) things that are better not thought of at all. Try turning on the TV for five minutes without feeling at least a little grubby. Don’t get me started on the Internet.

But the world around us is purified by the gaze of the Lord Jesus Christ, whose eyes are “as a flame of fire”. When we look at the world with his eyes, we have no danger of being corrupted by it any more than he was corrupted by it when he walked this earth. He was in every respect tempted as we are, yet without sin. There was nothing in him that indulged sin, nothing that responded favourably to it, nothing that retained it for future consideration. He saw it for what it was and rejected it every single time.

My track record will not be so spotless, and neither will yours. I don’t need to tell you that. But this is the real exercise of the Christian life: to bring the mind and will of God to bear on everything our senses take in, every thought that pops into our heads, every move that we make.

I cannot change what’s around me, but I can certainly change how I respond to it.

No comments :

Post a Comment