Tuesday, 7 September 2010

Six commandments of Isaiah

It is wonderful to be part of a large tradition of Biblical interpretation that is so much bigger than the latest paperback, or the shallows of Fundamentalism. It is a joyful thing to swim in deep water, which we do when we engage with the Hebrew Scriptures in depth, accompanied by the rabbis.

Licensing my friend and colleague Jo Gallant at Flaunden on Friday, the call of Isaiah came up. Someone has been asking me for the reference to the “Jewish Book” I used.
People have asked where it came from, it was from the Gemara of Chapter 3 of the Fifth Tractate (Makkoth) of the Fourth order (Neziqin) of the Babylonian Talmud.

It relates to the Mishnah of Rabbi Hanania ben Aqashya on Isaiah 42 about the number of mitzvoth the Eternal has commanded. If you wanted to have a passage of the Hebrew scriptures handy, it would be Isaiah 33:15-16. It looks as though this particular segment of Gemara is ascribed to Rav. Hamnuna, a fourth century Babylonian rabbi — “Isaiah came and reduced the number of commandments to six.”
I’ve put my comments from Friday in italics!
  1. Walk in righteousness (Like Abraham in Genesis 18:19) — we are called to something much bigger than a way of life, not a religion

  2. Speak uprightly, and do not provoke your neighbour in publicIt is always sad if people get into habits of speaking behind their hands about others in the house of God. Let everyone speak the truth. Or to put this the way Jesus did, let your yes be yes, and your no no. Anything else comes from the enemy.

  3. Spurn profit gained from injustice — The first claim of love is justice (MLK). That’s not me, that’s Martin Luther King. The man was right! So if you must fight, fight fair.

  4. Wave away a BribeWe live in a society where nobody will do anything if there isn’t something in it for them. But you all will, won’t you. Love seeks not its own. It’s all about the good of the person you love. Bribery is the ultimate transaction — I can get you to scratch my back by scratching yours first. God is all about grace, undeserved gift, a generous eye, and a free heart.
  5. Stop your ears against hearing of blood — or as we call it in the trade, gossip. Some parishes degenerate into a kind of ongoing soap opera of he said this and she said that. But you don’t have to be like that. Just say no.

  6. Stop your eyes against looking on Evil — Look for the positive in others, and the wonderfully positive in yourself, because that is where you will find what is of God. That should give you enough to be going on with.


Ann said...

Check out the book on Episcopal Café today - saying some of these things too?

Jonathan Jennings said...

You need to link your commandment six to your comments on commandment four; we don't live in a society where

'... nobody will do anything if there isn’t something in it for them."

I meed humbling generosity and selflessness every day in ministry and I'm sure that you do too ...

Bishop Alan Wilson said...

Ann, many thanks for the link to EC — it's amazing how thoughts do sychronise across thousands of miles...

Jonathan, I'm sorry not to have expressed myself more clearly. You're absolutely right! All sorts of people we both encounter, often, I'm glad to say, in Church do amazing acts of kindness and generosity for their neighbours for nothing.

However I do think they are being generally countercultural when they do this. Some dioceses even find that collection rates for the common fund are higher when it is linked to "having your own vicar" than when it is simply presented as a matter of open generous living for its own sake...

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