The Readings: Exodus 34:18-35; 1 Thessalonians 3:1-13; Matthew 5:27-37
Two brief observations. “You shall not boil a kid in its mother’s milk” (v.26b). The command also occurs in 23:19, one of many bits of evidence that a complex history of tradition and editing lies behind the present form of these chapters. Exodus 34 rather looks like an alternative tradition of the Sinai covenant, repurposed editorially as an account of the covenant renewal.
Re the specific commandment, Jeffrey Tigay in the Jewish Study Bible comments “As noted by Philo…Ibn Ezra, and Rashbam, this law is similar to the rules that forbid acts of insensitivity against animals such as slaughtering cattle on the same day as their young, sacrificing cattle in their first week, and taking a mother bird along with her fledglings or her eggs (22.29; Lev. 22:27-28; Deut. 22:6-7).” One example of the largely untapped resources for ethical reflection on how we live on this earth with our fellow creatures.
(For “how we live” less about altruism and more about self-interest, this from The Guardian.)
“The law indeed was given through Moses; grace and truth came through Jesus Christ” (Jn. 1:17). True, but quite misleading if taken as a description of contrasting patterns of divine action in the Old and New Testaments. Even the most cursory reading of Exodus 32-34 shows that the giving of the law and its re-giving to this “stiff-necked people” (34:9; recall Spufford’s HPtFtU) is sheer grace on the part of Jesus’ Father:
“The LORD, the LORD, a God merciful and gracious, slow to anger, and abounding in steadfast love and faithfulness, keeping steadfast love for the thousandth generation, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, yet by no means clearing the guilty, but visiting the iniquity of the parents upon the children and the children’s children, to the third and the fourth generation.”
The other readings…
I’ve found it hard to read 1 Thessalonians sympathetically this time around: Paul too often sounds smarmy. But then I’m reading from a (sub-)culture with different rhetorical norms, and from a group not experiencing persecution. Abraham Smith has been helpful (again), noticing how much of Paul’s vocabulary challenges the pretensions of Rome, including ‘peace and security’, ‘gospel’, ‘savior’, and even ‘father’ (Augustus had really liked that title). In that fundamental respect Moses and Paul are working the same project: nurturing a community that is life-giving, not death-dealing. In this country we have a way to go before Christians are again known as the folk whose political allegiances lie Elsewhere.