Torah Portion: Ki Tavo (Deuteronomy 26:1-29:8)
Gospel Reading: Luke 6:20-36
Commentary by: Matthew Day
The conclusions one draws from any particular passage are dependent on the questions one asks and the perspective one brings to the table. If the questions arise out of error or if the perspective is warped, the conclusions drawn from the passage will be faulty. This can be true even with a seemingly simple passage like the blessings and curses in this week's Torah portion. Wrong questions and wrong perspective will breed wrong conclusions.
Suppose we ask the question: Is material blessing a sign of divine favor? Deuteronomy 28 would seem to answer that in the affirmative. If you obey, you get blessed. If you disobey, you get cursed. Therefore, how materially blessed you are is a sign of how righteous you are.
Or suppose we come at the text with a black and white us vs. them perspective. Then, Deuteronomy 28 seems to clearly spell out the reward of the "us" and the punishment of the "them." Everyone gets their just consequences. Period. End of story.
Or suppose you are looking for a method of becoming wealthy and you stumble upon Deuteronomy 28. Seems like a foolproof method of acquiring blessings, does it not? Just do these things and the money and success will come rolling your way.
All of this seems to make some sense until we take a second look through the lens of Yeshua's teaching. All of this is turned on its head as Yeshua proclaims:
Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you shall be satisfied.
Blessed are you who weep now, for you shall laugh.
Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets.
But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation.
Woe to you who are full now, for you shall be hungry.
Woe to you who laugh now, for you shall mourn and weep.
Woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets. (Luke 6:20-26 ESV)
These verses seem to be saying almost the complete opposite of Deuteronomy 28. Or at least the complete opposite of some of the conclusions one might draw from Deuteronomy 28. You see, Yeshua presents us a different lens with which to examine the Torah, and challenges the validity of our personal questions and perspectives. He leaves intact the basic premise of the blessing and curses passage, namely that God desires to bless those who love and fear Him. But, He tears apart at some of the man-made interpretations that have corrupted our understanding of the text. Namely,
1) Status Judging. It's human nature to want to know how we stand before God. Material blessing seems like a reasonable proxy for doing so. However, this leads not to obedience but to a status war. Are you "in" or are you "out." Blessings are the standard by which you will be measured. Yeshua turns this on its head telling us that the poor, the hungry, and the mourning will one day see their reward. Their physical poverty is not a sign of spiritual poverty. Similarly, not all who are rich have reached that place out of obedience. No, they too will eventually reap the consequences of their actions.
2) Division vs. Redemption. Even if we divorce the physical status of a person from his spiritual status, it's still tempting to play the status game and create a scenario of us vs. them. We are the blessed (spiritually) and they are the cursed (spiritually). An eternal chasm separates us--what matters is everyone getting what they deserve in the end. Yeshua again turns this on its head further down in Luke as He commands us to love our enemies and do good to those who hate us. To be merciful as He is merciful. True love is not done out of spite, but means seeking redemption, seeking to bridge the infinite chasm that separates us and them.
3) Selfish ambition. At the core of each these ideas is selfish ambition--doing something for what I can get out of it. Even Yeshua's words here might be misconstrued that way as He talks about great rewards in heaven. This shows that even the New Testament is subject to the questions and perspectives we bring to it. But, look at the life of Yeshua, how He poured out His life at the cross for us. Was this motivated out of selfish ambition? Was Yeshua contemplating the potential benefit to Himself when He cried, "Father, if you are willing, remove this cup from me. Nevertheless, not my will, but yours, be done" (Luke 22:42). This is the model He set for us, the path He paved for us to carry our cross and deny ourselves. Selfish ambition has no part in the disciple of Messiah.
The Gospel presents us with a lens that turns all our questions and perspective upside down and challenges us to reconsider what we consider important. It takes a passage like Deuteronomy 28 and transforms it from "Here's how to get blessed" to "Here's how to be a blessing." It takes the Torah and transforms it from seemingly arbitrary rules to conform to into a signpost pointing the way toward life.