The Greatest Commandment: “And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house” (part 6)

We’ve arrived at the fifth section of the V’ahavta.

A Quick Review

Looking at what Jesus answers to the question of the greatest commandment in Mark 12, he begins with the Shema (find that post here), and the first line of the V’ahavta (find that post here). I’ve argued that within the cultural context of Judaism, this is like mentioning the “Our Father” to another Christian–if most Christians not only had it memorized but recited it more than once a day. The “Our Father” is a package deal; the V’ahavta is also a package deal, and if we open up the package, we move from “love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, and strength,” an abstract but all-encompassing principle, to increasingly specific manifestations in the physical world.

Here’s a key concept for the Greatest Commandment Series: Loving God moves from the inside out. First, there’s an acknowledgement of personal responsibility to one God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Then, someone might wonder, “Okay, but… now what?” So the V’ahavta swoops in to answer that question: what is my personal responsibility to this God–my God? “Love him with all your heart, soul, and strength,” is the answer.

But how do I do I love God with my all? How do I know I am doing it? Another answer: “And these words which I am commanding you this day shall be upon your heart.” Yes. I want that. I want God to speak to me. I should listen for what he’s saying. My heart longs for that, yes.

But I can’t peer into my heart and know it the way God can, so how do I know if I’m hearing from God and accepting his words in my heart? Another reply: “And you shall teach them diligently to your children, speaking of them when you sit in your home, when you walk on the way, when you lie down, and when you arise.” Oh, okay, so if they’re getting to my heart, they will start to pour out of me in time (generations, children, a legacy), space (house & way), and time (evening and morning). This makes sense. Jesus said out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. If God’s commands, connection points with him, are flowing out of our mouths, they must be on our hearts in some way.

But is speaking enough? May I say and not do? The answer: “And you shall bind them as a sign on your right hand, and they shall be as frontlets between your eyes.” Whoa! I called this love on the body. This is getting way more specific than words; we’re getting specific actions to follow here, actions that involve binding, roping ourselves into God’s desire for us.

But does my personal responsibility end at the limits of my body? This brings us to this next section of the V’ahavta, writing them on the doorposts of your house.

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“And you shall write them on the doorposts of your house…”

The final line of the V’ahavta moves the commandments of God from the individual’s physical body to the doorpost of his house. The commands are written and attached as part of the construction of the main support that holds up the entry to the house. Everyone who enters the house knows they are entering a space where the word of God, the commandments of God, are acknowledged to be governing the space. (Obviously, in God’s universe, God’s laws are always running in the background, the operating system of this version of Heaven and earth.) In other words, everyone who enters the house knows they are entering a little Kingdom of God as they pass the mezuzah.

Households are both physical and spiritual, but the fact that the words are affixed to the literal doorpost means we’re dealing with a highly concrete manifestation of the love of God here. The previous line involved a manifestation that might be seen or unseen, depending on the circumstances. This line involves a command that is visible constantly to the outside world. In Egypt, blood on the doorpost marked houses out for life. I’ve read some commentaries that said the blood was on the inside of the doors though I always pictured it on the outside. Either way, the houses were marked for life as the death angel was released and God skipped over the houses of his people when he saw the blood. Salvation through a lamb has a family dimension. A mezuzah marks who household. I won’t try to connect them more; I’m just saying there’s something beyond the individual going on here.

Our Father’s House

When someone outside approaches a house and sees the word of God attached to the doorpost, he or she has a choice: enter or stay outside. Here’s the flip for what this tells us about our Father in heaven. Jesus says our father’s house has many rooms, and he’s preparing a place for us there. What’s on the doorpost of the Father’s house, might we suppose? His words, his commands–integrated in the very structure of the physical/spiritual house. These are our Father’s house rules. They’re part of the fabric of the space in which we live close to him, his sons and daughters.

Having the commandments on the doorposts of one’s house can still be seen as an essentially private concern. The rest of the people of the city are free to enter the house or choose not to enter the house. Other than overhearing the words of God spoken as you walk on the way, the city might be free to pursue its own ends through whatever means it deems appropriate: it goes its secular way, and as for us and our houses, we choose to serve the Lord.

Does this mean we have no obligation toward those beyond our household? That is the question that takes us to the last half of the last line of the V’ahavta and finally brings us back to the question that began the series: Should Christians be involved in politics?

I feel like I’m wimping out on this post; I had drafted “on the doorposts of your house and on your gates” together, but the “gates” portion became too long, so this seemed a natural break. But our Christian households seem to me to be more often in crisis than not. What can be done? Oh, how we need your words, Lord, holding up the very doorways of our homes. I’m not blaming the men; so many men have lacked role models in their own lives, and I hear them talk about how they desire to be godly husbands but are just not sure how to do it. Men are going to rise up to teach other men; I’m sure it’s happening already.

In the meantime, I’m praying that every married man and every man who is called to marry be granted the freedom, the power, the ability to “lead about a wife,” as Paul puts it in I Cor. 9, though yes, I realize the context is altogether about something other than households. Yet I think the culture has limited men to leading in business and in their communities; excellent, skillful leaders direct complicated operations and yet–what of their wives and families? There, using the same gifts has been seen as a curse on the household rather than a blessing on it. Men, you can go out of your households and do valiant deeds for the Kingdom of God, and you can return and bless your households.

I don’t know any women who aren’t longing for their husbands to step into their roles as leaders of their homes and faith communities. I think many of us are done despising effective leadership in this generation, but now we’re tempted to resent the lack of leadership that came from its being despised in the first place.

Please be patient with us as we learn how to honor you. And when there’s no glory in leading us, please lead us anyway.

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