(…continiued) Grandma Nell’s choice to die with forgiveness rather than bitterness directly changed the lives of her doctor and her daughter. It also had an indirect effect on the lives of all that doctor’s future patients, all the many people her daughter served, and on her grandchildren who she would never meet, but who heard about how she died and would also be affected by that story of faith and courage. These powerful and profound changes, the effects of which go down through generations, are not the kinds of things that can be legislated or enforced, no matter how many laws we get on the books. These kinds of actions and effects must come from the heart, and it is those kinds of actions that are most powerful.
In Jeremiah 31:31-32 two types of law are described:
The time is coming, declares the Lord, when I will make a new covenant with the house of Israel… It will not be like the covenant I made with their forefathers when I took them by the hand to lead them out of Egypt, because they broke that covenant.
What covenant was that? What covenant did they get when they came out of Egypt and then broke? That was the ten commandments and all the other laws that God gave them; law after law written down in the books of Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, and Deuteronomy; laws covering everything from killing and adultery, to when how to rotate your crops, to the correct and lawful way to clear mildew off the walls of your house. But this covenant and these laws, says the Lord, were broken.
But the next verse, verse 33, says there will be a new covenant:
This is the covenant I will now make; I will put my law in their minds and I will write it on their hearts. I will be their God and they will be my people.
This is a different kind of law.
The written law is still necessary to protect us and to restrain us– for all of us do resist that law that God has put into our hearts and seek our own gain. And the more we resist that inner law, the more written laws we will need, and the laws become so cumbersome that one can hardly make a move, no matter how sensible it might be– as in the case of Ruth and Bernice.
When you borrow money and buy a house, there is a huge stack of papers to sign, covering every loophole and contingency, because no one can depend on strangers automatically doing the right thing. But when two good friends get together to help each other out, they do not need a mountain of papers to regulate the proceedings, because they both trust in their mutual good will to be able to adjust to any bumps in the road.
The written laws of the Old Testament go on and on, page after page, and reading it all is tiresome. But in the New Testament, Jesus, the bringer of the new covenant is able to describe the law of the heart in just a few words. On one occasion, he was asked what was the greatest law. Jesus responded by saying that the whole law can be summed up in two commandments. The greatest law was to love the Lord your God with all your heart, mind, and soul. And the second greatest commandment, Jesus said, was to love your neighbor as yourself. On these two commandments, he said, all the books of the law and the prophets are based. In another place, he described what it means to love your neighbor as yourself. What he said there has become known as the golden rule– simply, “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”
And then this ‘new covenant’ that Jeremiah says is coming has one more aspect to it. It was referred to by Jesus himself on the night before he died when he offered the disciples the cup and said, “Take and drink, this cup is the NEW COVENANT in my blood, given and shed for you and for all people for the forgiveness of sins. This do in remembrance of me.” It is that love and that forgiveness, so dearly bought and so freely given, that changes our hearts, and then inspires us to faith and love and obedience. Grandma Nell’s forgiveness changed a doctor and a daughter, and then a grandson who never even knew her. God’s forgiveness in Jesus Christ changed the whole world.
Deuteronomy 30:10b — Turn to the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul.
Matthew 22:35-40 — One of them (a Pharisee), an expert in the law, tested him with this question: “Teacher, which is the greatest commandment in the Law?” Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Luke 6:31 — (Jesus said), “Do to others as you would have them do to you.”
Grant us, O Lord, the blessing of a mind stayed on you, so that we may be kept in a perfect peace which cannot be broken. Let not our minds rest on any created thing, but only on the Creator; not upon goods, things, houses, lands, inventions of vanities or foolish fashions; lest, our peace being broken, we become cross and brittle and given over to envy. From all such deliver us, O God, and grant us your peace. Amen.
–George Fox (1624-1691), Founder of the Society of Friends/Quakers