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A very important part of Christ's ministry was in the field of interpretive dialectics. Jesus not only spent time teaching his disciples how to face the interpretation of the Law, but he also used many of his energies to denounce the false hermeneutical deontology of the theologians of his time.
Jesus was scrupulously balanced in his approach to the Law, and that led him to denounce on the one hand, the lack of respect of the Sadducees towards it; and on the other, the blind literalism of the Pharisees. To some he told them: you do not know the power of God and the Scriptures; and to others, who in their futile zeal cast upon the Law the commandments of men until they were rendered unrecognizable. The logical consequence was that Jesus was hated by both and charged with the accusation of going against Moses.
Now, the Master appears especially in the Gospel of Matthew, as the King-Messiah who comes to interpret the Law and the Prophets. The same Sermon on the Mount is clearly a synthesis of the Mosaic Law. Each one of the themes that appear in it are recurrent subjects of the Law: fasting, divorce, almsgiving, adultery, offering, etc. Jesus in Matthew is the infallible Hermeneut of the Law and the Prophets.
It is all too common to find devoted readers of the Bible in our churches who, when they reach the Sermon on the Mount, fall into the trap of believing that Jesus opposed the law of Moses. Others, on the other hand, due to their utopian character and their ethical radicality, have come to the awkward conclusion that it is not for us. Enough, a quick look at the history of interpretation to realize that the hermeneutics of Jesus has left the Church out of play through the centuries. Once again, Jesus, the Galilean Rabbi, overflows us with his hermeneutics as he did to the men of his generation.
What did Jesus mean when he said that: you heard that it was said, but I tell you? Perhaps the most accurate translation would be: You heard what they have told you (the Pharisees), since Jesus did not question the Law but the interpretation that the Pharisees had made of it. Jesus when he speaks of the Law, recognizes it as authoritative since she gave testimony of Himself, and not only this, but applied an eternal character, saying that neither an iota nor a tittle will pass. Thus, the controversy regarding the law is actually a controversy regarding the hermeneutical deontology of it. For Jesus, the spirit of the Law had been buried under the rubble of a legalistic religiosity for the bad interpretative practice of the Pharisees. Pablo, will come years later to denounce this same thing when he affirms that … The letter kills but the spirit vivifies … Therefore, for Jesus, every interpretative exercise that places the law as an end in itself, is a non-hermeneutical practice. deontological. And in the same way, the Saduceo reductionism saturated with Greek metaphysical lucubrations, was another clear example of a terrible hermeneutics that had to be avoided as useless.
In what, then, did the hermeneutics of Christ consist? How is a deontological hermeneutics carried out? The reason is simpler and at the same time more complex than at first sight it may seem. Its simplicity is given by the principle that sustains it, and its complexity due to the difficulty of its application in religious areas charged with a high regulatory requirement.
According to the Genesis of Moses, God creates the human being, not only in his image, (celem); but to his likeness, (demut). This second expression appears here as an extension of the first, imprinting strength to the concise text. The idea is that the creation in his image was "very in his image" and reveals a high degree of similarity between Creator and creature. This idea of image is repeated in Psalm 8 when the poet asks: What is man so that you remember him? And answer: you have made him little less than the angels. Interestingly, the Hebrew text does not speak of angels, but of God Elohim.
It is not the time to enter into the discussion of whether the human being lost the image of God in the historical fact of the fall, or how much image of God was in him after it. This is a Byzantine discussion that looks good for classroom anthropological gymnastics, but that for practical purposes does not take us anywhere. Jesus considered the human being as an element of first order and helped him independently of any other reasoning. Jesus understood that the human being must be a priority element in any understanding of religion. So much so, that he used it as a hermeneutical key for the interpretation of the Law. The Master was belligerent when it was made clear, that the entire religious system has a double purpose: to honor God and bless the human being created in the image of God.
If we go to the mountain sermon we will realize that when it deals with the aforementioned issues, it does so from an anthropological perspective. For example; Aggression or adultery is not only a physical matter, but intentionality. Divorce is not fair because it leaves the weak part helpless. Revenge does not solve injustice but deforms it by its destructive capacity. The enemy can be seduced by love. True religiosity is not an external matter but an internal one. Prayers must be made aware that God is a loving Father, not a distant God. The trial is a dangerous matter because it does not have all the data of the circumstances in which the human being being judged may be living.
Jesus was very clear that the Law was given to bless and help the human being in his difficult journey through an inhospitable existence. Therefore, he puts the Pharisees against the ropes with the examples of David when he took the loaves of the proposition, or to justify the healing of the sick on the Sabbath, he gives as an example the priests who violate the Sabbath and were without fault , or puts his own Father and himself as those who until now work to save the human being from misery. In other words, the attempt to alleviate the need of the human being is more important than any liturgical or ceremonial demand.
In short, our interpretative exercise must be governed by the result that is operated on the human being created in the Image of God. In the same way, any religious or ecclesiastical decision, should not lose sight of the human being created in the image of God or become an end in itself. Remember that the human being was not made for the Sabbath, but the Sabbath for the human being. How easy it is to invest the values of the Kingdom and to offend our brother in the name of our customs, our norms, our laws or our private interpretations.
Of course it is difficult and risky! That is the complexity of the matter that we have in our hands. Because experience tells us that in pastoral and ecclesial practice we will find situations in which it will be difficult to harmonize the commandment -if it exists- with the very complex situations of the individuals in our charge. In such cases, there is no other intervention protocol than asking God to give us his wisdom to see the human being with his eyes. See also his Word under that prism of humanity, and act so that that imago Dei that with so much care, affection and gsidad the Creator put of itself on us, is not damaged by our bad religious practice.
J. Eugenio Fernández
Author: J. Eugenio Fernandez
He is a dean and a resident professor at IBSTE. He received his bachelor's degree in theology from IBSTE, and later, he received a MDiv and master's degree in biblical theology from Northpark Theological Seminary.
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