Monday, 2 March 2015

Lent day 11

"Give and there will be gifts for you, a full measure ...The amount you measure out is the amount you will be given back." (Luke 6:38)

Jesus speaks in the Gospel set for today about generosity in compassion and forgiveness, in which anyone can imitate God's graciousness. The word 'measure' suggested a couple of domestic images.

And an industrial / maritime image - depth of the water measured in a lock as it fills, telling when the water will be a safe enough depth for the gates to open. A ship bears the Plimsoll line on its hull, to measure when the vessel has reached its safe standard loading limit.
Hebrew scripture uses a variety of words to represent the concept of measurement, whether of length volume or weight. Fair measures are a vital practical component of justice. Security is more possible when people agree to acknowledge a common standard. For justice to be impartial, for fair trading to take place, measures for the purposes of comparison are essential. 

The Torah is unequivocal about this, and for good reason.

Thou shalt do no wrong in judgment, in measurement of weight, or capacity. Thou shalt have just balances, just weights, a just ephah, and a just hin; I am the LORD thy God, who brought you out from the land of Egypt. (Lev 19:35-36)

Egypt, where unjust inhumane labour conditions were laid upon those bonded Hebrew labourers.

Thou shalt have a perfect and just weight, a perfect and just measure shalt thou have: that thy days may be lengthened in the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee. (Deuteronomy 25:15)

God alone gives without measure, according to need and circumstances, but makes this demand of his Covenant people for their own good. Length of days is a divine blessing. It is also the outcome of living securely, free of deadly conflict, because acceptance of common measure circumvents many a dispute and resentment.

Several of the prophets denounce the use of false weights, and there are four verses among the Proverbs that speak of God's abhorrence of this kind of cheating, for their use is intended only to deprive someone of what is rightfully theirs, for one's own benefit.

A scrupulous evaluative idea of justice was the accepted norm for Jews in the time of Jesus. He vents his indignation on the preoccupation of scrupulous devout people with trivia, when much greater issues remained in need of close attention.

"Woe to you Pharisees, because you give God a tenth of your mint, rue and all other kinds of garden herbs, but you neglect justice and the love of God. You should have practiced the latter without leaving the former undone." (Luke 11:42)

Jesus also says:

"Whoever can be trusted with very little can also be trusted with much, and whoever is dishonest with very little will also be dishonest with much." (Luke 16:10)

The 'dishonesty with little' consists in refusing to place things in context, and give them the value and priority they deserve. It's something each of us has to work hard on, especially when the pace of life and its confusion of demands distorts perspective. How important it is then to use the opportunity Lent presents to step back and regain a just sense of proportion.

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