Saturday, July 12, 2008

Chapter 8 - The Seventh Year Keynote Address

The Sermon on the Mount[1]

Blessed are the poor in spirit:[2]
[i.e.. those who abandon their private property]
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are they that mourn:
for they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek:
for they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are they which hunger and thirst after righteousness:
for they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful:
for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart:
for they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers:
for they shall be called the children of God.
Blessed are they which are persecuted for righteousness sake:
for theirs is the kingdom of God.
Blessed are ye, when men shall revile you, and persecute you,
and shall say all manner of evil against you falsely, for my sake.
Rejoice, and be exceedingly glad:
for great is your reward in heaven:
for so persecuted they the prophets which were before you.

Ye are the salt of the earth[3] [in God's chosen land]: but if the salt have lost his savour, wherewith shall it be salted? It [the date fruit growing therefrom] is thenceforth good for nothing [i.e. not good for storage], but to be cast out, and be trodden underfoot by men [to be stomped into date wine]. Ye are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hid. Neither do men light a candle, and put it under a bushel, but on a candlestick: and it giveth light unto all that are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father which is in heaven.

Think not that I am come to destroy the law, or the prophets: I am not come to destroy but to fulfill. For verily I say unto you, till heaven and earth pass, one jot or one tittle shall in nowise pass from the law till all be fulfilled. Whosoever therefore shall break one of these least commandments, and shall teach men so, he shall be called least in the kingdom of heaven; but whosoever shall do and teach them, the same shall be called great in the kingdom of heaven. For I say unto you, that except your righteousness shall exceed the righteousness of the scribes and Pharisees [who undermine the seventh year], ye shall in no case enter the kingdom of heaven.

Ye have heard that it hath been said, an eye for an eye, and a tooth for a tooth: but I say unto you [without exception during a sabbath] that ye resist not evil: but whosoever shall smite thee on thy right cheek, turn unto him the other also. And if any man sue thee at the law, and take away thy coat, let him have thy cloak also. And whosoever shall compel thee to go a mile [one thousand strides], go with him twain. Give to him that asketh thee, and from him that would borrow of thee turn thou not away.

Ye have heard that it hath been said, thou shalt love thy neighbor, and hate thine enemy, but I say unto you, love your enemies, bless them that curse you, do good for them that hate you: that ye may be the children of your Father which is in Heaven: for he maketh his sun to rise on evil and on the good, and sendeth rain on the just and the unjust. For if you love them which love you, what reward have ye? Do not even the publicans the same? And if ye salute your brethren only, what do ye more than others? Do not even the publicans so? Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.

Take heed that ye do alms before men, to be seen of them: otherwise ye have no reward of your Father which is in Heaven. Therefore when thou doest thine alms, do not sound a trumpet before thee, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may have glory of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward, but when thou doest alms, let not thy left hand know what thy right hand doeth: that thy alms may be in secret: and thy Father which seeth in secret himself shall reward thee openly.

And when thou prayest, thou shalt not be as the hypocrites are: for they love to pray standing in the synagogues and in the corners of the streets, that they may be seen of men. Verily I say unto you, they have their reward. But when ye pray, use not vain repetitions, as the heathen do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking. Be not ye therefore like unto them: for your Father knoweth what things ye have need of, before ye ask him. After this manner therefore pray ye:
Our Father which art in heaven,
hallowed be thy name.
Thy kingdom come.
Thy will be done in earth,
as it is in heaven.
Give us this day our daily bread.
And forgive us our debts,
as we forgive our debtors.
And lead us not into temptation,
but deliver us from evil:
For thine is the kingdom
and the power, and the glory,
forever. Amen
For if you forgive men their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you: But if ye forgive not men their trespasses, neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.

Lay not up for yourselves treasures upon earth[], where moth and rust doth corrupt, and where thieves break through and steal: but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust doth corrupt, and thieves do not break through nor steal: for where your treasure is there will your heart be also. The light of the body is the eye: If therefore thine eye be single, thy whole body shall be full of light. But if thine eye be evil thy whole body shall be full of darkness, how great is that darkness.

No man can serve two masters: for either he will hate the one, and love the other: or else he will hold to the one and despise the other. Ye cannot serve God and mammon [in the acceptable year of the Lord]. Therefore I say unto you, take no thought for your life, what ye shall eat or what ye shall drink; nor yet for your body, what ye shall put on. Is not life more than meat, and the body more than raiment? Behold the fowls of the air for they sow not, neither do they reap, nor gather into barns; yet your heavenly Father feedeth them. Are ye not much better than they? Which of you can by taking thought can add one cubit unto his stature? And why take ye thought for raiment? Consider the lilies of the field how they grow, they toil not, neither do they spin: and yet I say unto you, that even Solomon in all his glory was not arrayed like one of these. Wherefore, if God so clothe the grass of the field, which today is, and tomorrow is cast into the oven, shall he not much more clothe you, O ye of little faith? Therefore take no thought saying, what shall we eat? Or what shall we drink? Or, where withal shall we be clothed? For after all these things do the gentiles seek: for your heavenly Father knoweth that ye need all these things. But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness: and all these things shall be added unto you. Take therefore no thought for the morrow: for the morrow shall take thought for the things of itself. Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof.

[When you barter among yourselves for your daily needs] Judge not that ye be not judged. For with what judgment ye judge, ye shall be judged; and with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again<>. And why beholdest thou the mote that is in thy brother's eye, but considerest thou not the beam that is in thine own eye? Or how wilt thou say to thy brother, let me pull out the mote of thine eye; and behold, a beam is in thine own eye? Thou hypocrite, first cast out the beam out of thine eye; and then shalt thou see clearly to cast out the mote out of thy brother's eye.

Give not that [seventh-year produce] which is holy unto the dogs, neither cast ye your [barley] pearls before swine<>, lest they trample them under their feet, and turn again and rent you.

[When you stand in need of holy produce], ask and it shall be given you; seek and ye shall find; knock, and it [the storehouses] shall be opened unto you: for everyone that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened. Or what man is there of you whom if his son ask bread, will he give a stone? or if he ask a fish will give him a serpent? If ye then being evil, know how to give good gifts unto your children, how much more shall your Father which is in heaven give good things to them that ask him? Therefore all things whatsoever ye would that men do unto you, do ye even so them: for this is the law and the prophets.

Some ascetics have attempted to follow the principles outlined by the Sermon on the Mount by totally abandoning their property and adopting a monastic mode of life in total isolation from the general community. Others more skeptical have simply rejected the very same principles as too utopian to be applied. A contemporary Sadducean representative of this view might even say, "Many scholars have asked whether these laws are intended to be realistic precepts or whether they are the statements of a religious ideal in the form of law. ... There is no clear reference to the observance of these laws [in any of the ancient words handed to us by our fathers]; this is not of itself convincing, but it makes the laws stand alone. To this consideration is added the somewhat impractical character of the law; [outside paradise or the golden age] ancient agriculture was not so successful that a year's reserve could be expected, and it is idle to demand a seven year cycle of miraculous crops when it is possible to explain the law as ideal and not as a practical direction. ... The difficulties involved in supposing that the law was ever intended to be practical seem too serious to permit this opinion to be proposed as more probable."[4]

A person of a more cynical nature from among those similar to the Pharisaic persuasion in our present day might be heard to say, "Jesus did not fully comprehend the nature of human beings or else wanted his teachings to be a utopian standard to which mankind should strive. ... Judging human nature by the history of the last two millennia, it may be said that is impossible for a man to love his neighbor, that it may even seem possible not to despise his enemy, but it is impossible for a man to love his enemy. Men are not ready for the millennium, but bitter and deep hatred still exists in the hearts of men, even among Jesus' followers. Seneca rightly said, 'We are mad, not only individually but nationally. We check homicide and isolate murderers; but what of war and the much vaunted crime of slaughtering whole peoples?' Utopian ethics can be practiced only in a utopian world."[5]

Still, there might even today be voices who labor over the divine word in the wilderness much like John the Baptist who can still say, "During this year [of release] the character of the nation manifests itself in the fullness of its majesty, in the spirit of its Divine source. This inspiration which accompanies every Seventh Year sets in motion ripples of Divine idealism which, by their gradual impact on the individual soul eventually conquer for themselves a place in the world of life. ... What the Sabbath achieves in its impact on the individual, the Shmittah achieves in its impact on the nation as a whole. A year of solemn rest is essential for both nation and land, a year of peace and tranquility, without oppressor or tyrant. He shall not oppress his neighbor or brother, for a Shmittah (release/moratorium) has been proclaimed to the Lord, a year of equality and relaxation. There is no private property and no punctilious privilege. The peace of the Lord reigns over all in which there is the breath of life."[6]

Jesus taught these same principles pertaining to the Sabbatical year, within the context of the biblical law and the prophets, which proclaimed the need for a "new deal" every seven years, and a total social and economic reconstitution every Jubilee or fiftieth year. The nation of Israel was predicated upon principles, which provided its citizens with the opportunity for renewal at regular seven year intervals. The principle was designed to rejuvenate the nation through religious instruction and economic relief. The Sabbatical year keynote address as delivered by Jesus sounded the blessings that flowed from the period when his fellow countrymen were obliged to set themselves aside from their mundane lives and engulf themselves within a sacred time of rest as marked off by the "acceptable year of the Lord." This sabbath covenant had been defined many centuries before by Moses and Joshua when the Israelites had first taken possession of the land. The "yearlong� sabbath recalled the state of paradise within the Garden of Eden and provided a foretaste of God's future kingdom on earth

[1] Selected excerpts from the Sermon on the Mount: Matthew 5:3-20, 38-48, 6:1-15, 19-34, 7:1-12
[2] The phrase "poor in spirit" has frequently puzzled scholars. Its antonym or opposite is "rich in deed" or "engaged in work," so that the "poor in spirit" are literally those who have at least temporarily abandoned their means of sustenance for the sake of the sabbath.
[3] The book "The Fruits of the Holy Land" by Asaph Goor and Max Nurock published by Israel Universities Press, 1968, provides several clues as to what Jesus might mean by the phrase "salt of the earth."
In Chapter I, The Grape Vine we read: "The farmers were expert in adapting fruit-trees to the soils, They knew which soils were best for olives and which for vines.
'This one is the soil for the olive trees, this one is the soil for vines, and this one for fig trees ... The Hurites used to smell the smell of the earth, while the Hivites ... used to lick it like snakes.' (Babylonian Talmud, Shabbat, 85a)"
[4] Dictionary of the Bible, John L. McKenzie, The Bruce Publishing C., 1965, entry on the Sabbatical Year (pg. 753)
[5] The Rise and Fall of the Judaean State, Vol. ii, Solomon Zeitlen (pg.330)
[6] The Shemittah Year, Collection of Sources and Articles, published by the World Zionist Organization, Jerusalem, 1972 (pg. 46)

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