The artist set up his easel early one morning in a rural location. It promised to be a lovely sunny day, although there were clouds in the sky, but no sign of rain.
He set out all his paints and with swift strokes of his pencil he outlined the scene, picking out the major features like the huge gum tree on the left and with the flowering shrubs on the right. In the middle distance was an old rustic bridge looking particularly lovely in the sun. And behind, in the background, were the mountains, in a soft blue, and capped with fleecy clouds - in all a most satisfying scene.
Having set down the main features, he started with the colours, putting in the soft tones first and gradually picking out the main features with stronger colours. He was a most meticulous painter and this all took time. After a couple of hours, the clouds came over and it looked as if it was about to rain, so the artist tried to hurry, but he needn’t have worried as the clouds passed and it was sunny again.
At mid-day he paused for lunch, and surveyed his work, comparing it with the view, and he decided he had to make some corrections. As he proceeded he found he was doing almost more corrections that putting in new features, but he persevered finally packing up his material in the late afternoon.
On seeing the finished work, his wife was puzzled to find it a whole mishmash of colours without any unified appearance. It was never a satisfying picture and ended up in the artist’s attic.
The problem was, it was still life in the sense that nothing moved, but the artist had begun his painting in the early morning when the sun was off to his left. He had continued when the sun was behind the clouds and all the shadows were muted and he finished the work when the sun was on his right and all the shadows had moved to the opposite direction. The scene was the same, but yet entirely different in the ever changing light.
Jesus said, “Truly I tell you, until heaven and earth pass away, not one letter, not one stroke of a letter, will pass from the law until all is accomplished. “ (Matt. 5:18). Some take that to mean that the law is set, unchangeable, and to be observed at all times and in all situations. But note that Jesus did not end this statement with words like “and must always be obeyed”. The word he used was ‘accomplished’, and Jesus came to do exactly that - to accomplish all the God had promised through the law and the prophets.
Jesus also said: "The law and the prophets were in effect until John came; since then the good news of the kingdom of God is proclaimed.” It is not that the law has changed or is no long effective, but, like the situation of the artist in the illustration above, the light had changed. The law always must be interpreted to make sense in the circumstances, and times and cultures change, as also do the meaning of words.
It is not a case of anything goes, but we need to interpret the laws in the light of the two great commandments: Love God and love your neighbour. To follow rigidly laws that applied to Israel in ancient times and apply them to a totally different culture some 3000 years later is to be bound by tradition and not free to make intelligent choices in our efforts to apply the teaching of the Bible to our own day and time.
Rev. Alan Stuart Ex missionary to Korea, Retired Minister, UCA
(02) 8876 1870