In a morning advice column the other day a reader who was converting to Judaism asked whether or not she should observe kosher in everything she ate. She said some modern Jewish friends didn’t bother with it, but she thought she should; so she was writing for advice. I didn’t read the answer. I’m not even sure it was a lady who wrote in. I just bring up the matter because it seems to tie in with today’s readings. They spell out what God wanted of Jews, and what he asks of his other children.
Let me speak about the background for the reading from the Book of Nehemiah. In 530 B.C. the Persian emperor had rescued the Jews from their bondage in Babylon, and he helped them in returning to Jerusalem and in rebuilding their temple. For all the help they had been given, the Jews did not prosper. By seventy years after their return from captivity, they had let Jerusalem fall into such physical and moral decay that the Persian emperor again felt the need to aid them. He sent two Persian-born Jewish statesmen to Jerusalem to work out a cure for the city’s ills.
Those two statesmen, Ezra and Nehemiah, recommended two things. First, they said the Jews should take on the Law of Moses as their civil law. For doing that, our first reading pictures Ezra promulgating that law to the people. The second recommendation was that the Jewish leaders should be authorized to add extra precepts to the law when needed.
It was her concern about observing all those extra precepts that had the lady writing to the advice column. But, lets look at what our New Testament readings say on the subject.
The second reading from Paul’s Letter to the Corinthians, along with Our Lord’s reading at the synagogue in Nazareth, present the Christian alternatives to observing kosher. The rule that Paul laid down was that we should all be led by the Holy Spirit, while the task Jesus saw before him and us was to give a helping hand wherever it was needed.
St. John, in the first chapter of his Gospel succinctly contrasted the rules for life that the Old and New Testaments offered mankind. He said, “While the law was given through Moses, grace and truth came through Jesus Christ.”