2 comments on “Israel Folau: a lesson from the Torah

  1. Stephen, thanks for sharing this. I enjoyed reading it and learned at least one new word (parasha). I think there is a lot of wisdom in Rabbi Elton’s reading of this text from Numbers 20. It is interesting to note the contrast between the versions of this story in Numbers 20 and in Exodus 17; in the latter God actually commands Moses to strike the rock, Aaron is not involved, and Moses is not censured. A traditional rabbinic approach would (as I understand it) entail seeking a harmonising synthesis of the two versions, whereas a modern critical approach would highlight the contrasting emphases of different redactional hands.

    To berate and belittle is not an effective way to get an audience to internalise a message and be transformed by it. On the other hand, sharp rebukes and warnings of impending judgment are very much at home in the Hebrew Bible. There are a lot of prophetic rebukes that are anything but gentle, and yet yield positive results, such as Nathan’s searing indictment of David, or Jonah’s stark words to Nineveh, which were not even phrased as ‘Repent or else!’ but went directly to the ‘else’!

    It has been said that love entails holding mercy and justice in tension. Justice without mercy destroys without rebuilding, leading to self-alienation and despair. Mercy without justice builds on a false foundation, leading to self-deceit and complacency. Justice with mercy destroys and rebuilds. It does not create fissures in the soul but makes them apparent, while also pointing the way to wholeness. In all of the great spiritual traditions one must go down before one can go up. This is why ‘tough love’ can be so effective, if it is combined with mercy. However, the key is that love must be offered in the context of community and relationship. Herein lies the danger of hit-and-run social media posts like Israel Folau’s. The messenger of doom is not accessible to the recipient, and is seemingly not prepared to walk a road with him/her and help to pick up the pieces.

    • Stephen Cook says:

      Thomas, I’m glad I (indirectly) helped to improve your vocabulary! I think the weekend text from the Gospels in the [Anglican] lectionary for the same week was the parable of the good Samaritan, which coincidentally has a similar exhortation to act kindly. When we talk about “justice” it’s far too common for people to speak in terms of someone getting what they deserve, that is, they see justice as retributive or punitive. However, justice in the biblical sense also means looking out for the oppressed, the disenfranchised, the alien and those who cannot speak for themselves and ensuring that they are treated fairly. It’s easy for someone like Folau to condemn sin and to claim that sinners will get what they deserve; it’s more difficult to speak up for people who are “different” when they are being persecuted, beaten, killed and mocked. Christianity (at least in this country) might have more credibility, for example, when Christians argue that society should uphold a traditional Christian view of marriage if they also condemned adulterous politicians, and the violent oppression of LGBTIQ people by the police (fortunately now largely in the past in this country, but still widespread in countries with whom we have economic and political relationships); or if they spoke up in defence of the religious rights/freedoms of Muslims, Sikhs and atheists as much as they demand their own rights; or if they demanded the rights of LGBTIQ people to fair employment and education as much as they demand their own rights NOT to employ or educate them; or if they condemned abuse of children in religious institutions as loudly as they condemn homosexuality. That would be true justice.

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