Did you ever push the boundaries when you were a child growing up? I certainly did. Even though I was a bit afraid of my mother and her paddle, I would still “sass back” and try to get my way. Looking back, being the oldest had its drawbacks. I watched my younger brother get away with a lot of the same things I had gotten scolded for!
On the parental side, I know how frustrating it is to watch our children test and learn. I also know how difficult it can be to employ the discipline called for or expected. In our reading today, we see the Israelites falling back into the same evil trap of following other gods and angering our one, true God. It seems that God has finally had enough!
How can we even imagine what Jesus went through in these final hours. Pilate tried to set him free, but Jesus’ destiny had been set. You can read the whole chapter of Mark 15 for more of those details. It used to shock me how the people turned on Jesus. And while it is still shocking, I can see how God had to cloud their minds so that the cries of “crucify him” would be more than Pilate could bear. These outlandish charges would not warrant a death sentence.
But imagine how Jesus, that is God, felt hearing the angry cries, the chants calling for his death. Even though he expected to die, it had to be difficult to hear coming from the people who days before had been shouting, “Hosanna!” These were the very people he loved so much and would be giving his life for. The inner turmoil must have been agonizing. He couldn’t just blink his eyes and have it over with. He had to endure the cruelty of the cross for us.
The freedom Paul talks about isn’t a commodity you can buy or earn. Freedom isn’t something you get to save for a rainy day. Rather, freedom is a gift from God that increases in value when you use it wisely and can be lost if you misuse or abuse it. This gift is ours because Jesus took on our humanity and sacrificed himself for us.
With all the talk of the law leading up to this short passage, I was surprised that Paul said this. “For the whole law can be summed up in this one command: “Love your neighbor as yourself.” *emphasis added. While it is true that many of the commandments are focused on acting in ways that show our love for others, he is missing the other part of this. We need to love God with our whole heart as well. When we focus on loving God and others, we are living how God intends for us to live. We are thereby following the “law” because of our best practices in the love department.
We conclude our time in this book by returning again to the courtship and even before. The beautiful, voluptuous woman we know as Shulamith was once a young girl. Can you still remember the innocence of your youth? I can still hear my mother telling me, “be careful of boys,” “protect your reputation,” “save yourself for marriage.” All those messages seemed hard to understand at the time hormones were raging through my body. Perhaps if she had shown me theses verses in the Song of Solomon it would have made more sense to me.
I was a rebellious teen, so you can imagine why she was telling me these things. There was no vineyard in our family where she could hide me away from the world as I blossomed into a woman. Shulamith’s family did that for her. As she toiled in the hot sun, shut off from friends and meeting boys, she probably wondered how in the world she would ever meet Mr. Right.
Under an apple tree doesn’t sound like it would be the most comfortable of settings for love, does it? But when the mood strikes and the opportunity is there, it can be a thrill to share your love in unexpected places. Too often we limit ourselves. Imagine how many opportunities you’ve missed to make a beautiful memory under the stars, or in a deserted parking lot, or even in your backyard in the middle of the day! The “where” isn’t important. It’s the reckless abandon to show your lover how much you want him/her.
I also learned that the apple tree was a familiar symbol for love in Solomon and Shulamith’s culture. It was the sweetheart tree of the ancient world. So maybe the reference wasn’t meaning an actual tree at all. In other words, it could be love was awakened at the right time. The time for romance can be different for different people. Sometimes there will be pain if the couple’s timing is off. We always want to be in tune to our mate’s needs and sensitive to appropriate timing.