Wednesday, November 6, 2013

A Rainy Day Turned Upsidedown

Is a rainy day a good thing or a bad thing?

In my culture, a "rainy day" has a negative connotation. It starts when you're a kid and a rainy day means that you can't play outside. Then when you get older, you're taught to save money for a "rainy day," which means to save up for when times get bad and money is tight. And in general a rainy day tends puts everyone in a sleepy and somewhat depressed mood.

It is within this context that people in my culture open our Bibles and find Jesus saying this in the Sermon on the Mount:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust. For if you love those who love you, what reward do you have? Do not even the tax collectors do the same? And if you greet only your brothers, what more are you doing than others? Do not even the Gentiles do the same? You therefore must be perfect, as your heavenly Father is perfect." (Matt. 5:43-48, ESV)

At first glance, it may look like Jesus is saying that God sends good things (the "sun") and bad things (the "rain") to both good people and evil people. But that doesn't fit with the rest of the passage. Jesus is telling us to love our enemies, just like God loves His enemies. The point of the passage is to do good to everyone. So what's going on here?

It is here that a little context into Jesus' culture is helpful. The Jewish culture of Jesus' day viewed rain as a good thing. It was considered a blessing. As I've previously noted on this blog, the land of Israel was a land that required rain in order for anything to grow. This is spelled out in Leviticus 26 where the people are promised the "rains in their seasons" if they are obedient (Lev. 26:3-4), and the withholding of rain if they are disobedient (Lev. 26:18-20). This directly impacted how well their crops did in any given year.

So when Jesus says, "he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust," he is giving us two examples of the grace of God, not just one. To the people sitting at Jesus' feet as he delivered the Sermon on the Mount, the word "rain" would immediately be associated with a blessing. A "rainy day" for them was a cause for celebration, not for moping around the house because you couldn't play outside. And "saving for a rainy day" wouldn't make any sense to them because a "rainy day" meant that you were going to have more wealth that year, not less.

From this we see that it is important to read the Bible in the context of the culture in which it was written. In many ways, our culture and the biblical culture will share the same values, but occasionally the biblical culture will have a completely different take on something than we do in our culture. In this instance, the concept of a "rainy day" is turned on its head.