I was curious about the verse in Deuteronomy 11:18 that says, "You shall put these words of Mine on your heart and on your soul; and you shall tie them for a sign upon your arm, and they shall be as totafot between your eyes," and other verses like Exodus 13:9, Exodus 13:16, and Deuteronomy 6:8 that refer to the same practice. I know that Orthodox Jews understand this as to wear a box with Old Testament passages wrapped with leather straps on their head and on their arm during their prayers to remind them of God and to not be distracted by other worldly thoughts. Was this practice effective during Jesus’s time among the Jews? Was Jesus using these or was He against it? Were early Judeo-Christians using this method? I know that we should pray to God truly in spirit but the material strap could be a good method to remember God always as we are sometime weak spiritual humans. Is there any relation about this practice in our Coptic Church heritage?
The Lord Jesus Christ challenged the rigid, literal, and often misinterpreted meaning of the Holy Scripture during His three-year ministry. This is not because important verses such Deuteronomy 11:18 and the others are less important now than they were at the time. God was teaching the Jewish nation the importance of spirituality in worship and civility amongst each other. God often provided visual aids and rituals that emphasized the importance of the spiritual rites of their worship so that they would develop a depth in their souls and heightened awareness of the presence of God throughout their lives, and so they would never lean on their own abilities, strength, or influence, but in reverence, bow in humility, love, gratitude, and subjection to God. Nonetheless, some used this power in the form of spiritual abuse to mock others less learned about the Holy Scripture, others that were less able to accomplish some of the rituals, and others that were ashamed because of transgressions for which they were ostracized. Thus, the New Testament reveals these spiritual pitfalls that often the Pharisees and religious leaders caused many to stumble. In addition, to the religious establishment, the Gentiles were neglected and not sought to bring into the fold of the believers. St. Luke, being ethnically Greek was not of Jewish origins, and often brought to light the outcasts and Gentiles according to the Holy Gospel written by his penmanship, but inspired by the Holy Spirit. Jesus Christ often made it a point to remark on the rejection of the outward appearances. Thus, Jesus Christ purposely touched, conversed, healed, and forgave the sinners and outcasts, so that the letter-bearing Jews would learn the real meaning of faith and worship in truth, love, and the fear of God. Many people were rejected by the pompous religious community who stripped the weak and down-trodden of salvation, yet, they themselves bought and sold in the temple, deceived many, thrived in greed, gave and took bribes, and used religion as a scapegoat. These Pharisees manipulated the Holy Scripture to suit themselves, obeying every minute detail by lip service, but were far from giving glory and honor to God. Therefore, when Jesus Christ came, He blatantly refuted these hypocrisies, which infuriated them, and thus, they meticulously plotted on how to destroy Him. By God's grace, many repented and were set on the path of salvation, except for the hypocrites who, by pride, were more enamored by their own glory than of God's.
- parable of the publican and the Pharisee
- Simon & the repentant woman washing the feet of Christ with her tears
- the woman with an issue of blood
- the man born blind--who sinned, he or his parents, they asked?
- the Syrophoenician woman willing to publicly humiliate herself, but had faith that Christ could heal her daughter
- the lepers
- sinners and tax-collectors [St Matthew & Zacchaeus]
- the Samaritan woman
- His disciples eating without first washing their hands
- the bed-ridden young man that was led through the roof to be healed, but what he really needed was forgiveness
- and many, many others...
All these people mentioned and many others had great faith, love, and being humbled by their dire circumstances, found hope in Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ made sure to emphasize this kind of true faith. None of these simple folks were observing those rituals, not because they were being defiant, but they were just of contrite and humble of hearts. That is what God really wants [Psalm 50]. With this kind of heart, rituals can still be achieved, but correctly, with the purpose God intended. Never did Jesus Christ compliment those who only knew about the faith. God wants our hearts first and foremost. When we love Him with all our hearts, we will want to learn more of Him, and be closer to Him, and imitate Him in love and mercy toward others. Thus, when we practice sacred rituals, as we still observe many in our blessed Church, the spiritual motive is at the heart of the matter, without guile or hypocrisy.
“But woe to you Pharisees! For you tithe mint and rue and all manner of herbs, and pass by justice and the love of God. These you ought to have done, without leaving the others undone" (Luke 11:42).