The Ties that Bind

A few weeks ago, a friend and I got into the old argument about whether it’s really possible to be a Christian alone (his opinion) or whether being a Christian inherently involves community (my opinion). I take my point of view on this not necessarily because of any sense of the Church as the Body of Christ in a metaphysical rather than metaphorical sense (though that is a powerful theological idea that has strong basis in Scripture and tradition), but primarily because I am convinced that whatever we do has implications for those around us. Everything ties us to other people, whether we like it or not.

It was while in the aftermath of this conversation that I encountered the idea, which I wrote briefly about in my integral reading of the Hospitality of Abraham, that “One mitzvah [covenant responsibility] leads to another mitzvah” (Pirkei Avot 4.2). In reference to Abraham, the rabbis note that in Genesis 17, Abraham is given the mitzvah of circumcision. According to the Jewish tradition, his response to this duty — which left him recovering from surgery — required a further mitzvah, the visitation of the sick, which the LORD enacts in Genesis 18. This visit in turn required a further mitzvah on Abraham’s part, the duty of hospitality. The visitors then in turn have the further duty to receive the hospitality. By their very nature, one duty leads to another.

Regardless of what we might think of this particular reading of the story, it makes an important point: responding to one divine summons connects us to other people, and thereby opens up new responsibilities towards one another. In this way, honouring God creates a positive feedback loop of connection and relationship; and the natural outcome of that is the complicated web of connection and reciprocal responsibility we call community.

This is why at its heart, the life of faith can never just be about ‘me-and-God’. Following the divine commandments isn’t about obeying some purity code that isolates us from other people — just the opposite. It means that every act we do connects us to other people, binds us more-and-more into community and love.

One commandment leads to another. These are the ties that bind us together.

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