Deuteronomy 22:8 offers the following commandment: “When you build a new house, you shall make a parapet for your roof; otherwise you might have blood-guilt on your house, if anyone should fall from it.”
At first, these verses do not seem to have much application to our context. However, if we allow the spirit of the text to come alive and speak to us, we may find that such decrees are the most subversive passages to many forms of our American Christianity.
In ancient Palestine, the roof of a house was not angled and slanted like our roofs today. Instead, it was flat and served as an outdoor patio or courtyard.
Therefore, Deuteronomy 22:8 instructs builders of new homes to install a parapet – a small, raised wall – to minimize the risks of an accidental fall. As the verse points out, failure to do so may result in “blood-guilt on your house.”
What this text teaches is that freedom is limited. One is not allowed to simply build a house in any way that one chooses.
The laws of God are not as concerned with personal freedom as they are with adherence to neighborliness.
In a similar vein is Jesus’ oft-quoted description of his ministry in Matthew 11:30, “My yoke is easy, and my burden is light.”
Speaking in a paradoxical form, Jesus reminds his followers that his movement is seasoned with grace and compassion.
However, Jesus does not soften the language of bondage. Following Jesus is not about a grace that allows us the freedom to act on our own inclinations.
Rather, we are yoked to Christ. Our yoke is meant to mold and shape us into disciples of Jesus who take seriously the call to love God and neighbor (see Matthew 22:36-40).
Neighborliness is, perhaps, one of the major threads American Christianity has omitted from Christian discipleship.
We live in a secular and religious culture of hyper-individualism. Many folks are adamant about their individual right to free speech, the right to own any firearms they please, the right to as much of their income as they see fit, and the list of rights goes on and on.
Just as individualistic is the theological paradigm of a solely personal relationship with Jesus Christ so as to safeguard one’s individual salvation of soul.
Commands such as Deuteronomy 22:8 remind us that adherence to the ways of God is not based solely upon the belief structure of an individual, but also on how that individual relates to their neighbors.
The New Testament builds upon the Hebrew Bible’s call to neighborliness. It contains many examples of the early Christian movement acting not in the interest of individuals’ eternal salvation, but in the shared good for the entire community (see Acts 2:43-47).
Paul’s image of the body of Christ in 1 Corinthians 12:12-26 points out that the community of believers is not only connected to the “head” of Christ, but also to every other member of the body.
We do not only belong to God; we also belong to each other.
For Christians, our call to be disciples of Jesus should supersede our desire to hold on to our American rights. Are we not called to a higher law – the law of neighborliness?
A Christian faith that has little regard for the well-being of one’s neighbors is not a Christian faith. A true discipleship and adherence to the way of Jesus at times calls for a relinquishment of our individual rights.
What is needed today is for pastors, teachers and preachers to remind the U.S. Christian church that our faith does indeed call us to protect individual rights, so long as those rights do not eclipse our call to be neighbors.
Tyler Tankersley is associate pastor of students and spiritual formation at Second Baptist Church in Liberty, Mo.