Allegedly Sacred Violence, Part One   2 comments

Above:  Ricardo Montalban as Khan Noonien Singh in Star Trek II:  The Wrath of Khan (1982)

Image = A screen capture from a DVD

1 Kings 18:40-46 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

Then Elijah said to them,

Seize the prophets of Baal, let not a single one of them get away.

They seized them, and Elijah too, took them down to the Wadi Kishon and slaughtered them there.

Elijah said to Ahab,

Go up, eat and drink, for there is a rumbling of [approaching] rain,

and Ahab went up to eat and drink.  Elijah meanwhile climbed to the top of Mount Carmel, crouched on the ground, and put his face between his knees.  And he said to his servant,

Go up and look toward the Sea.

He went up and looked and reported,

There is nothing.

Seven times [Elijah] said,

Go back,

and the seventh time, [the servant] reported,

A cloud as small as a man’s hand is rising in the west.

Then [Elijah] said,

Go say to Ahab, “Hitch up [your chariot] and go down before the rain stops you.”

Meanwhile the sky grew black with clouds; there was wind, and a heavy downpour fell; Ahab mounted his chariot and drove off to Jezreel.  The hand of the LORD had come upon Elijah.  He tied up his skirts and ran in front of Ahab all the way to Jezreel.

Psalm 65:1, 8-14 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 You are to be praised, O God, in Zion;

to you shall vows be performed in Jerusalem.

Those who dwell at the ends of the earth will tremble at your marvelous signs;

you make the dawn and the dusk to sing for joy.

You visit the earth and water it abundantly;

you make it very plenteous;

the river of God is full of water.

10 You prepare the grain,

for so you provide for the earth.

11 You drench the furrows and smooth out the ridges;

with heavy rain you soften the ground and bless its increase.

12 You crown the year with your goodness,

and your paths overflow with plenty.

13 May the fields of the wilderness be rich for grazing,

and the hills be clothed with joy.

14 May the meadows cover themselves with flocks,

and the valleys cloak themselves with grain;

let them shout for joy and sing.

Matthew 5:20-26 (An American Translation):

[Jesus continued,]

For I tell you that unless your uprightness is far superior to that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never even enter the Kingdom of Heaven!

You have heard that men of old were told “You shall not murder,” and “Whoever murders will have to answer to the court.”  But I tell you that any one who gets angry with his brother will have to answer to the court, and anyone who speaks abusively to his brother will have to answer to the great council, and anyone who says to his brother “You cursed fool!” will have to answer for it in the fiery pit!  So when you are presenting your gift at the altar, if you remember that your brother has any grievance against you, leave your gift right there before the altar and go and make up with your brother; then come back and present your gift.  Be quick and come to terms with your opponent while you are on the way to court with him, or he may hand you over to the judge, and the judge may hand you over to the officer, and you will be thrown into prison.  I tell you, you will never get out again until you have paid the last penny!

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The Collect:

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth:  Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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Jesus quoted the commandment forbidding murder.  Then he took the principle further.  A good understanding of this requires the explanation of some technical details.

“Raca,” or “empty-headed fool” or “airhead,” was a very strong insult in Jesus’ culture.  As we say in the U.S. South, “Them is fightin’ words.”  To call someone a “raca” was to express extreme contempt.

Just as there is more than one type of love in the New Testament, there is more than one variety of anger there.  The anger Jesus condemns is that which leads one to plot revenge.  Violent acts, such as murder, flow from such anger.  So Jesus says not even to think about murdering, committing any other violent deed, or causing harm of any sort to anyone.

Revenge, a common plot element in many works of fiction (including Star Trek II), and the desire for it are ubiquitous in real life.  All one has to do to hear of them is follow the news closely.  Yet revenge can never restore life to the dead, undo injuries which have resulted in amputations or paralysis, or erase psychological damage.  We need justice, not revenge, but many of us confuse the two categories.

Jesus, of course, did not, according to the canonical Gospels, refrain from all anger.  He did expel money changers from part of the Jerusalem Temple and excoriate certain religious leaders.  But he did not plot revenge on anybody.  He even asked divine forgiveness for those who crucified him and looked on approvingly.

So far the texts seem holy.  Then we return to 1 Kings 18, where, in verse 40, Elijah kills the 450 prophets of Baal.  This is the conclusion of the “My God can set fire to this altar” showdown.  The lectionary skips verse 40, beginning with verse 41 and the end of the drought.  The chapter itself devotes only one verse to the slaughter of the prophets of Baal, an event which might slip unnoticed between the dramatic contest and the end of the drought.  But let us not look away from uncomfortable Bible verses.

How should we understand the slaughter of Baal’s prophets? I found comments in three study Bibles I checked.  The note in The Jerusalem Bible reads:

In this war between Yahweh and Baal those who serve Baal suffer the fate of the conquered in the warfare of the time.

The New Interpreter’s Study Bible notes that Elijah was “faithful to the deuteronomistic perspective” by ordering the execution of false prophets, per Deuteronomy 13:1-18.  (Read the verses for yourself, O reader; they do command violence.)  Then there is the note from The NIV Study Bible:

Elijah, acting on the authority of the Lord, who sent him, carried out the sentence pronounced in the Mosaic law for prophets of pagan deities (Dt 13:13-18; 17:2-5).

I have a t-shirt I wear from time to time.  ”Who would Jesus bomb?” it asks.  (I know; it should say “Whom would Jesus bomb?”)  The question, regardless of whether one uses the objective case, answers itself, does it not?  As an intellectually honest Christian, I seek to follow Jesus more nearly each day.  My success is mixed, but I persist in the effort.  So, to paraphrase the t-shirt, “Whom would Jesus slaughter?”  Nobody, of course; he might use justifiably harsh words, but he would neither condone nor commit the taking of anyone’s life.  And he would neither condone nor commit revenge either.  And Jesus is the Master.  So I side with my Lord.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 6, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE TRANSFIGURATION OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/08/06/week-of-proper-5-thursday-year-2/

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2 responses to “Allegedly Sacred Violence, Part One

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  1. Pingback: Week of Proper 5: Thursday, Year 2 « ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

  2. Pingback: Allegedly Sacred Violence, Part Two | BLOGA THEOLOGICA

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