Archive for October 2011

Scapegoating and Suffering   1 comment

Above:  The Scapegoat, By William Holman Hunt

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Job 1:1; 2:1-20 (New Revised Standard Version):

There was once a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job. That man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil.

One day the heavenly beings came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them to present himself before the LORD. The LORD said to Satan,

Where have you come from?

Satan answered the LORD,

From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.

The LORD said to Satan,

Have you considered my servant Job? There is no one like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and turns away from evil. He still persists in his integrity, although you incited me against him, to destroy him for no reason.

Then Satan answered the LORD,

Skin for skin! All that people have they will give to save their lives. But stretch out your hand now and touch his bone and his flesh, and he will curse you to your face.

The LORD said to Satan,

Very well, he is in your power; only spare his life.

So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD, and inflicted loathsome sores on Job from the sole of his foot to the crown of his head. Job took a potsherd with which to scrape himself, and sat among the ashes.

Then his wife said to him,

Do you still persist in your integrity? Curse God, and die.

But he said to her,

You speak as any foolish woman would speak. Shall we receive the good at the hand of God, and not receive the bad?

In all this Job did not sin with his lips.

Psalm 26 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Give judgment for me, O LORD,

for I have lived with integrity;

I have trusted in the LORD and have not faltered.

Test me, O LORD, and try me;

examine my heart and my mind.

3 For your love is before my eyes;

I have walked faithfully before you.

I have not sat with the worthless,

nor do I consort with the deceitful.

5 I have hated the company of evildoers;

I will not sit down with the wicked.

6 I will wash my hands in innocence, O LORD,

that I may go in procession round your altar,

Singing aloud a song of thanksgiving

and recounting all your wonderful deeds.

8 LORD, I love the house in which you dwell

and the place where your glory abides.

Do not sweep me away with sinners,

nor my life with those who thirst for blood,

10 Whose hands are full of evil plots,

and their right hand full of bribes.

11 As for me, I will live with integrity;

redeem me, O LORD, and have pity on me.

12 My foot stands on level ground;

in the full assembly I will bless the LORD.

Hebrews 1:1-4; 2:5-12 (New Revised Standard Version):

Long ago God spoke to our ancestors in many and various ways by the prophets, but in these last days he has spoken to us by a Son, whom he appointed heir of all things, through whom he also created the worlds. He is the reflection of God’s glory and the exact imprint of God’s very being, and he sustains all things by his powerful word. When he had made purification for sins, he sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high, having become as much superior to angels as the name he has inherited is more excellent than theirs.

Now God did not subject the coming world, about which we are speaking, to angels. But someone has testified somewhere,

What are human beings that you are mindful of them,

or mortals, that you care for them?

You have made them for a little while lower than the angels;

you have crowned them with glory and honor,

subjecting all things under their feet.

Now in subjecting all things to them, God left nothing outside their control. As it is, we do not yet see everything in subjection to them, but we do see Jesus, who for a little while was made lower than the angels, now crowned with glory and honor because of the suffering of death, so that by the grace of God he might taste death for everyone.

It was fitting that God, for whom and through whom all things exist, in bringing many children to glory, should make the pioneer of their salvation perfect through sufferings. For the one who sanctifies and those who are sanctified all have one Father. For this reason Jesus is not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters, saying,

I will proclaim your name to my brothers and sisters,

in the midst of the congregation I will praise you.

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Some Related Posts:

Job 1 and 2:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/10/26/week-of-proper-21-monday-year-2/

Hebrews 1 and 2:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/16/week-of-1-epiphany-monday-year-1/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/16/week-of-1-epiphany-tuesday-year-1/

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Easy answers for the problem of suffering prove inadequate, as the Book of Job demonstrates.  Not all suffering flows from one’s sins.  And the crucifixion of Jesus provides more refutation of the arguments of Bildad, Eliphaz, Zophar, and Elihu.  Jesus was the best man (and far more) ever, yet ye suffered greatly.  He was, in fact, a scapegoat.  Consider John 11:47-50, verses 49 and 50 of which follow.  Caiaphas is speaking:

You have no grasp of the situation at all; you do not realize that it is more to your interest that one man should die for the people, than that the whole nation should be destroyed.  (Revised English Bible, 1989)

We still scapegoat people, some of whom are not entirely innocent.  In so doing we let guilty people off the hook.  And, when we scapegoat the wholly innocent, we cause needless suffering.  Sometimes people suffer because of the sins of others.  May we, by grace, find forgiveness for the suffering we inflict on others and desist forever from causing harm to others, for, as we read in Romans 13:9-10:

The commandments, “You shall not commit adultery, you shall not steal, you shall not covet,” and other commandments there may be, are all summed up in the one rule, “Love your neighbor as yourself.”  Love cannot wrong a neighbour; therefore love is the fulfilment of the law.  (Revised English Bible, 1989)

I write these words on October 27, 2011.  A few years ago, I designated October 27 as the Feast of the Victims of the Salem Witch Trials (http://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2009/09/02/feast-of-the-victims-of-the-salem-witch-trials-october-27/), so to write against scapegoating on this day is more appropriate than on some other occasions, not that there is a bad time to condemn that practice.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 27, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE VICTIMS OF THE SALEM WITCH TRIALS

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on October 27, 2011

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/10/27/proper-22-year-b/

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Unanswered Questions   1 comment

Above:  The Sacred Name “YHWH” in Stained Glass

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Job 38:1, 12-21 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures)

Then the LORD replied to Job out of the tempest and said:

Have you ever commanded the day to break,

Assigned the dawn its place,

So that it seizes the corners of the earth

And shakes the wicked out of it?

It changes like clay under the seal

Till [its hues] are fixed like those of a garment.

Their light is withheld from the wicked,

And the upraised arm is broken.

Have you penetrated to the sources of the sea,

Or walked in the recesses of the deep?

Have the gates of death been disclosed to you?

Have you seen the gates of the deep darkness?

Have you surveyed the expanses of the earth?

If you know of these–tell Me.

Which path leads to where light dwells,

And where is the place of darkness,

That you may take it to its domain

And know the the way to its home?

Surely you know, for you were born then,

And the number of your years is many!

Job 40:1-5 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

The LORD said in reply to Job:

Shall one who should be disciplined complain against Shaddai?

He who arraigns God must respond.

Job said in reply to the LORD:

See, I am of  small worth; what can I answer You?

I clap my hand to my mouth.

I have spoken once, and will not reply;

Twice, and will do so no more.

Job 42:1-6, 12-17 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

Job said in reply to the LORD:

I know that You can do everything,

That nothing you propose is impossible for You.

Who is this who obscures counsel without knowledge?

Indeed, I spoke without understanding

Of things beyond me, which I did not know.

Hear now, and I will speak;

I will ask, and You inform me.

I had heard You with my ears,

But now I see You with my eyes;

Therefore I recant and relent,

Being but dust and ashes.

Thus the LORD blessed the latter years of Job’s life more than the former.  He had fourteen thousand sheep, six thousand camels, one thousand yoke of oxen, and one thousand she-asses.  He also had seven sons and three daughters.  The first he named Jemimah, the second Keziah, and the third Keren-happuch.  Nowhere in the land were women as beautiful as Job’s daughters to be found.  Their father gave them estates together with their brothers.  Afterward, Job lived one hundred and forty years to see four generations of sons and grandsons.  So Job died old and contented.

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Some Related Posts:

Job 38:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/08/15/proper-7-year-b/

https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2011/08/15/god-does-not-fit-into-any-theological-box/

http://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2011/08/15/proper-7-year-b/

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Much of the material in the Book of Job is repetitive.  Bildad, Eliphaz, and Zophar repeat themselves and each other:  God is just, and therefore does not punish the innocent.  So Job must have done something wrong to bring these sufferings on himself.  And Job continues to protest that he is innocent.  Then Elihu comes out of nowhere, rehashes old theodicies for a few chapters, and goes away.  Finally, in Chapters 38-42, God speaks.  To be precise, God asks Job a series of rhetorical questions, after which Job admits that he is out of his depth.  He has spoken out of his ignorance, not his knowledge.  Then God accuses the three alleged friends of having spoken falsely.  And God restores Job’s fortunes and multiplies them.

We are left with unanswered questions, a state which summarizes the faith journeys of many people.  I do not find the conclusion of the Book of Job satisfying, for I assert that Job deserved an honest answer to his legitimate complaint.  Yet I neither reject God nor deny the reality of my doubts.  Rather, I incorporate these doubts into my faith life.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 27, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE VICTIMS OF THE SALEM WITCH TRIALS

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on October 27, 2011

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/10/27/week-of-proper-21-friday-year-2-and-week-of-proper-21-saturday-year-2/

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God, Who Does Not Need Our Defense   1 comment

Above:  Job and His Alleged Friends

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Job 19:21-27 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

[Job said in reply:]

Pity me, pity me!  You are my friends;

For the hand of God has struck me!

Why do you pursue me like God,

Maligning me insatiably?

O that my words were written down;

Would they were inscribed in a record,

Incised on a rock forever

With iron stylus and lead!

But I know that my Vindicator lives;

In the end He will testify on earth–

This, after my skin will have been peeled off.

But I would behold God while still in my flesh,

I myself, not another, would behold Him;

Would see with my own eyes:

My heart pines within me.

Psalm 27:10-18 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

10 Hearken to my voice, O LORD, when I call;

have mercy on me and answer me.

11 You speak in my heart and say, “Seek my face.”

Your face, LORD, will I seek.

12 Hide not your face from me,

nor turn away your servant in displeasure.

13 You have been my helper;

cast me not away;

do not forsake me, O God of my salvation.

14  Though my father and my mother forsake me,

the LORD will sustain me.

15  Show me your way, O LORD;

lead me on a level path, because of my enemies.

16  Deliver me not into the hand of my adversaries,

for false witnesses have risen up against me,

and also those who speak malice.

17 What if I had not believed

that I should see the goodness of the LORD

in the land of the living!

18 O tarry and await the LORD’s pleasure;

be strong, and he shall comfort your heart;

wait patiently for the LORD.

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A Related Post:

Immortal, Invisible:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2010/09/13/immortal-invisible-god-only-wise/

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Our journey through Job continues.  Here is a summary of what he have skipped over:

Job, in Chapter 10, declares,

I am disgusted with life.

–10:1, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

Then he complains to God.  Zophar the Naamathite, in Chapter 11, argues that Job’s suffering must be the result of sin.  Job replies in Chapters 12-14, arguing that he is innocent, his alleged friends are fools, and God is guilty of abusing divine power.  This is too much for Eliphaz the Temanite, who defends God in Chapter 15.  Job replies in Chapters 16 and 17 that God is his enemy.  Bildad the Shuhite replies with an unoriginal argument (heard previously in the Book of Job) in Chapter 18, to which Job replies in Chapter 19.  Job, who expresses a sense of alienation, reasserts the argument that his suffering has not resulted from his sins.

The impulse to defend God might seem pious, but it is unnecessary.  If one works from the assumption that God is all-powerful, one must conclude logically that such a deity has no need of a defense from a mere mortal.  Besides, we are frail and often foolish.  Exhibits A, B, C, and D of human foolishness committed while defending God (or rather, an understanding of God) are the speeches of Bildad, Eliphaz, Zophar, and Elihu from the Book of Job.  The main character’s speeches agree with the prologue of the Book of Job that his suffering did not result from his sins.  So his alleged friends, who think themselves orthodox, are really heretical.  Even worse, they are no help whatsoever.  And they are fools.  Job was also correct about that.

It is easy, of course, to point to a character in an ancient text and call him a fool.  But we are fools sometimes, as are our friends and acquaintances.  May we, by grace, be foolish less often, especially when we are trying to be pious by defending God or our understanding thereof.  An acceptance of ambiguity at certain times will go a long way toward accomplishing this goal.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 27, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE VICTIMS OF THE SALEM WITCH TRIALS

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on October 27, 2011

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/10/27/week-of-proper-21-thursday-year-2/

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Friendship I: Alleged Friends and Real Friends   1 comment

Above:  A Maine Coon Cat Kitten

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Job 9:1-16 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

Job said in reply:

Indeed I know that it is so:

Man cannot win a suit against God.

If he insisted on a trail with Him,

He would not answer one charge in a thousand.

Wise of heart and mighty in power–

Who ever challenged Him and came out whole?–

Him who moves mountains without their knowing it,

Who overturns them in His anger;

Who shakes the earth from its place,

Till its pillars quake;

Who commands the sun not to shine;

Who seals up the stars;

Who by Himself spread out the heavens,

And trod on the back of the sea;

Who made the Bear and Orion,

Pleiades, and the chambers of the south wind;

Who performs great deeds which cannot be fathomed,

And wondrous things without number.

He passes me by–I do not see Him;

He goes by me, but I do not perceive Him.

He snatches away–who can stop Him?

Who can say to Him, “What are You doing?”

God does not restrain His anger;

Under Him Rahab’s helpers sink down.

How then can I answer Him,

Or choose my arguments against Him?

Though I were in the right, I could not speak out,

But I would plead for mercy with my judge.

If I summoned Him and He responded,

I do not believe He would lend me His ear.

Psalm 88:10-15 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

10  My sight has failed me because of trouble;

LORD, I have called upon you daily;

I have stretched out my hands to you.

11  Do you work wonders for the dead?

will those who have died stand up and give you thanks?

12  Will your loving-kindness be declared in the grave?

your faithfulness in the land of destruction?

13  Will your wonders be known in the dark?

or your righteousness in the country where all is forgotten?

14  But as for me, O LORD, I cry to you for help;

in the morning my prayer comes before you.

15  LORD, why have you rejected me?

why have you hidden your face from me?

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The Canadian Anglican lectionary I am following jumps around Job, so I begin by summarizing what we have skipped over since the previous post.  Eliphaz the Temanite, in Chapters 4 and 5, is convinced that God is punishing Job for something and argues that God rewards the righteous and punishes the unrighteous.  Eliphaz utters many pious-sounding statements, such as:

See how happy is the man whom God reproves;

Do not reject the discipline of the Almighty.

He injures, but He binds up;

He wounds, but His hands heal.

–Job 5:17-18, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

Job, in Chapter 6, complains about unhelpful alleged friends.  As he says in verse 15,

My comrades are fickle…. (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures)

Then, in Chapter 7, Job addresses God and admits less than complete innocence:

Why do You not pardon my transgression

And forgive my iniquity?

For soon, I shall lie down in the dust;

When You seek me, I shall be gone.

–Job 7:21, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

Bildad the Shuhite replies to Job in Chapter 8 and insists that Job is wrong to deny that his suffering results from sin.  A just God, Bildad insists, does not punish the innocent.  Then, in Chapter 9, as we read, Job states that he cannot win an argument with God.

Now for the rest of the post…

Each of us walks around with certain assumptions.  The most basic ones are those we do not recognize as being assumptions.  Those of us who are both religious and monotheistic conceive of God in certain ways.  We have learned theology from sources such as books, families, and faith communities.  Sometimes what we have learned proves to be both inaccurate and inadequate.  Life includes circumstances which contradict our assumptions.  What are we to do then?

That is the quandary facing our characters in the Book of Job.  Is God just?  If so, must Job’s suffering constitute divine discipline?  Yet the beginning of the book tells us that Job’s suffering does not flow from his sins, so his suffering cannot constitute divine discipline.  So, is God just?

All of this is part of a story, of course.  We are reading poetry with prose interjections, not history.  The book does contain much truth, however.  The most basic truth it teaches might be that God defies our comfortable theologies; God will not fit inside our metaphorical boxes.

Here is another great lesson from the Book of Job:  Be a real friend, not a pain.  If someone is suffering, offer comfort and help, not condemnation.  This might entail tough love, but so be it if that is so.  Job’s alleged friends did not help; they uttered pious-sounding defenses of their God concepts while making Job more miserable.  There is a good reason that many people like having fur-bearing animals as companions; the creatures are present and do not condemn or offer meaningless words of comfort, such as,

I know how you feel.

Now I offer a preview of a coming attraction:  God in 38:2, addresses Job and accuses him of having darkened counsel and spoken without knowledge.  That same critique could apply to anyone else who speaks in the Book of Job.  Maybe the error is in one’s concept of how God acts and works, or perhaps it pertains to how one things God ought to act and work.  Look for that dynamic in this great text from the Hebrew Scriptures.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 27, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE VICTIMS OF THE SALEM WITCH TRIALS

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on October 27, 2011

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/10/27/week-of-proper-21-wednesday-year-2/

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Longing for Death   1 comment

Above:  A Graveyard

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Job 3:1-3, 11-23 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

Afterward, Job began to speak and cursed the day of his birth.  Job spoke up and said:

Perish the day on which I was born,

And the night it was announced,

“A male has been conceived!”

Why did I not die at birth,

Expire as I came forth from the womb?

Why were their knees to receive me,

Or breasts for me to suck?

For now would I be lying in repose, asleep and at rest,

With the world’s kings and counselors who rebuild ruins for themselves,

Or with nobles who possess gold and who fill their houses with silver.

Or why was I not like the buried stillbirth,

Like babies who never saw the light?

There the wicked cease from troubling;

There rest those whose strength is spent.

Prisoners are wholly at ease;

They do not hear the taskmaster’s voice.

Small and great alike are there,

And the slave is free of his master.

Why does He give light to the sufferer

And life to the bitter in spirit;

To those who wait for death but it does not come,

Who search for it more than for treasure,

Who rejoice to exultation,

And are glad to reach the grave;

To the man who has lost his way,

Whom God has hedged about?

Psalm 88:1-8 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  O LORD, my God, my Savior,

by day and night I cry to you.

2  Let my prayer enter into your presence;

incline your ear to my lamentation.

3  For I am full of trouble;

my life is at the brink of the grave.

4  I am counted among those who go down to the Pit;

I have become like one who has no strength;

5  Lost among the dead,

like the slain who lie in the grave,

6  Whom you remember no more,

for they are cut off from your hand.

7  You have laid me in the depths of the Pit,

in dark places, and in the abyss.

8  Your anger weighs upon me heavily,

and all your great waves overwhelm me.

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Some Related Posts:

A Prayer for Those Suffering from Holiday Grief:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2010/07/18/a-prayer-for-those-suffering-from-holiday-grief/

Prayers for Those Who Suffer:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2010/07/18/prayers-for-those-who-suffer/

Hope of the World:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/08/02/hope-of-the-world/

Stabat Mater:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/04/17/stabat-mater/

A Prayer for the Healing of Minds:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2010/07/18/a-prayer-for-the-healing-of-minds/

Rebirth:  A Prayer:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2010/07/17/rebirth-a-prayer/

A Prayer for Those Who Are Desperate:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2010/07/18/a-prayer-for-those-who-are-desperate/

For Those Who Are Unemployed:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/04/03/for-those-who-are-unemployed/

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This day I will be quite concise.  I have longed for death and prayed for it, even cursed each morning I awoke.  I have sought escape–the sooner the better–from my troubles.  You, O reader, might have also known this feeling.  Or you might know it now.  If you do, O reader, all I can do to help you is tell you what happened to me:  My circumstances improved, thanks to God.  In my darkest hours I noticed acutely the presence of God.  Now I have another experience upon which to draw to help others.  My mandate from God is to use that dark time in my life for positive ends.

In my case, it got better.  If you need the same result, may that happen for you, by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 26, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ALFRED THE GREAT, KING OF THE WEST SAXONS

THE FEAST OF SAINT CEDD, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF LONDON

THE FEAST OF DMITRY BORTNIANSKY, COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF PHLIP NICOLAI, JOHANN HEERMANN, AND PAUL GERHARDT, HYMN WRITERS

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on October 26, 2011

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/10/26/week-of-proper-21-tuesday-year-2/

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Posted October 26, 2011 by neatnik2009 in Job 3, Psalm 88

Tagged with , , , , ,

Dealing with the Unexpected   1 comment

Above:  Parisian School Children

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Job 1:6-22 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

One day the divine beings presented themselves before the LORD, and the Adversary came along with them.  The LORD said to the Adversary,

Where have you been?

The Adversary answered the LORD,

I have been roaming all over the earth.

The LORD said to the Adversary,

Have you noticed my servant Job?  There is no one like him on earth, a blameless and upright man who fears God and shuns evil!

The Adversary answered the LORD,

Does Job not have good reason to fear God?  Why, is it You who have fenced him round, him and his household and all that he has.  You have blessed his efforts so that his possessions spread out in the land.  But lay Your hand upon all that he has and he will surely blaspheme You to Your face.

The LORD replied to the Adversary,

See, all that he has is in your power; only do not lay a hand on him.

The Adversary departed from the presence of the LORD.

One day, as his sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in the house of their eldest brother, a messenger came to Job and said,

The oxen were plowing and the she-asses were grazing alongside them when Sabeans attacked them and carried them off, and put the boys to the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.

This one was still speaking when another came and said,

God’s fire fell from heaven, took hold of the sheep and the boys, and burned them up; I alone escaped to tell you.

This one was still speaking when another came and said,

A Chaldean formation of three columns made a raid on the camels and carried them off and put the boys to the sword; I alone have escaped to tell you.

This one was still speaking when another came and said,

Your sons and daughters were eating and drinking wine in the house of their eldest brother when suddenly a mighty wind came from the wilderness.   It struck the four corners of the house so that it collapsed upon the young people and they died; I alone have escaped to tell you.

Then Job arose, tore his robe, cut off his hair, and threw himself on the ground and worshiped.  He said,

Naked I came out of my mother’s womb, and naked I shall return there; the LORD has given, and the LORD has taken away; blessed be the name of the LORD.

For all that, Job did not sin nor did he cast reproach on God.

Psalm 17:1-7 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Hear my plea of innocence, O LORD;

give heed to my cry;

listen to my prayer, which does not come from lying lips.

Let my vindication come forth from your presence;

let your eyes be fixed on justice.

Weigh my heart, summon me by night,

melt me down; you will find no impurity in me.

I give no offence with my mouth as others do;

I have heeded the words of your lips.

My footsteps hold fast to the ways of your law;

in your paths my feet shall not stumble.

I call upon you, O God, for you will answer me;

incline your ear to me and hear my words.

Show me your marvelous loving-kindness,

O Savior of those who take refuge at your right hand

from those who rise up against them.

Luke 9:46-50 (The Jerusalem Bible):

An argument started between them [the Apostles] about which of them was the greatest.  Jesus knew what thoughts were going through their minds, and he took a little child and set him by his side and said to them,

Anyone who welcomes this little child in my name welcomes me; and anyone who welcomes me welcomes the one who sent me.  For the least among you all, that is the one who is great.

John spoke up.

 Master,

he said,

we saw a man casting out devils in your name, and spoke because he is not with us we tried to stop him.

But Jesus said to him,

You must not stop him:  anyone who is not against you is for you.

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The Collect:

O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; 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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The Book of Job is an often quoted and frequently misunderstood text.  For example, the main character is quite impatient, with a few notable exceptions, yet the English language contains an inaccurate cliché,

the patience of Job.

And the book does not explain the cause of all suffering, so that cannot be its topic.  The text makes clear that Job’s suffering results from the actions of God’s loyalty tester, an employee called the Adversary or the Satan, with divine consent.  So God is on the hook for this one, according to the Bible itself.

More than one commentator has noted the theological difficulty of the Book of Job, which does not depict God in an entirely positive light.  Yet theological difficulty is par for the course in pondering the Bible.  May we who read the Bible do so carefully and honestly, not fearing to admit which passages and concepts make us uncomfortable.  More will cause discomfort as we progress through the Book of Job for a few more posts.

Speaking of discomfort…

The least among us is great, so social status means nothing to God.  And God has servants whom we do not recognize and of whom we do not know; anyone who is not against us is for us.  So we need to dispense with our exclusive club mentality.  This might threaten our identities, perhaps carefully crafted and well-honed ones.

So God works in various ways, including those we dislike and/or do not expect.  Few things are more disconcerting than the unexpected.  Do we then pretend that these realities do not exist, or do we admit that our knowledge is quite limited?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 26, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ALFRED THE GREAT, KING OF THE WEST SAXONS

THE FEAST OF SAINT CEDD, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF LONDON

THE FEAST OF DMITRY BORTNIANSKY, COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF PHLIP NICOLAI, JOHANN HEERMANN, AND PAUL GERHARDT, HYMN WRITERS

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on October 26, 2011

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/10/26/week-of-proper-21-monday-year-2/

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Posted October 26, 2011 by neatnik2009 in Job 1, Luke 9, Psalm 17

Good News in the End   1 comment

Above:  An Icon of Baruch

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Baruch 4:5-13, 27-29 (The Jerusalem Bible):

Take courage, my people,

constant reminder of Israel.

You were sold to the nations,

but not for extermination.

You provoked God;

and so were delivered to your enemies,

since you had angered your creator

by offering sacrifices to demons, not to God.

You had forgotten the eternal God who reared you.

You had also grieved Jerusalem who nursed you,

for when she saw the anger fall on you

from God, she said:

Listen, you neighbours of Zion:

God has sent me great sorrow.

I have seen my sons and daughters taken into captivity,

to which they have been sentenced by the Eternal.

I had reared them joyfully;

in tears, in sorrow, I watched them go away.

Do not, any of you, exult over me,

a widow, deserted by so many;

I suffer loneliness because of the sins of my own children,

who turned away from the Law of God,

who did not want to follow his injunctions,

and would not follow the ways of his precepts,

or tread the paths of discipline as his justice directed.

Take courage, my children, call on God:

he who brought disaster on you will remember you.

As by your will you first strayed away from God,

so now turn back and search for him ten times as hard;

for as he brought down those disasters on you,

so will he rescue you and give you eternal joy.

Psalm 69:34-38 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

34  The afflicted shall see and be glad;

you who seek God, your heart shall live.

35  For the LORD listens to the needy,

and his prisoners he does not despise.

36  Let the heavens and the earth praise him,

the seas and all that moves in them;

37  For God will save Zion and rebuild the cities of Judah;

they shall live there and have it in possession.

38  The children of his servants will inherit it,

and those who love his Name will therein.

Luke 10:17-24 (The Jerusalem Bible):

The seventy-two came back rejoicing.

Lord,

they said,

even the devils submit to us when we use your name.

He said to them,

I watched Satan fall like lightning from heaven.  Yes, I have given you power to tread underfoot serpents and scorpions and the whole strength of the enemy; nothing shall ever hurt you.  Yet do not rejoice that the spirits submit to you; rejoice rather that your names are written in heaven.

It was then that, filled with joy by the Holy Spirit, he said,

I bless you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, for hiding these things from the learned and the clever and revealing them to mere children.  Yes, Father, for that is what it pleased you to do.  Everything has been entrusted to me by my Father; and no one knows who the Son is except the Father, and who the Father is except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him.

Then turning to his disciples he spoke to them in private,

Happy are the eyes that see what you see, for I tell you that many prophets and kings wanted to see what you see, and never saw it; to hear what you hear, and never heard it.

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The Collect:

O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; 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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Some Related Posts:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/18/proper-9-year-a/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/27/week-of-proper-10-wednesday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/01/07/week-of-proper-11-thursday-year-1/

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Reinhold Niebuhr wrote of how he came to learn the meaning of the middle paragraph of this day’s Gospel reading.  In the second decade of the twentieth century, when Niebuhr was fresh out of seminary, he served a congregation in Detroit, Michigan.  Two respectable and “equally respectable” women in his church were dying, but they dealt with death differently.  One lady raged against the dying of the light, to steal a line from Dylan Thomas.  She resented her end-of-life illness and related suffering.

Yet the second woman, who had known great suffering (including her husband’s insanity) and whom circumstances had forced out of Victorian and Edwardian domesticity into the role as breadwinner faced her death with great serenity.  She suffered, too, dying of cancer.  Yet, as Niebuhr wrote,

I stood weekly at her bedside while she told me what passages of Scripture, what Psalms and what prayers to read to her; most of them expressed gratitude for all the mercies of God which she had received in life.  She was partially grateful to her two daughters and their love; and she faced death with the utmost peace of soul.

I relearned the essentials of the Christan faith at the bedside of that nice old soul.  I appreciated that the ultimate problem of human existence is the peril of sin and death in the way that these two perils are so curiously compounded; for we fall into sin by trying to evade or to conquer death or our own insignificance, of which death is the ultimate symbol.  The Christian faith holds out the hope that our fragmentary lives will be completed in a total and larger plan than any which we can control or comprehend, and that a part of the completion is the forgiveness of sins, that is, the forgiveness of the evils into which we fall by our frantic efforts to complete our own lives or to endow them with significance.

Significance, of course, comes from God alone.

This is the same God in the Book of Baruch.  The Canadian Anglican lectionary I am following will move along to Jonah beginning with Monday in the week of Proper 22, so I feel obligated to quote the glorious fifth chapter, as The Jerusalem Bible renders it:

Jerusalem, take off your dress of sorrow and distress,

put on the beauty of the glory of God for ever,

wrap the cloak of the integrity of God around you,

put the diadem of the glory of the Eternal on your head:

since God means to show your splendour to every nation under heaven,

since the name God gives you for ever will be,

“Peace through integrity, and honour through devotedness.”

Arise, Jerusalem, stand on the heights

and turn your eyes to the east:

see your sons reassembled from west and east

at the command of the Holy One, jubilant that God has remembered them.

Though they left you on foot,

with enemies for an escort,

now God brings them back to you

like royal princes carried back in glory.

For God has decreed the flattening

of each high mountain, of the everlasting hills,

the filling of the valleys to make the ground level

so that Israel can walk in safety under the glory of God.

And the forests and every fragrant tree will provide shade

for Israel at the command of God;

for God will guide Israel in joy by the light of his glory

with his mercy and integrity.

The oppression of Antiochus IV Epiphanes did end.  Centuries before that, exiles did return from Babylonia.  It does get better in time.  May we persevere in faith through good times and bad times.  Along the way we can learn profound spiritual truths from people who might seem like unlikely teachers.  May we be open to them and to God.

Note:  The Niebuhr source is his Intellectual Autobiography (pages 4-7 of it, to be precise) contained in Reinhold Niebuhr:  His Religious, Social, and Political Thought, edited by Charles W. Kegley and Robert W. Bretall (New York:  Macmillan, 1961).

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 24, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF ARMENIA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN WALTER, COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF THE SEVEN MARTYRS OF THE MELANESIAN BROTHERHOOD

THE FEAST OF TOYOHIKO KAGAWA, TEACHER AND EVANGELIST

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on April 24, 2011 

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/04/24/week-of-proper-21-saturday-year-1/

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Posted October 26, 2011 by neatnik2009 in Baruch, Luke 10, Psalm 69

Tagged with , ,

Obedience and Persistence   2 comments

Above:  Map of the Seleucid Empire in 188 B.C.E.

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Baruch 1:15-21 (The Jerusalem Bible):

You are to say:

Integrity belongs to the Lord our God; to us the look of shame we wear today, to us, the people of Judah and the citizens of Jerusalem, to our kings and princes, our priests, our prophets, as to our ancestors, because we have sinned in the sight of the Lord our God telling us to follow the commandments which the Lord had ordained for us.  From the day when the Lord brought our ancestor out of the land of Egypt until today we have been disobedient to the Lord our God, we have been disloyal, refusing to listen to his voice.  And so the disasters, and the curse which the Lord pronounced through his servant Moses the day he brought our fathers out of Egypt to give us a land where milk and honey flow, have seized on us, disasters we experience today.  Despite all the words of those prophets whom he sent us, we have not listened to the voice of the Lord our God, but each following the dictates of his evil heart, we have taken to serving alien gods, and doing what is displeasing to the Lord our God.

Psalm 79 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  O God, the heathen here come into your inheritance;

they have profaned your holy temple;

they have made Jerusalem a heap of rubble.

2  They have given the bodies of your servants as food for the birds of the air,

and the flesh of your faithful ones to the beasts of the field.

3  They have shed their blood like water on every side of Jerusalem,

and there was no one to bury them.

4  We have become a reproach to our neighbors,

an object of scorn and derision to those around us.

5  How long will you be angry, O LORD?

will your fury blaze like fire for ever?

6  Pour out your wrath upon the heathen who have not known you

and upon kingdoms that have not called upon your Name.

7  For they have devoured Jacob

and made his dwelling a ruin.

8  Remember not our past sins;

let your compassion be swift to meet us;

for we have been brought very low.

9  Help us, O God our Savior, for the glory of your Name;

deliver us and forgive us our sins, for your Name’s sake.

10  Why should the heathen say, “Where is your God?”

Let it be known among the heathen and in our sight

that you avenge the shedding of your servants’ blood.

11  Let the sorrowful sighing of the prisoners come before you,

and by your great might spare those who are condemned to die.

12  May the revilings with which they reviled you, O Lord,

return seven-fold into their bosoms.

13  For we are your people and the sheep of your pasture;

we will give you thanks for ever

and show forth your praise from age to age.

Luke 10:13-16 (The Jerusalem Bible):

[Jesus continued,]

Alas for you, Chorazin!  Alas for you, Bethsaida!  For if the miracles done in you had been done in Tyre and Sidon, they would have repented long ago, sitting in sackcloth and ashes.  And still, it will not go as hard with Tyre and Sidon at the Judgement as with you.  And as for you, Capernaum, did you want to be exalted high in heaven?  You shall be thrown down to hell.

Anyone who listens to you listens to me; anyone who rejects you rejects me, and those who reject me reject the one who sent me.

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The Collect:

O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; 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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Some Related Posts:

From the Gospel of Matthew:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/26/week-of-proper-10-tuesday-year-1/

From the Gospel of Mark:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/11/01/week-of-7-epiphany-tuesday-year-1/

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Alexander the Great, King of Macedonia, became the ruler of Palestine in 332 (having been king in Macedonia since 336)  B.C.E.  After he died nine years later, in 323, his vast empire broke up into competing factions, including the Ptolemaic Empire, headquartered in Egypt, and the Seleucid Empire, based in Syria.  The Ptolemys governed Palestine from 301 to 198 B.C.E. then the Seleucids took control of the region.

Antiochus IV Epiphanes (reigned 175-164/163), a monarch hostile to Judaism, profaned the Second Temple and outlawed basic Jewish practices in 167 B.C.E.  He banned circumcision, outlawed keeping the Sabbath, burned Torah scrolls, devoted the Temple to the Olympian gods, and forced Jews to eat pork and participate in Hellenistic religious festivals.

The writing of the Book of Baruch occurred in this context.  The author drew on the paradigm of the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 587 B.C.E., four centuries before his time.  The book opens with a prayer of confession (part of which is the first reading for this day), moves along to a plea for mercy and deliverance, recalls divine compassion and promises, then praises divine wisdom that people cannot possibly understand.  It concludes with an affirmation of hope.  Thus the purpose of the Book of Baruch is to encourage faithful Palestinian Jews suffering under the Seleucid oppression.  God has not abandoned his people, the book says; God will deliver them.  And nobody understands the mind of God fully, so nobody ought to try.  The task of the faithful is to obey the Torah of God and persist in obedience.

The reading from Luke, with similar lessons in Matthew and Mark, fits well into this theme.  Jesus rebukes First Century C.E. unrepentant Jewish communities, saying that Gentile communities would have repented already.  This message is consistent with comments such as those to the effect that some prostitutes will enter Heaven before certain professional religious people.  In other words, socially-defined religious orthodoxy will not save one from the consequences of one’s own sin.

So, once again, we have the intersection of judgment and mercy.  And, as Peter says to Gentile household in Acts 10:34b-35 (New Revised Standard Version):

I truly understand that God shows no partiality, but in every nation anyone who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.

This message is positive, especially if one is a person who fears God and “does what is acceptable to him.”  But what if you one just thinks that one does, but is actually mistaken?  Into which category do you fit?  Into which category do I fit?  I do not know, and you might not, either.  Fortunately, A Brief Statement of Belief  (Presbyterian Church in the United States, 1962) offers a summary of our hope:

Sin permeates and corrupts our entire being and burdens us more and more with fear, hostility, guilt, and misery.  Sin operates not only within individuals but also within society as a deceptive and oppressive and unwillingly involved in the sins of society.  Man cannot destroy the tyranny of sin in himself or in his world; his only hope is to be delivered from it by God.

I am not a Universalist; there is a reality called Hell, just as there is a reality called Heaven.  Just as there is mercy, there is also judgment.  There is always something of the ways of God that remain hidden from us.  Among these mysteries is the extent of mercy, something I do not question.  Rather, I rejoice in it.  This is the mercy by which God delivers me from myself and you from yourself.  This is the mercy by which God cancels out measures of judgment.  But there is judgment, too.  Let us never forget that, but without neglecting the reality of mercy.  May we have balanced perspectives.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 24, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF ARMENIA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN WALTER, COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF THE SEVEN MARTYRS OF THE MELANESIAN BROTHERHOOD

THE FEAST OF TOYOHIKO KAGAWA, TEACHER AND EVANGELIST

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on April 24, 2011 

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/04/24/week-of-proper-21-friday-year-1/

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The Joy of Forgiveness   1 comment

Above:  Ezra

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Nehemiah 8:1-12 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

When the seventh month arrived–the Israelites being [settled] in their towns–the entire people assembled as one man in the square before the Water Gate, and they asked Ezra the scribe to bring the scroll of the Teaching of Moses with which the LORD had charged Israel.  On the first day of the seventh month, Ezra the high priest brought the Teaching before the congregation, men and women and all who could listen with understanding.  He read from it, facing the square before the Water Gate, from the first light until midday, to the men and the women and those who could understand; the ears of all the people were given to the scroll of the Teaching.

Ezra the scribe stood upon a wooden tower made for the purpose, and beside hm stood Mattithiah, Shema, Anaiah, Uriah, Hilkiah, and Maaseiah at his right, and at his left Pedaiah, Mishael, Malchijah, Hashum, Hashbaddanah, Zechariah, Meshullam.  Ezra opened the scroll in the sight of all the people; the sight of all the people, for he was above all the people; as he opened it, all the people stood up.  Ezra blessed the LORD, the great God, and all the people answered,

Amen, Amen,

with hands upraised.  Then they bowed their hands and prostrated themselves before the LORD with their faces to the ground.  Jeshua, Bani, Sherebiah, Jamin, Akkub, Shabbethai, Hodiah, Maaseiah, Kelita, Azariah, Jozabad, Hanan, Pelaiah, and the Levites explained the Teaching to the people, while the people stood in their places.  They read from the scroll of the Teaching of God, translating it and giving the sense; so they understood the reading.

Nehemiah the Tirshatha, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites, who were explaining to the people said to all the people,

This day is holy to the LORD your God:  you must not mourn or weep,

for all the people were weeping as they listened to the words of the Teaching.  He further said to them,

Go, eat choice foods and drink sweet drinks and send portions to whoever has nothing prepared, for the day is holy to our Lord.  Do not be sad, for your rejoicing in the LORD is the source of your strength.

The Levites were quieting the people, saying,

Hush, for the day is holy; do not be sad.

Then all the people went to eat and drink and send portions and make great merriment, for they understood the things they were told.

Psalm 119:1-8 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  Happy are they whose way is blameless,

who walk in the law of the LORD!

2  Happy are they who observe his decrees

and seek him with all their hearts!

3  Who never do any wrong,

but always walk in his ways.

4  You laid down your commandments,

that we should fully keep them.

5  Oh, that my ways were made so direct

that I might keep your statutes!

6  Then I should not be put to shame,

when I regard all your commandments.

7  I will thank you with an unfeigned heart,

when I have learned your righteous judgments.

8  I will keep your statutes;

do not utterly forsake me.

Luke 10:1-12 (The Jerusalem Bible):

After this the Lord appointed seventy-two others and sent them out ahead of him, in pairs, to all the towns and places he himself wast to visit.  He said to them,

The harvest is rich but the labourers are few, so ask the Lord of the harvest to send labourers to his harvest.  Start off now, but remember, I am sending you out like lambs among wolves.  Carry no purse, no haversack, no sandals.  Salute no one on the road.  Whatever you house go into, let your first words be, “Peace be to this house!”  And if a man of peace lives there, your peace will go and rest on him; if not, it will come back to you.  Stay in the same house, taking what food and drink they have to offer, for the labourer deserves his wages; do not move from house to house.  Whenever you go into a town when they make you welcome, eat what is set before you.  Cure those in it who are sick, and say, “The kingdom of God is very near you.”  But whenever you enter a town and they do not make you welcome, go out into its streets and say, “We wipe off the very dust of your town that clings to our feet, and leave it with you.  Yet be sure of this:  the kingdom of God is very near.”  I tell you, on that day it will not go as hard with Sodom as with that town.

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The Collect:

O God, you declare your almighty power chiefly in showing mercy and pity: Grant us the fullness of your grace, that we, running to obtain your promises, may become partakers of your heavenly treasure; 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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The reading from Nehemiah is, at least in The Episcopal Church, one of those readings one might dread when it appears in the lectionary.  Why did so many Biblical parents insist on such difficult-to-pronounce names?  Why did they not name a son Bob or Harry?  For liturgical reading, at least, there is an easy fix, which is slight rewording of the text to avoid having to read all those name.  For example:

Ezra the scribe stood upon a wooden tower made for the purpose, and he stood in the middle of a group of men.

Now the lector can move along to the main point of the passage without tripping his or her tongue on polysyllabic names.

The main point is this:  The Jews in Jerusalem had sinned out of ignorance.  But, when they learned of their sins, they repented.  Ezra told them to focus on the future and to live faithfully from now on, not to berate themselves for prior errors.  How were they to know how to live unless someone had told them?  But, now that they knew, they were responsible.  They ought to live faithfully and joyfully in God, who had provided this law for them and forgiven them.

The fact remains that many people do not know of the God of the Bible because of time, geography, and the fact that nobody has informed them yet.  What about them?  I propose that the best answer to this question comes from Paragraph 1281 of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, Second Edition (1997):

Those who die for the faith, those who are catechumens, and all those who, without knowing of the Church but acting under the inspiration of grace, seek God sincerely and strive to fulfill his will, can be saved even if they have not been baptized.

Grace goes where it will, regardless of what we humans think about that.

As much as there is forgiveness, there is also judgment.  Often they coexist within the same passage of scripture.  Consider the lesson from Luke.  The Synoptic Gospels tell virtually identical stories of Jesus sending the Twelve Apostles out on a preaching mission.  Here in Luke, however, Jesus also sends out the newly-minted seventy-two disciples for a similar purpose.  They will face rejection, Jesus knows.  He tells them to leave places where this happens and to leave the rest to God.

God, of course, judges, but also forgives us and continues to seek us.  So only God and a person really know what goes on between God and him or her.  The rest of us ought not to judge, not that this stops us sometimes.

I write these words on Good Friday 2011, so I give special attention to our Lord and Savior’s prayer for those who executed him and who looked on.  ”Forgive them,” he said, ” for they do not know what they are doing.”  What we do to each other in ignorance can be devastating, but it lies within the range of forgiveness.

Perhaps the best way to close this devotion is to quote a prayer from a Rosh Hashanah service, courtesy of Gates of Repentance:  The New Union Prayerbook for the Days of Awe (New York, NY:  Central Conference of American Rabbis, 1978), page 371.  This seems appropriate because The Jewish Study Bible informs me that the gathering in Nehemiah 8 occurred on a date known later as Rosh Hashanah.

Lord, we are not so arrogant as to pretend

that the trial of our lives

does not reveal our flaws.

We know ourselves,

in this moment of prayer,

to have failed

the ones we love and the stranger,

again and again.

We know how often

we did not bring to the surface of our lives

the hidden goodness within.

Where we have achieved, O Lord,

we are grateful;

where we have failed,

we ask forgiveness.

Remember how exposed we are

to the chances and terrors of life.

We were afraid.

We sometimes chose to fail.

And we ask:

Turn our thoughts from the hurt to its remedy.

Free us from the torments of guilt.

Forgiven, O Lord, we shall then forgive others;

failing, we shall learn to understand failure;

renewed and encouraged, we shall strive to be like

those who came before us:  human.

Sinners sometimes, yet a blessing.

Amen.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 22, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CHARLES HAMILTON HOUSTON, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY

THE FEAST OF CESAR CHAVEZ, LABOR UNION LEADER

THE FEAST OF SAINT FIDELIS OF SIGMARINGEN, CAPUCHIN FRIAR AND MARTYR

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on April 22, 2011

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/04/22/week-of-proper-21-thursday-year-1/

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Commitments   1 comment

Above:  The Far West of the Persian Empire in 525 B.C.E.

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Nehemiah 2:1-9 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

In the month of Nisan, in the twentieth year of Artaxerxes, wine was set before him; I took the wine and gave it to the king–I had never been out of sorts in his presence.  The king said to me,

How is it that you look bad, though you are not ill?  It must be bad thoughts.

I was very frightened, but I answered the king,

May the king live forever!  How should I not look bad when the city of the graveyard of my ancestors lies in ruins, and its gates have been consumed by fire?

The king said to me,

What is your request?

With a prayer to the God of Heaven, I answered the king,

If it please the king, and if your servant has found favor with you, send me to Judah, the city of my ancestors’ graves, to rebuild it.

With the consort seated at his side, the king said to me,

How long will you be gone and when will you return?

So it was agreeable to the king to send me, and I gave him a date.  Then I said to the king,

If it please the king, let me have letters to the governors of the province Beyond the River, directing them to grant me passage until I reach Judah; likewise, a letter to Asaph, keeper of the King’s Park, directing him to give me timber for roofing the gatehouses of the temple fortress and the city walls and for the house I shall occupy.

The king gave me these, thanks to my God’s benevolent care for me.  When I came to the governors of the province of Beyond the River I gave them the king’s letters.  The king also sent army officers and cavalry with me.

Psalm 137 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  By the waters of Babylon we sat down and wept,

when we remembered you, O Zion.

2  As for our harps, we hung them up

on the trees in the midst of that land.

3  For those who led us away captive asked us for a song,

and our oppressors called for mirth:

“Sing for us the songs of Zion.”

4  How shall we sing the LORD’s song

upon alien soil?

5  If I forget you, O Jerusalem,

let my right hand forget its skill.

6  Let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth

if I do not remember you,

if I do not set Jerusalem above my highest joy.

7  Remember the day of Jerusalem, O LORD,

against the people of Edom,

who said, “Down with it!  even to the ground!”

8  O Daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,

happy the one who pays you back

for that which you have done to us!

9  Happy shall be he who takes your little ones,

and dashes them against the rock!

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Let us ground ourselves in time and space before we proceed.  Cyrus II “the Great” of the Persians and the Medes conquered the Babylonian Empire in 539 B.C.E.  He permitted the first group of Jews to return to their ancestral homeland one year later, 538 B.C.E.  He died in 530, and Cambyses (reigned 530-522) succeeded him.  After Cambyses came Darius I (reigned 522-486), who permitted the construction of the Second Temple from 520 to 515.  Xerxes I (reigned 486-465) occupied the throne next, after which came Artaxerxes I (reigned 465-424), Nehemiah’s king.  (Thanks to The Jewish Study Bible for the dates.)

Nobody had restored the walls of Jerusalem nearly a century after the first group of exiles had returned.  So, circa 445 B.C.E, Nehemiah, the cupbearer to King Artaxerxes I, sought and received permission to oversee the restoration of those walls.  The diminished state of Jerusalem troubled Nehemiah so much that he had to do something about it.  He committed himself to that great task.

Although the Biblical authors are generally favorably disposed toward the Persian kings who helped the Jews, many of the writings from and about that time have an air of melancholy about them.  The reality of 538 B.C.E. and the following years exists in the shadow of pre-destruction Jerusalem.  The Second Temple was far less grand than the complex from Solomon’s time, the city walls were in a dilapidated state for almost century, and home was part of a far-flung yet generally benevolent empire they did not govern.  Furthermore, Judea was one of the poorer regions of the Persian Empire, a fact of which the residents were quite aware.  There were many reasons to feel discouraged.

Consider Psalm 137 also.  It speaks of a time prior to the Persian conquest of Babylon.  The frustrations of the exiled, conquered, and/or colonized are understandable in any time or place.  These are on full display in Psalm 137, which I have typed in its entirely.  The lectionary said to stop at verse 6, but the full impact of the text requires that one read all of it.  Verses 7-9 speak of violence and the desire for revenge, even upon innocent children unfortunate enough to have been born Babylonian.  The Book of Psalms is honest about raw human emotions, as we should be without condoning certain ones.  But let us not skip over the verses we find uncomfortable.

The text in Luke has a parallel reading in Matthew.  Follow the URL I have provided to read my thoughts about the Matthew version.  It is sufficed to say here that, as I interpreted the Matthew version in the light of the verses before it, I will do the same for this day’s reading from Luke.  Jesus has just set his course for Jerusalem and the events of Holy Week.  So he does not tolerate excuses from anyone.  He has committed himself, so he expects others to dedicate themselves.

It is also worth noticing that, in the next section, Jesus sends the outer circle of disciples out on a preaching mission.  Thus 9:60 makes sense.  It reads, “…your duty is to go and spread the news of the kingdom of God.”

There is much work to do for God.  May we avoid distractions and excuses; may we begin or continue to fulfill our vocations.  Along the way we may need some help from others of a different religious or ethnic or social group or economic class.  May they do their parts too.  And may we leave behind all baggage that would weigh us down.  May the love of God fill us and drive away all that is not love.

That is a commitment worth keeping.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 21, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ROBERT SEYMOUR BRIDGES, POET AND TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANSELM, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on April 21, 2011

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/04/21/week-of-proper-21-wednesday-year-1/

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Posted October 26, 2011 by neatnik2009 in Nehemiah 2, Psalm 137

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