God, Who Is Attracted To Us   1 comment

Above:  Jessica Lange as Angelique in All That Jazz (1979)

(The image is a screen capture from a DVD of the movie.)

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Deuteronomy 10:12-21 (Richard Elliott Friedman, 2001):

(Moses speaking)

And now, Israel, what is YHWH, your God, asking from you except to fear YHWH, your God, to go in all His ways, and to love Him with all your heart and soul, to observe YHWH’s commandments and His laws that I command you today to be good for you.  Here, YHWH, your god, has the skies–and the skies of the skies!–the earth and everything that’s in it.  Only, YHWH was attracted to your fathers, to love them, and He chose their seed after them:  you, out of all the peoples, as it is this day.  So you shall circumcise the foreskin of your heart, and you shall not harden your necks anymore.  Because YHWH, your God:  He is the God of gods and the Lord of lords, the great, the mighty; and the awesome God, who won’t be partial and won’t take a bribe, doing judgment for an orphan and a widow and loving an alien, to give him bread and a garment.  So you shall love the alien, because you were aliens in the land of Egypt.  You shall fear YHWH, your God, you shall serve Him, and you shall cling to Him, and you shall swear by His name.  He is your splendor, and He is your God, who did these great and awesome things for you that your eyes have seen.  Your fathers went down to Egypt with seventy persons, and now YWHH your God, has made you  like the stars of the skies for multitude.

Psalm 148 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

Hallelujah!

Praise the LORD from the heavens;

praise him in the heights.

2 Praise him, all you angels of his;

praise him, all his host.

3 Praise him, sun and moon;

praise him, all you shining stars.

Praise him, heaven of heavens,

and you waters above the heavens.

5 Let them praise the Name of the LORD;

for he commanded, and they were created.

He made them stand fast for ever and ever;

he gave them a law which shall not pass away.

Praise the LORD from the earth,

you sea-monsters and all deeps;

8 Fire and hail, snow and fog,

tempestuous wind, doing his will;

9 Mountains and all hills,

fruit trees and cedars;

10 Wild beasts and all cattle,

creeping things and winged birds;

11 Kings of the earth and all peoples,

princes and all rulers of the world;

12 Young man and maidens,

old and young together.

13 Let them praise the Name of the LORD,

for his Name only is exalted,

his splendor is over earth and heaven.

14 He has raised up strength for his people

and praise for all his loyal servants,

the children of Israel, a people who are near him.

Hallelujah!

Matthew 17:22-27 (J. B. Phillips, 1972):

As they went together in Galilee, Jesus told them,

The Son of Man is going to be handed over to the power of men, and they will kill him.  And on the third day he will be raised to life again.

This greatly distressed the disciples.

Then when they arrived at Capernaum the Temple tax-collectors came up and said to Peter,

Your master doesn’t pay Temple-tax, we presume?

Peter replied,

Oh, yes, he does!

Later when he went into the house, Jesus anticipated what he was going to say.

What do you think, Simon?

he said.

Whom do the kings of this world get their tolls and taxes from–their own family or from others?

Peter replied,

From others.

Jesus told him,

Then the family is exempt.  Yet we don’t want to give offence to these people, so go down to the lake and throw in your hook.  Take the first fish that bites, open his mouth and you’ll find a silver coin.  Take that and give it to them, for both of us.

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The Collect:

Grant to us, Lord, we pray, the spirit to think and do always those things that are right, that we, who cannot exist without you, may by you be enabled to live according to your will; 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 word “awesome” has lost much of its power in my North American culture. It is, in its older English form, related to “awful,” which used to mean “full of awe.”   Hence “awesome” means “inspiring awe.”  So the word is far more profound than one might think after hearing “Totally awesome, dude!” too many times.

The speaker in Deuteronomy is Moses, at least in literature.  He reminds the Israelites, who are about to enter the promised land, of the greatness, mercy, and power of God, who has made them what they are.  And God asks that they obey him, for his commands are for their own good.  This is God, who, as Professor Richard Elliott translates a verse,

was attracted to your fathers, to love them…and their seed after them.

Much of Christian tradition has not dealt well with even the hint of human sexuality.  So the idea of God being attracted to people might seem jarring.  But I find it rather comforting.  When I read that verse while typing it, my mind turned to All That Jazz (1979) and Father Andrew Greeley’s analysis of it in his 1990 book, The Catholic Myth:  The Behavior and Beliefs of American Catholics (New York:  Charles Scribner’s Sons).  The late Roy Scheider plays Joe Gideon, a Broadway show producer.  Joe is also a shallow man drinks too much, takes too many pills, and has troubled relationships with women and his daughter.  Through it all, Angelique, whose true identity is vague, speaks to him–sometimes in comfort, other times in reproof, and still other times mockingly.  But she is there at the end, as Joe, now dead, travels down the tunnel, toward the light, where she is waiting.  Is she God? She might be.  She is certainly attracted to Joe Gideon.

Father Greeley has a wonderful footnote on page 252:

I take consolation in the hope that God, when finally encountered, will be even more spectacular than Jessica Lange.   She’d better be.

As God is attracted to us, we ought to reciprocate.  Saints, especially female ones whose writings have come down to us, have understood this principle well.  This becomes easier for men when using a female image of God.  And why not?  God exists beyond human concepts of sex and gender; let us not become distracted by metaphors.  As for me, I will be content if God is only as spectacular as Jessica Lange.

The laws of God speak of our obligations to each other.  Honoring these is part of demonstrating one’s love for God.  The text from Deuteronomy singles out the treatment of aliens and reminds the Israelites that they used to be aliens in Egypt.  So they ought to treat the aliens in their midst with great respect.  This is a timeless principle, one that all people would do well to honor with words and deeds.  I wonder how better the debates over immigration policies in more than one nation (such as my own, the United States of America) would be if this principle set the tone.  God is attracted to the foreigners, too.

Speaking of obligations to each other, the text from Matthew addresses a specific tax.  The temple tax had its origin in Exodus 30:11-16.  Each Jew at least twenty years old had to pay half a shekel per year.  Subsequent time and tradition altered the amount and led to disagreements about whether the Temple tax ought to be voluntary or mandatory, and whether was supposed to an annual payment or a one-time gift.  Pharisees understood it as a mandatory annual tax; Sadducees thought it was voluntary, and Essenes understood it as a one-time donation.  Jesus paid the tax miraculously in the story, but not before making a point about a king’s tribute, and the fact the royal family does not pay such a tax.

This is a vital clue.  History tells us that Roman forces destroyed the Temple at Jerusalem in 7o C.E., but that the Empire imposed a new tax in the place of the Temple tax afterward, for the purpose of supporting the new Temple of Jupiter, which took the place of the former Jewish Temple.  And the writing of the Gospel of Matthew postdates that event.  So the original audience of that Gospel would have thought of that Roman tax.  Paul had written about freedom in Christ as well as the necessity to avoid abusing one’s spiritual freedom so as to harm others.  For example, he knew that other gods did not exist, so it might seem to be a shame to let perfectly good food dedicated to said deities go uneaten.  But others did not know that there is only one God.  So, for their sake, Paul advocated not eating such food.

So this is a difficult passage.  Does it mean that the Hebrew Christians after 70 C.E. had an obligation to pay the new, odious Roman tax?  Is this a hard teaching about the obligations of citizenship, even under occupation?  There are layers of Biblical analysis, and the purpose of this weblog is devotional.  So I choose to remain focused on that.  In this case, this mandate entails thinking about mutual obligations.

We humans have obligations to each other, and our freedoms are not absolute.  Think about traffic laws; they serve the common good.  This is a mundane example, but it makes a point.  A healthy spiritual ethic balances individual freedom and the common good; it tramples neither.  After all, God is attracted to all of us.

It is easy to grasp this concept when pondering people one likes, with whom one agrees, and who are like one.  But this can be challenging when thinking and speaking of those who do not fit any of those descriptions.  I find it challenging much of the time.  You, O reader, might not be so different from me in this regard.  But let us think more about what happened to Thomas Merton one day.  While standing on an urban sidewalk, he looked around and realized that he loved everybody.  This ethic defined his life from that moment forward.  May it define ours, too.  After all, God is attracted to us.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 3, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT NICHOLAS KASATKIN, ORTHODOX ARCHBISHOP OF ALL JAPAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANSKAR, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF HAMBURG-BREMEN

THE FEAST OF GIOVANNI PIERLUIGI DA PALESTRINA, COMPOSER OF SACRED MUSIC

THE FEAST OF MILLARD FULLER, FOUNDER OF HABITAT FOR HUMANITY

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR on February 3, 2011

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/02/03/week-of-proper-14-monday-year-1/

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One response to “God, Who Is Attracted To Us

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  1. Pingback: Week of Proper 14: Monday, Year 1 « ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

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