Divine Judgment and Human Discomfort   1 comment

Above:  The Expulsion of the Money Changers from the Temple, by Giotto di Bondone

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Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.

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Revelation 10:8-11 (Revised English Bible):

The voice which I had heard from heaven began speaking to me again; it said,

Go and take the scroll which is open in the hand of the angel who stands on the sea and the land.

I went to the angel and asked him to give me the little scroll.  He answered,

Take it, and eat it.  It will turn your stomach sour, but in your mouth it will taste as sweet as honey.

I took the scroll from the angel’s hand and ate it, and in my mouth it did taste as sweet as honey, but when I swallowed it my stomach turned sour.

Then I was told,

Once again you must utter prophecies over many nations, races, languages, and kings.

Revelation 11:1-14 (Revised English Bible):

I was given a long cane to use as a measuring rod, and was told:

Go and measure the temple of God and the altar, and count the worshippers.  But leave the outer court of the temple out of your measurements; it has been given over to the Gentiles, and for forth-two months they will trample the Holy City underfoot.  I will give my two witnesses authority to prophesy, dressed in sackcloth, for those twelve hundred and sixty days.

They are the two olive trees and the two lamps that stand in the presence of the Lord of the earth.  If anyone tries to injure them, fire issues from their mouths and consumes their enemies; so shall anyone die who tries to do them injury.  These two have the power to shut up the sky, so that no rain falls during the time of their prophesying; and they have power to turn water into blood and to afflict the earth with every kind of plague whenever they like.  But when they have completed their testimony, the beast that comes up from the abyss will wage war on them and will overcome and kill them.  Their bodies will lie in the street of the great city, whose name in prophetic language is Sodom, or Egypt, where also their Lord was crucified.  For three and a half days people from every nation and tribe, language, and race, gaze on their corpses and refuse them burial.  The earth’s inhabitants gloat over them; they celebrate and exchange presents, for these two prophets were a torrent to them.  But at the end of the three and a half days the breath of life of God came into their bodies, and they rose to their feet, to the terror of those who saw them.  A loud voice from heaven was heard saying to them,

Come up here!

and they ascended to heaven in a cloud, in full view of their enemies.  At that moment there was a silent earthquake, and a tenth of the city collapsed.  Seven thousand people were killed in the earthquake; the rest, filled with fear, did homage to the God of heaven.

The second woe has now passed; but the third is soon to come.

Psalm 119:65-72 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

65  O LORD, you have dealt graciously with your servant,

according to your word.

66  Teach me discernment and knowledge,

for I have believed in your commandments.

67  Before I was afflicted I went astray,

but now I keep your word.

68  You are good and you bring forth good;

instruct me in your statutes.

69  The proud have smeared me with lies,

but I will keep your commandments with my whole heart.

70  Their heart is gross and fat,

but my delight is in your law.

71  It is good for me that I have been afflicted,

that I might learn your statutes.

72  The law of your mouth is dearer to me

than thousands in gold and silver.

Psalm 144:1-10 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  Blessed be the LORD my rock!

who trains my hands to fight and my fingers to battle;

2  My help and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer,

my shield in whom I trust,

who subdues the peoples under me.

3  O LORD, what are we that you should care for us?

mere mortals that you should think of us?

4  We are like a puff of wind;

our days like a passing shadow.

5  Bow your heavens, O LORD, and come down;

touch the mountains, and they shall smoke.

6  Hurl the lightning and scatter them;

shoot out your arrows and rout them.

7  Stretch out your hand from on high;

rescue me and deliver me from the great waters,

from the hand of foreign peoples,

8  Whose mouths speak deceitfully

and whose right hand is raised in falsehood.

9  O God, I will sing to you a new song;

I will play to you on a ten-stringed lyre.

10  You give victory to kings

and have rescued David your servant.

Luke 19:45-48 (Revised English Bible):

(Set shortly after the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem; the Last Supper occurs in Chapter 22)

Then Jesus went into the temple and began driving out the traders, with these words:

Scriptures says, “My house shall be a house of prayer;” but you have made it a bandits’ cave.

Day by day he taught in the temple.  The chief priests and scribes, with the support of the leading citizens, wanted to bring about his death, but found that they were helpless, because the people all hung on his words.

Luke 20:27-40 (Revised English Bible):

Then some Sadducees, who deny that there is a resurrection, came forward and asked:

Teacher, Moses, laid it down for us that if there are brothers, and one dies leaving a wife but not child, then the next should marry the widow and provide an heir for his brother.  Now there seven brothers:  the first took a wife and died childless, then the second married her, then the third.  In this way the seven of them died leaving no children.  Last of all the woman also died. At the resurrection, whose wife is she to be, since all seven had married her?

Jesus said to them,

The men and women of this world marry; but those who have been judged who have been judged worthy of a place in the other world, and of the resurrection from the dead, do not marry, for they are no longer subject to death.  They are like angels; they are children of God, because they share in his resurrection.  That the dead are raised to life again is shown by Moses himself in the story of the burning bush, when he calls the Lord “the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, the God of Jacob.”  God is not the God of the living; in his sight all are alive.

At this some of the scribes said,

Well spoken, Teacher.

And nobody dared put any further question to him.

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The Collect:

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life, which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ; who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Some Related Posts:

Week of Proper 28:  Friday, Year 1:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/28/week-of-proper-28-friday-year-1/

Week of Proper 28:  Saturday, Year 1:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/29/week-of-proper-28-saturday-year-1/

The Church’s One Foundation:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/06/26/the-churchs-one-foundation/

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As I have written already in at least one blog post, there is a difference between a negotiation and a rescue operation.  There is justice, which mercy serves sometimes.  Other times, however, punishment must fall.  That is the context for Revelation 7-10, which, in vivid imagery, describes God, whose power reaches from the land to the sea to the waterways to the stars, sheltering the martyrs and inflicting punishment on the wicked.  The sense of doom upon the wicked is palpable in the symbolic language, the details of which I will not unpack here.  Rather, I choose to focus on the main idea, which I have stated already.

We read of John of Patmos eating a scroll containing words of judgment.  (This is similar to Ezekiel 2:8-3:3–follow this link:  http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/10/04/week-of-proper-14-tuesday-year-2/.  John agrees with doom upon the Roman Empire yet regrets the fact that Christians will continue to suffer.  Speaking of suffering, the two witnesses in Revelation 11 indicate the continuation of martyrdom.  (I suspect, by the way, that memories of the First Jewish War and the Roman destruction of Jerusalem and the Temple influenced Revelation 11.)

Jesus, in Luke’s Gospel confronts the money changers, who used religious sensibilities to create opportunities to enrich themselves at the expense of the poor.  He used words and force.  Nevertheless, I support that money changers were not absent for long.

Why do the good suffer?  Why does God not prevent it?  Why does not God not stop all economic exploitation?  Ask God, not me.  But John of Patmos offers some comfort:  The wicked will suffer the consequences of their actions in time.  Furthermore, God will hear the cry of those who suffer.

I write hagiographies.  My most recent one tells the story of St. James Intercisus, who became a martyr circa 421 C.E. because he confessed his faith to the Persian monarch.  The king’s men tortured, dismembered, and killed the saint slowly and painfully, hence his posthumous surname, Intercisus, or “cut into pieces.  (Follow this link:  http://neatnik2009.wordpress.com/2011/11/16/feast-of-st-james-intercisus-november-27/)  His death was unnecessary; the king could have decided differently.

Ultimate judgment belongs to God.  May we mere mortals acknowledge this reality, accept it, and act accordingly.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 17, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ROSE-PHILIPPINE DUCHESENE, ROMAN CATHOLIC CONTEMPLATIVE

THE FEAST OF SAINT HUGH OF LINCOLN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT ROQUE GONZALEZ DE SANTA CRUZ, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/11/17/week-of-proper-28-friday-year-2-and-week-of-proper-28-saturday-year-2/

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  1. Pingback: Week of Proper 28: Friday, Year 2, and Week of Proper 28: Saturday, Year 2 « ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

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