Of Food and Ritual Propriety   1 comment

Above:  A Sycamore Tree in Jericho

Image Source = Bonio

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Zacchaeus-sycamore.JPG)

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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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2 Maccabees 6:18-31 (Revised English Bible):

Eleazar, one of the leading teachers of the law, a man of great age and distinguished bearing, was forced to open his mouth to eat pork; but preferring death with honour to life with impiety, he spat it out and voluntarily submitted to the torture.  So should men act who have the courage to reject which despite a natural desire to save their lives it is not lawful to eat.  Because of their long acquaintance with them, the officials in charge of this sacrilegious meal had a word with Eleazar in private; they urged him to bring meat which he was permitted to eat and had himself prepared; he need only pretend to comply with the king’s order to eat the sacrificial meat.  In that way he would escape death by taking advantage of the clemency which their long-standing friendship merited.  But Eleazar made an honourable decision, one worthy of his years and the authority of old age, worthy of the grey hairs he had attained to and wore with such distinction, worthy of his faultless conduct from childhood, but above all worthy of the holy and God-given law; he replied at once:

Send me to my grave! If I went through with this pretence at my time of my life, many of the young might believe that at the age of ninety Eleazar had turned apostate.  If I practiced deceit for the sake of a brief moment of life, I should lead them astray and stain my old age with dishonour.  I might for the present avoid man’s punishment, but alive or dead I should never escape the hand of the Almighty.  If I now die bravely, I shall show that I have deserved my long life and leave to the young a noble example; I shall be teaching them how to die a good death, gladly and nobly, for our revered and holy laws.

With these words he went straight to the torture, while those who a short time before had shown him friendship now turned hostile because, to them, what he said was madness.  When Eleazar was on the point of death from the blows he had received, he groaned aloud and said:

To the Lord belongs all holy knowledge; he knows what terrible agony I endure in my body from this flogging, though I could have escaped death; yet he knows also that in my soul I suffer gladly, because I stand in awe of him.

So he died; and by his death he left a noble example and a memorial of virtue, not only to the young but also to the great mass of his countrymen.

Psalm 3 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  LORD,  how many adversaries I have!

how many there are who rise up against me!

2  How many there are who say of me,

“There is no help for him in his God.”

3  But you, O LORD, are a shield about me;

you are my glory, the one who lifts up my head.

4  I call aloud to the LORD,

and he answers me from his holy hill;

5  I lie down and go to sleep;

I wake again, because the LORD sustains me.

6  I do not fear the multitudes of people

who set themselves against me all around.

7  Rise up, O LORD; set me free, O my God;

surely, you will strike all my enemies across my face,

you will break the teeth of the wicked.

8  Deliverance belongs to the LORD.

Your blessing be upon your people!

Luke 19:1-10 (Revised English Bible):

Entering Jericho Jesus made his way through the city.  There was a man there named Zacchaeus; he was superintendent of taxes and very rich.  He was eager to see what Jesus looked like; but, being  a little man, he could not see him for the crowd.  So he ran on ahead and climbed a sycomore tree in order to see him, for he was to pass that way.  When Jesus came to the place, he looked up and said,

Zacchaeus, be quick to come down, for I must stay at your house today.

He climbed down as quickly as he could and welcomed him gladly.  At this time there was a general murmur of disapproval.

He has gone in to be the guest of a sinner,

they said.  But Zacchaeus stood there and said to the Lord,

Here and now, sir, I give half my possessions to charity; and if I have defrauded anyone, I will repay him four times over.

Jesus said to him,

Today  salvation has come to this house–for this man too is a son of Abraham.  The Son of Man has come to seek and to save what is lost.

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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:

Torture:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/05/28/a-prayer-for-those-who-inflict-torture/

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/05/28/a-prayer-for-those-who-are-tortured/

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There is much that is wearisome about the four Books of the Maccabees.  Consider elderly Eleazar’s speech, set in the context of his flogging to death.  Really, do you think that someone would be so eloquent in such a circumstance?  By the way, there are more over-the-top righteous speeches in 4 Maccabees.  But such speeches made the books of the Maccabees popular with many Christians, living under the threat of persecution, during the earliest centuries of the faith.

So Eleazar preferred to die while keeping the Law of God, as he understood it, rather than even pretend to obey the royal command to eat pork–and pork sacrificed to idol.  The Apostle Paul, writing in 1 Corinthians 8, did not become upset about eating meat sacrificed to idols, for, as he wrote, there is only God.  Yet he recommended not consuming such meat, so as not to confuse those who thought that pantheons were real.  Eating such meat was lawful for him, but not permitted.  Then there is Simon Peter’s vision of ritually unclean food in Acts 10:9-16.

What God has made clean, you must not call profane,

God said.

I am a Gentile–one raised Protestant.  So, not only do I enjoy an occasional pork chop and a ham sandwich, but I even eat before Eucharist and consume meat on Fridays, including Good Friday.  Food prohibitions beyond those associated with health concerns seem superfluous to me.  Nevertheless, none of these facts negate the faith of Eleazar or the tyranny of Antiochus Epiphanes.

Speaking of food…

Jesus invited himself to eat with Zacchaeus, a tax collector and, in so doing, caused a scandal.  The reason for the scandal was the profession of his host, Roman tax collecting.  The Roman imperial tax collection system at the time encouraged corruption, for tax collectors lived off the excess funds they gathered.  Zacchaeus seems to have especially corrupt and understandably despised, but he sought Jesus, who recognized potential in him and responded to that.  Zacchaeus acted to make his repentance plain, for he volunteered to made resitution at a higher level than the Law of Moses required.  Four-fold restitution was the rate mandatory for violent and deliberate destruction (Exodus 22:1), but two-fold restitution was the assigned rate for run-of-the-mill theft (Exodus 22:4 and 7).  And Leviticus 6:5 and Numbers 5:7 specified that the rate of restitution in the case of voluntary confession and repayment was the amount stolen plus one-fifth.

I wonder what else Zacchaeus did.  The Biblical narrative is silent on the matter, but one can assume safely that it reflected the positive impact of Jesus on his life.  Our Lord ate with people such as Zacchaeus, thereby keeping “bad” company.  One was not supposed to eat with “bad” company, according to respectable social norms at the time and place.

Jesus disregarded the appearance of propriety when he reached out to Zacchaeus.  Eleazar gave his life when he maintained such appearances and obeyed his faith.  I propose that there is a rule governing whether one ought to maintain the appearance of propriety:  Why is one doing it?  If the rationale is compassion, maintaining the appearance of propriety is probably justifiable, for many people cannot distinguish between appearances and reality.  But if one is doing this to make one’s self look good, it is probably not justifiable. Would you, O reader, rather be Zacchaeus or Jesus at the dinner, or someone scoffing at the reality of that meal?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 26, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY, ARCHBISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT PHILIP NERI, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/26/week-of-proper-28-tuesday-year-1/

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One response to “Of Food and Ritual Propriety

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  1. Pingback: Week of Proper 28: Tuesday, Year 1 « ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

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