Archive for November 2020

In the Beginning Was the Word….   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of Christ Pantocrator

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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For the Fourth Sunday of Advent, Year 2

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Lectionary from A Book of Worship for Free Churches (The General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in the United States, 1948)

Collect from The Book of Worship (Evangelical and Reformed Church, 1947)

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Stir up, O Lord, we beseech thee, thy power, and come,

with great might to succor us, that by the help of thy grace

whatsoever is hindered by our sins may be speedily accomplished,

through thy mercy and satisfaction;

who livest and reignest with the Father and the Holy Spirit,

ever, One God, world without end.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 111

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Isaiah 2:2-5

Psalm 97

Revelation 22:1-21

John 1:1-18

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The apocalyptic hope of the first three readings remains unfulfilled.  The darkness remains ignorant of the light.  The darkness cannot overcome the light, however.

This series of four Advent devotions has been consistent in repeating the themes of the kingship, reliability, and sovereignty of God, as well as the balance of divine judgment and mercy.  After having written thousands of devotional posts, including four in longhand in two days, I find myself at a loss for much else to contribute in this post.

I do challenge you, O reader, to complete one task, however.  I challenge you to read or to listen to someone read John 1:1-18 aloud.  Use a translation that renders that glorious prose poetry majestically.  (Some translations butcher the Prologue to the Gospel of John both stylistically and theologically.  I am pointing my finger at you, The Message!)  Really listen.  Then ponder those glorious verses.  May the Holy Spirit lead you to do what you should afterward.  I am not qualified to say what that may be.  I assure you, however, that healthy faith is active.  Deeds reveal creeds.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 30, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE SECOND DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANDREW THE APOSTLE, MARTYR

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Tobias and the Angel, On the Road Together   Leave a comment

Above:  Tobias and the Angel, by Wenceslas Hollar

Image in the Public Domain

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READING TOBIT

PART VI

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Tobit  5:1-6:17/18 (depending on versification)

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The Book of Tobit is a novella with faulty history and geography.  Regarding geography, making the journey from Nineveh to Ectabana (about 450 miles) in a mere two days thousands of years ago would have been miraculous.  I realize that Azariah/Azarias means “God has helped,” but the geography in the story remains erroneous.

The dog is an odd detail, starting in Tobit 6:2 and again in 11:4.

  1. Dogs were unclean animals and not pets.  Biblical texts mentioned them in negative terms.  (Exodus 11:7; Judith 11:9; Luke 16:21; Proverbs 26:17; 2 Peter 2:22; Exodus 22:31; I Kings 14:11; 1 Kings 16:4, 21; 1 Kings 19:23-24; 1 Kings 22:38; 2 Kings 9:10, 36; Psalm 68:23-24; Jeremiah 15:3).
  2. “Dog” was a term of contempt for a human being.  (1 Samuel 17:43; 2 Kings 8:13; Matthew 15:26; Mark 7:27)
  3. Sometimes “dog” referred to the wicked.  (Isaiah 56:10-11; Philippians 3:2; Revelation 22:15)
  4. Sometimes “dog” also referred to a male temple prostitute.  (Deuteronomy 23:18-19)
  5. Mentioning a dog in positive terms in Tobit 6:2 and 11:4 was, therefore, odd.  Perhaps it was a remnant of an older folk tale.  In the context of the Book of Tobit, the dog was a second angel in disguise.  

The reference to the fish (Tobit 6:3) that tried to swallow Tobias’s “foot” is one aspect of the story one can explain easily.  We are in the realm of euphemism.  As elsewhere “feet” are really genitals.  (Exodus 4:25; Ruth 3:7; Isaiah 6:2)

The fish-related cure for blindness and method of repelling demons are fascinating aspects of this folklore.  What a fish!

In these two chapters we read of God indirectly setting the healing of Tobit and Sarah into motion.  We also read of Raphael preparing Tobias to marry Sarah.  God has a hidden hand in the Book of Tobit.  God works subtly in this story.  Many of us can cite examples of God’s subtle, hidden hand in our lives and in the lives of others.

The Book of Tobit is partially about wellness.  In this reading, Tobit, Anna, and Sarah are not well.  Tobit is blind, Anna is overwhelmed, and Sarah is at the end of her rope.  By the end of the book, all of them are well.

But what is true wellness?  The best answer I can find comes from Irene Nowell, O.S.B., writing in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume III (1999):

True wellness is a consequence of humility, the recognition that life and health are gifts from God.

True wellness is heavily spiritual.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 30, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE SECOND DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANDREW THE APOSTLE, MARTYR

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Concerning Wheat, Tares, and Donatism, Part II   Leave a comment

 

Above:  The Parable of the Tares

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Third Sunday of Advent, Year 2

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Lectionary from A Book of Worship for Free Churches (The General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in the United States, 1948)

Collect from The Book of Worship (Evangelical and Reformed Church, 1947)

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Almighty and Everlasting God, who hast given to us, thy servants, grace,

by the confession of a true faith, to acknowledge the glory of the eternal Trinity,

and in the power of the divine majesty to worship the Unity;

we beseech thee, that thou wouldst keep us steadfast in this faith,

and evermore defend us from all adversities;

who livest and reignest, One God, world without end.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 182

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Isaiah 12:1-6

Psalms 67 and 75

Revelation 21:1-27

Matthew 13:14-52

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The fully realized Kingdom of God will arrive on schedule–God’s schedule.  Or it will seem to arrive, from a human perspective, one bound by time.  Either way, this will be wonderful news for the oppressed and catastrophic news for their oppressors.  Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance.

We–you and I, O reader–live in the age of weeds (tares) growing among the wheat.  May we not presume to know more than do.  Our judgment regarding who is a weed and who is wheat may be flawed.  The Church and many congregations have a shameful track record of harming members spiritually (especially with legalism and bigotry) instead of nurturing them.  I know refugees from the Church.  Perhaps you do, too, O reader.  The irony of a bumper sticker,

JESUS, SAVE ME FROM YOUR FOLLOWERS,

is rich.  Nobody needs saving from actual followers of Jesus.  Yet those “followers of Jesus” from whom people need deliverance almost certainly think they follow Christ.

As the Gospel of Mark (in its entirety) and Matthew 25:31-46 teach us bluntly, many who think they are insiders are really outsiders, just as many who imagine themselves to be outsiders are actually insiders.  Wheat or weeds?  One may not know to which category one, much less another person, belongs.  That may be either good or bad news, depending on one’s case.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 29, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FIRST DAY OF ADVENT:  THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF FREDERICK COOK ATKINSON, ANGLICAN CHURCH ORGANIST AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF JENNETTE THRELFALL, ENGLISH HYMN WRITER

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Tobit’s Instructions to Tobias   Leave a comment

Above:  Map of the Neo-Assyrian Empire

Image in the Public Domain

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READING TOBIT

PART V

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Tobit 4:1-20

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Samuel L. Clemens, a.k.a. Mark Twain, explained that the difference between reality and fiction is that people expect fiction to make sense.  Often, as cliché tells us, reality is stranger than fiction.  After all, solar-powered submarines exist.

The Book of Tobit is a work of fiction, of course.  Yet its main human characters are realistic.  I can believe that, in real life, one may suddenly remember, after years of dependency, that a vast sum of money far away exists.  Human memory works in odd ways much of the time.

Tobit’s instructions to his son, Tobias, reflect piety.  We read again of the importance of proper burial and of giving alms to the poor.  Other morals pertain to honoring parents, keeping divine commandments, avoiding fornication, choosing a Jewish wife, paying workers promptly, keeping the Golden Rule, not getting drunk, and praising and trusting God.

The importance of alms in the Book of Tobit is about more than helping the poor.  Jews living in exile and the diaspora lacked the option of offering sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem.  Almsgiving substituted for offering sacrifices.

A brief survey of almsgiving in the Bible follows:

  1. One should give alms willingly.  (Deuteronomy 16:17; Tobit 4:8, 16; Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 18:15-18)
  2. One should give alms in proportion to one’s income.  (Deuteronomy 15:14; Deuteronomy 16:17; Tobit 4:8, 16; Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 35:9-10)
  3. One should restrict alms to within one’s community.  (Deuteronomy 14:29; Deuteronomy 16:14; Tobit 4:17; Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 12:1-7)
  4. Almsgiving saves the giver from sins.  (Tobit 12:9-10; Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 3:30-31)
  5. Almsgiving is a worthy offering before God.  (Tobit 4:11; Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 34:18-35:4)
  6. Almsgiving saves the giver from premature death and destruction.  (Tobit 4:10; Tobit 12:9; Tobit 14:10; Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 29:10-13; Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 40:17, 24)

The Bible places a priority on works as an expression of faith.  May we leave Reformation theology of faith and works out of this, for the time being, at least.  May we admit that Second Temple-era Jews were not Lutherans.  And may we remember Matthew 25:40:

And the king will say to them in reply, “Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.

The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

In other words, such works matter to God.  We cannot love God, whom we cannot see, if we do not love people, whom we can see.

The principle is clear.  The execution is not always obvious, however.  It depends on circumstances, such as who one is, where one is, and when one is.  For example, should one give money to a panhandler standing on a street corner?  Or should one instead give those funds to organizations that help the poor and homeless?  I favor a local charity that helps battered women.  In my community, churches pool their funds to help the poor into a central distribution point.  Wisdom in almsgiving is essential.  May we–collectively and individually–be wise in this way more often than we are foolish.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 29, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FIRST DAY OF ADVENT:  THE FIRST SUNDAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF FREDERICK COOK ATKINSON, ANGLICAN CHURCH ORGANIST AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF JENNETTE THRELFALL, ENGLISH HYMN WRITER

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Apocalypse and Hope, Part II   Leave a comment

Above:  St. John the Baptist

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Second Sunday of Advent, Year 2

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Lectionary from A Book of Worship for Free Churches (The General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in the United States, 1948)

Collect from The Book of Worship (Evangelical and Reformed Church, 1947)

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Blessed Lord, who hast caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning;

grant that we may in such wise hear them,

read, mark, and inwardly digest them,

that by patience and comfort of thy holy Word,

we may embrace, and ever hold fast,

the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which thou hast given us in our Savior Jesus Christ.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 107

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Malachi 3:19-24 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox)/Malachi 4:1-6 (Anglican and Protestant)

Psalm 96

Revelation 19:1-16

John 5:30-40

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Advent contains strong themes of divine judgment, mixed with mercy.  Divine judgment and mercy balance each other in the Old and New Testaments.  The God of the Hebrew Bible is no more all storm and smiting than the God of the New Testament is all smiles and puppies.

The Day of the Lord (Malachi 3:19-24/4:1-6, depending on versification) relates to the creative destruction in Revelation.  The destruction of the wicked order, built on and maintained by violence and exploitation, must precede the creation of the fully realized Kingdom of God on Earth.  Yet, as we read in Malachi, reconciliation and repentance can stave off judgment.  The impenitent receive judgment.

Psalm 96 is a text of the universal kingship of God.  Thematically, it fits well with the other readings.  YHWH is the sole deity, not a tribal god.

I encourage you, O reader, not to find apocalyptic Biblical language scary and/or off-putting.  Such language condemns many in authority.  It decrees that they fall short of God’s standards, and that God remains sovereign.  Such language empowers we who follow Jesus to say boldly, in the words of Daniel 5:27,

You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting….

The Revised New Jerusalem Bible (2019)

Such language empowers us to speak and write prophetically.  May we do so in love, boldly.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 28, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT STEPHEN THE YOUNGER, DEFENDER OF ICONS

THE FEAST OF ALBERT GEORGE BUTZER, SR., U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF KAMEHAMEHA IV AND EMMAR ROOKE, KING AND QUEEN OF HAWAI’I

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH AND MICHAEL HOFER, U.S. HUTTERITE CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTORS AND MARTYRS, 1918

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Sarah’s Plight and Her Prayer for Death   Leave a comment

Above:  Asmodeus, by Louis Le Breton

Image in the Public Domain

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READING TOBIT

PART IV

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Tobit 3:7-16

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Tobit had endured ridicule and was suffering from blindness (2:8f).  Then he had falsely accused his wife Anna of having stolen a kid (2:12f) and prayed for death (3:1-6).  Themes repeated in the case of Sarah, falsely accused of having killed seven husbands while remaining a virgin (3:7f) and who also prayed for death (3:11-15).  The demon Asmodeus had killed the seven husbands on those wedding nights.

God assigned the archangel Raphael (“God has healed”) to solve the problems of Sarah and Tobit.

Various elements are at work in these verses.

  1. Seven is the number of completeness and fullness.  By the standards of her culture, Sarah would not marry again.
  2. The disgrace of suicide is a theme.  This theme occurs also in 1 Samuel 31:4-5; 2 Samuel 17:23; 1 Kings 16:18; and 2 Maccabees 14:41-46.  The prohibition against committing suicide is implicit in Genesis 9:4-6 and Exodus 20:13.
  3. Asmodeus is a reference to Aeshma Daeva, the Persian “demon of wrath.”  The Book of Tobit bears a resemblance to the Persian folktale “The Monster in the Bridal Chamber.”  In this folk tale, a serpent emerges from the mouth of the bride-princess on her wedding night and kills her husband.  Finally, after a series of husbands has perished, a stranger marries her and kills the serpent.
  4. God answers prayers.

Suicide is an emotionally difficult subject.  I have never accepted that people who commit suicide automatically go to Hell.  If suicide is a sin, it is not the unpardonable sin.  And those who, not in their right minds, commit suicide, are not responsible, at least not in the way one in one’s right mind is.

This matter is real, not theoretical, for me.  I am in my right mind.  I used to be in love with a woman who struggled with mental illnesses.  The mental illnesses overpowered her.  She was not in her right mind at the end.  Now I am, in my words, “not quite a widower.”  I pray that my beloved has found her peace.  I have yet to find mine.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 28, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT STEPHEN THE YOUNGER, DEFENDER OF ICONS

THE FEAST OF ALBERT GEORGE BUTZER, SR., U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF KAMEHAMEHA IV AND EMMAR ROOKE, KING AND QUEEN OF HAWAI’I

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH AND MICHAEL HOFER, U.S. HUTTERITE CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTORS AND MARTYRS, 1918

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Building Up Each Other in Christ, Part VIII   Leave a comment

Above:  Jeremiah

Image in the Public Domain

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For the First Sunday of Advent, Year 2

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Lectionary from A Book of Worship for Free Churches (The General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in the United States, 1948)

Collect from The Book of Worship (Evangelical and Reformed Church, 1947)

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Almighty God, give us grace that we may cast away the works of darkness,

and put upon us the armor of light, now in the time of this mortal life,

in which thy Son Jesus Christ came to visit us in great humility;

that in the last day, when he shall come again in his

glorious majesty to judge both the quick and the dead,

we may rise to the life immortal, through him who liveth and reigneth

with thee and the Holy Spirit, now and forever.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 105

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Jeremiah 31:31-34

Psalm 46

Hebrews 10:19-25

Matthew 25:1-13

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“Desist!  Realize that I am God!

I dominate the nations;

I dominate the earth.”

–Psalm 46:11, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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…for he is utterly dependable….

J. B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English, Revised Edition (1972)

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Three themes dominate this group of four readings.  They are:

  1. the reliability of God,
  2. the sovereignty of God, and
  3. the balance of divine judgment and mercy.

In the full Biblical sense, to believe in God is to trust God.  Whenever someone asks me if I believe in God, I reply first by asking what he or she means by “believe in God.”  The second part of my answer depends on what the person means.  I am glad to answer honestly, but I need to know what the question really is.  I always affirm the existence of God.  That is insufficient, though.  I trust God most of the time.  I know the meaning of

Lord, I believe.  Help my unbelief.

–Matthew 9:24

Trusting God can be difficult, especially during times of distress.

I publish this devotional post during a time of global and national distress.  The COVID-19 pandemic, made worse by human irresponsibility (both collective and individual) is taking lives, damaging lives, and wrecking economies.  Right-wing populism, fueled by hatred and resentment, remains firmly entrenched in the mainstream of politics in many nation-states.  Misinformation and what Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) called “damn lies” spread quickly via the internet and other media.  Achieving a consensus regarding what constitutes objective reality has become increasingly difficult in this age of “alternative facts.”  Incivility is on the rise.

Affirming with my lips, pens, pencils, and computer keyboards that God dominates the earth and is utterly dependable is easier than internalizing that message.  Yet I think about Jeremiah, who watched homeland, reduced to vassalage to the Babylonian/Neo-Chaldean Empire, near its end at the hands of that empire.  I recall his documented struggles with God.  And I read a bold yet partially-fulfilled prediction in 31:31-34.

God is faithful, as we must be.  Collective and individual responsibility are Biblical virtues.  The parable in Matthew 25:1-13 reminds us of our individual responsibility.  It tells us that there are some spiritual tasks nobody can fulfill for us.  And mutuality remains a principle that carries over from the Law of Moses.

I consider the epistle reading.  Hebrews 10:19-25 is usually a passage assigned for Good Friday.  Scheduling this passage for the First Sunday of Advent makes much sense and fits with precedents.  One may detect, for example, the inclusion of the classical Passion Chorale (with words other than those for Good Friday) in some sacred music for Advent, Christmas, and Epiphany.  One may recognize this motif in certain compositions by Johann Sebastian Bach and Felix Mendelssohn-Bartholdy.  To think of the crucifixion near and at Christmas is appropriate.

The advice, set in the context of faith community, to build up each other and to provoke one another to love and good deeds is timeless and sage counsel.  It falls into the category of mutuality.  May we, collectively and individually, look out for each other and take care of each other.  May we seek to build up each other, not tear each other down.  May we bolster each other in healthy faith.  May we love according to the standard of the Golden Rule and 1 Corinthians 13.  May we succeed, by faith.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 27, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JAMES INTERCISUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR, 421

THE FEAST OF JAMES MILLS THOBURN, ISABELLA THOBURN, AND CLARA SWAIN, U.S. METHODIST MISSIONARIES TO INDIA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM COOKE AND BENJAMIN WEBB, ANGLICAN PRIESTS AND TRANSLATORS OF HYMNS

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Tobit’s Blindness and Prayer   Leave a comment

Above:  Tobit and Anna with the Kid Goat, by Rembrandt Van Rijn

Image in the Public Domain

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READING TOBIT

PART III

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Tobit 2:9-3:6

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Dystrus 7 was in late winter, in February.  Dystrus, a Hellenistic month, was also a literary anachromism.

In the story, Tobit was ritually impure after having buried a human corpse (Numbers 19:11-14).  So, he slept outside after washing himself ritually.  In the story, sleeping outdoors led to his blindness.  After two years, nephew Ahikar ceased to support Tobit then moved away.  The titular character, reduced to depending financially on his wife, wrongly accused her of having stolen an kid.  She justifiably objected to his attitude.  Anna, angry with her husband (not God, as was Job’s wife in Job 2:8), questioned Tobit’s virtue.  Then Tobit, like Jonah (Jonah 4:3, 8), Moses (Numbers 11:15), Elijah (1 Kings 19:4), and Job (Job 7:15), prayed for death.

The Theory of Retribution, which I have already mentioned and explained in this series, holds that God punishes the wicked and rewards the righteous.  This perspective pervades the Old and New Testaments.  Without rejecting the Theory of Retribution, I propose that life is more complicated than that.  Many of the wicked flourish and many of the righteous suffer in this life.  One way out of this conundrum is to relocate the ultimate reward or punishment to the afterlife.  Yet the Book of Tobit does not indicate belief in postmortem reward or punishment.

However, I remind you, O reader, of the meaning of the title of this book.  “Tobit” means “YHWH is good.”  The Book of Tobit, in its entirety, depicts YHWH as being very good.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 27, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JAMES INTERCISUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR, 421

THE FEAST OF JAMES MILLS THOBURN, ISABELLA THOBURN, AND CLARA SWAIN, U.S. METHODIST MISSIONARIES TO INDIA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM COOKE AND BENJAMIN WEBB, ANGLICAN PRIESTS AND TRANSLATORS OF HYMNS

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Tobit’s Courageous Civil Disobedience: Burying the Dead   Leave a comment

Above:  Tobit and Tobias Burying the Dead Israelite, by David Teneirs the Younger

Image in the Public Domain

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READING TOBIT

PART II

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Tobit 1:16-2:8

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The proper burial of relatives and strangers is a high priority in the Hebrew Bible.  Apart from the obvious public health issue, this is a question of respect and kindness.  This theme of proper burial is present in this reading.

Tobit practiced works of kindness and respect to the living and the dead.  His good deeds of burying the dead illegally cost him his livelihood and property.  Then, after a coup d’état, Tobit got his job back.  He continued to act kindly toward the poor and to bury the dead.  The scene in 2:1-8 played out on a day of feasting and thanksgiving.  Amos 8:10, quoted in Tobit 2:6, condemned wealthy Israelites, who exploited the poor.  The suffering of Tobit resumed and became worse because of his compassion for the poor and the murdered.

I will pick up that thread in the next post in this series.

Ahikar was a wise man in the court of King Esarhaddon (reigned 681-669 B.C.E.).  In the Book of Tobit, he was the titular character’s nephew.  Ahikar was also the main character in an ancient text, The Story of Ahikar, with which the anonymous author of the Book of Tobit was certainly familiar.

Tobit 1:16-2:8 reminds us that sometimes suffering results from performing one’s duty before God.  Love of God requires love of other human beings.  Whenever social pressure or a law condemns or prohibits active love for and kindness toward human beings, that social pressure or law is unjust.  Tobit 1:16-2:8 teaches obedience to the law of God in all matters and at all times.  The summary of the divine law is to love God fully and to love one’s neighbors as oneself.  As Rabbi Hillel said, the rest is commentary we ought to study.  

The Law of Moses contains many culturally-specific examples of timeless principles.  We need, therefore, to distinguish between examples and principles.  If we do that, we will be well on the road on which we should travel.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 26, 2020 COMMON ERA

THANKSGIVING DAY (U.S.A.)

THE FEAST OF SOJOURNER TRUTH, U.S. ABOLITIONIST, MYSTIC, AND FEMINIST

THE FEAST OF H. BAXTER LIEBLER, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND MISSIONARY TO THE NAVAJO NATION

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN BERCHMANS, ROMAN CATHOLIC SEMINARIAN

THE FEAST OF THEODORE P. FERRIS, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND AUTHOR

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Tobit’s Piety   Leave a comment

Above:  The Story of Tobit, by the Workshop of the Master of the Prodigal Son

Image in the Public Domain

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READING TOBIT

PART 1

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Tobit 1:1-15

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The Book of Tobit, present in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Bibles, falls into the canon of scripture for about three-quarters of the Christian Church.  Tobit, like Esther, Jonah, and Judith, is a work of fiction that teaches theological and spiritual truths.  The Catholic Study Bible (1990) and The Catholic Bible–Personal Study Edition (1995) describes the Book of Tobit as a novel.  The Saint Joseph Edition of the New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011) accurately describes the Book of Tobit as a novella.  The Book of Tobit is too long to be a short story and too short to be a novel.

The Orthodox Study Bible (2008) acknowledges that the Book of Tobit is a work of fiction.  The introduction to the Book of Tobit describes the work as a love story in which a father sends his son out into the world.  The son finds and saves a bride, whom he brings home.  The introduction to the Book of Tobit links this story to Christ in John 3:16 and describes the Book of Tobit as an icon of the story of salvation.

The Book of Tobit is another Hellenistic work about Jews in exile.  (The Book of Daniel is also such a work.)  Superficially set in the eighth century B.C.E., the Book of Tobit teaches faith in God and trust in providence from the temporal perspective of the second century C.E.

The titular character is Tobit.  His son is Tobias.  “Tobit” is a shorter variation on “Tobias.”  Both names mean, “the LORD is good.”

Tobit 1:2 signals the book’s status as fiction by naming the wrong Neo-Assyrian king.  The verse names the monarch as Shalmaneser V (reigned 727-722 B.C.E.)  Historical records tell us Sargon II (reigned 722-705 B.C.E.) was the king who completed Shalmaneser V’s work and conquered the northern Kingdom of Israel.  (See 2 Kings 17:1-6, O reader.)  However, historical records and 2 Kings 15:19 tell us that Tiglath-Pilesar III, also known as Pul (reigned 745-727 B.C.E.), took the tribe of Naphtali into exile.

Tobit was a devout Jew.  The impossible internal chronology had Tobit live in excess of 150 years (1:4f), despite his age at death (14:1) being 112.  Anyhow, he eschewed idolatry and made his offerings at the Temple in Jerusalem (Numbers 18:12-13; Deuteronomy 18:3-4).  Tobit also distributed money to widows, orphans, and converts.  He kept the food laws (Exodus 34:15; Leviticus 7:26-27; Leviticus 11:1-47; Leviticus 17:10-14; Deuteronomy 12:23-25; Deuteronomy 14:3-21; and Deuteronomy 15:23) in exile, too.  Tobit obeyed the Law of Moses regardless of how difficult doing so proved to be.  At home and in exile, Tobit was a model Jew.

Tobit also deposited ten talents of silver with a relative, Gabael, in Media.  That amount equaled 3000 shekels.

The germane note in The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (2003) reads:

A substantial amount, but efforts to express in modern monetary units are futile.

Other sources do express that amount in modern monetary units, though.  The Catholic Study Bible (1990) estimates the value as being about $10,000.  The Saint Joseph Edition of the New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011) estimates the value as being at least $10,000.  

We also read of Tobit’s wife, Anna, which means “Grace.”  Remember that, O reader; the name is sometimes ironic.

The Book of Tobit contains similarities to the Books of Job and Daniel.  We read of Tobit working for the king in Chapter 1.  One may recall that Daniel worked for several monarchs.  And one may remember accounts of Daniel’s piety.  The parallels to Job, already becoming apparent, will become stronger as we continue.

Tobit 1 contains the Theory of Retribution, that God rewards faithfulness and punishes faithlessness.  The Theory of Retribution, a hallmark of Deuteronomic theology, is prominent throughout the Book of Tobit and in much of the Hebrew Bible.  Deuteronomy 28 teaches the Theory of Retribution, which informs the Books of Joshua, Judges, 1 and 2 Samuel, and 1 and 2 Kings.  In particular, consult Joshua 7:1-8:29; Judges 3:7-11; and 2 Samuel 11:1-12:15, for example, O reader.

The counterbalance also exists un the Hebrew Bible.  Blessings also come undeserved.  A relationship with God should not be a quid-pro-quo arrangement.  See Deuteronomy 4:32-40; 6-11; 8:17-18; 9:4-6; 10:15; and 23:6, O reader.  Likewise, that seems undeserved is a form of testing (Deuteronomy 8: 2, 3, 5, 16-17), and repentance following suffering precedes divine mercy (Deuteronomy 30:1-10).

What we do matters.  How we respond to God is crucial.  One does know a tree by its fruits.  And actions have consequences.  However, Prosperity Theology remains a heresy.  Many of the devout suffer.  Many of the devout become martyrs.  And many of the devout endure poverty.

The Bible is a nuanced sacred theology.  Any impression to the contrary is erroneous.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 25, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM HILEY BATHURST, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ISAAC WATTS, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JAMES OTIS SARGENT HUNTINGTON, FOUNDER OF THE ORDER OF THE HOLY CROSS

THE FEAST OF PETRUS NIGIDIUS, GERMAN LUTHERAN EDUCATOR AND COMPOSER; AND GEORG NIGIDIUS, GERMAN LUTHERAN COMPOSER AND HYMN WRITER

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