Archive for the ‘Deuteronomy 32’ Category

The Punishment of Zion   Leave a comment

Above:  Lamentations

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LAMENTATIONS, PART V

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Lamentation 4:1-22

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The main bright ray of hope in the Book of Lamentations is in Chapter 3.  Theological whiplash continues as the readings revert to…lamentations.  Chapter 4 describes the siege of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E.. as well as the suffering and degradation of the city’s residents at the time.

Some points require explanation:

  1. In verse 1, gems and gold represent people.  They are precious yet discarded.
  2. Jackals (verse 3) had a reputation as despicable scavengers.
  3. Ostriches (verse 3) were supposedly cruel and neglectful parents (Job 39:13-18).
  4. Starving children were too weak to cry in verse 4.  (Ezekiel 3:16; Psalm 137:6; Job 29:10)
  5. The inhabitants of Sodom died quickly (Genesis 19:24-25), but the inhabitants of Jerusalem suffered a long agony.
  6. Coral and sapphire were colors associated with vigor in verses 7-8.  Those colors have disappeared.
  7. Fire represented divine wrath (Lamentations 2:3 and 4:11; Deuteronomy 32:22; Isaiah 10:17; Jeremiah 17:27).  There was also the literal fire that destroyed Jerusalem, of course.
  8. Contrary to popular belief (Psalms 46 and 48), Mount Zion was not inviolable.  The belief that God would not let Mount Zion fall came from foreigners (Lamentations 4:12).
  9. Shedding blood (verses 13 and 14), in this case, referred to committing idolatry (Ezekiel 22:1-5; Psalm 106:37-40).  The people most closely associated with purity were the most impure.  Those once among the most respected in society had become as impure as lepers (verse 15).
  10. The Poet spoke in verses 1-16 and 21-22.  The Community spoke in verses 17-20.
  11. The tone in verse 21 is ironic.  Edom comes in for condemnation here and in Amos 1:11-12; Isaiah 21:11-12; Obadiah; Jeremiah 49:7-22; Ezekiel 25:12-14; and Ezekiel 35:1-15.
  12. Verse 22 offers a glimmer of hope.  The Babylonian Exile will end, we read.  Justice will prevail because punishes sins, we read.

I ponder the idea of a world in which justice prevails because God punishes sins.  I think about the world as it is and perceive that it bears little resemblance to God’s ideal world.  The disparity between reality and the ideal is discouraging.  Were I more poetic, and if I had the desire to compose a set of lamentations for the world and United States of America in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, I would do so.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 19, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN DALBERG ACTON, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC HISTORIAN, PHILOSOPHER, AND SOCIAL CRITIC

THE FEAST OF ADELAIDE TEAGUE CASE, EPISCOPAL PROFESSOR OF CHRISTIAN EDUCATION, AND ADVOCATE FOR PEACE

THE FEAST OF MICHEL-RICHARD DELALANDE, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF VERNARD ELLER, U.S. CHURCH OF THE BRETHREN MINISTER AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM PIERSON MERRILL, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, SOCIAL REFORMER, AND HYMN WRITER

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A Collection of Speeches: The Wickedness of Judah, and the Degenerate City   Leave a comment

Above:  Tares

Image in the Public Domain

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READING FIRST ISAIAH, PART II

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Isaiah 1:2-31

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G. H. D. Kilpatrick, author of the exposition on Isaiah 1-39 in The Interpreter’s Bible, vol. 5 (1956), described Isaiah 1 as

The Heart of Isaiah’s Message.

Kilpatrick began:

Here is a tremendous indictment of an apostate nation.  The charge is the blindness, the insensitivity, the brutish stupidity of a people steeped in sin.  The prophet is against them.  In a sense the chapter is an epitome of Isaiah’s whole message and ministry.  In this series of oracles he proceeds from accusation to judgment, and on to the divine promise of mercy in terms of repentance and obedience.  Throughout the book the changes are rung on these themes.

–165

As I reread this chapter for the umpteenth time, I noticed themes that populated the (contemporary) Books of Hosea, Amos, and Micah, too.  I noticed these themes readily because I have blogged my way through them before starting First Isaiah.  I noticed legal charges of having abandoned the covenant.  I noticed the allegation of idolatry–prostitution, metaphorically.  I noticed the condemnation of corruption and social justice, especially that of the economic variety.  I noticed the pronouncement that sacred rituals do not protect one from the consequences of impiety.  I noticed the call to repentance and the possibility of forgiveness.

Chronology is not the organizing principle of the Book of Isaiah.  No, the commission of the prophet is in Chapter 6, for example.  Chapter 1 contains short speeches that summarize themes First Isaiah unpacks in subsequent chapters.

The text provides many options for where I may dwell in this post.  I choose verses 27 and 28.  The translation in Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible (2019), is close to the standard English-language rendering:

Zion shall be redeemed through justice,

and those who turn back in her, through righteousness.

But the rebels and offenders together are shattered,

and those who forsake the LORD shall perish.

However, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985) offers a somewhat different translation:

Zion shall be saved in the judgment;

Her repentant ones, in the retribution.

But rebels and sinners shall be crushed,

And those who forsake the LORD shall perish.

These verses date to either the Babylonian Exile or afterward.  (As I wrote regarding the Books of Hosea, Amos, and Micah, the final versions of early prophetic writings date to the time after the Babylonian Exile.)  Differences in Hebrew meter and the concept of Zion’s slavery relative to the surrounding material point to later origin.  That may or may not prove interesting, but there it is.

I noticed that righteousness and justice are related concepts.  This has long constituted old news to me, but I delighted to see another instance of it in Isaiah 1.

That justice and righteousness are related establishes a high standard.  Many people mistake human vendettas for justice.  Many people mistake torture for justice.  Many people are oblivious to or forget Deuteronomy 32:35, in the voice of God:

Vengeance is mine and recompense,

for the time they lose their footing;

Because the day of their disaster is at hand

and their doom is rushing upon them.

The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

When we set out to take revenge, we embark on a path we ought to leave alone.  God knows better than we do.

I also noticed the difference between the translations of verse 27.  I noticed that TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985) had “judgment” for “justice” and “retribution” for “righteousness.”  Yet the germane note in The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014), read:

Having been punished, Zion will again know justice and faithfulness.  A new name is given to the reformed Jerusalem; c.f. 62:2-4; Ezekiel 48:35.

–769

The promised salvation will stem only from divine justice and righteousness, not the virtue of Israel.  The destruction of rebels and sinners, however, will stem from their lack of virtue.  For the meantime, Zion, as a faith reality, not a political entity, contains the good and the wicked.  Likewise, in the Parable of the Tares (Matthew 13:24-30), the wheat and the weeds will grow together in the field until the harvest time.  God will judge at the harvest time.  In the meantime, attempting to remove weeds may result in the removal of some wheat, also.

May we–you, O reader, and I–strike a proper balance, by grace.  May we understand correctly the difference between good and evil.  May we understand correctly the difference between that which is sinful and that which is not.  May we understand correctly the difference between justice and injustice.  When appropriate, may we speak out, and do so in the right way.  And may we understand correctly the difference between our tasks and God’s tasks.

If I am going to err, I prefer to do so on the side of kindness, not harshness.  I would rather be too gentle than mean.  I prefer to strike the proper balance in each circumstances, of course.  Yet maybe my Southern training takes over and tells me not to create a needless scene.  I prefer to practice personal diplomacy, even when doing so entails telling white lies.  “No, that dress does not make you look fat,” except it does.  I also know enough to have some idea of what I do not know.  God knows more than I do, and I do not bring people to God by behaving obnoxiously in God’s name.

Nevertheless, as anyone who has read my weblogs sufficiently ought to know, I do not always shy away from writing what I really think.  I am capable of being blunt, too.  There is a time for diplomacy, just as there is a time for bluntness.  Yet there is never any moral justification for not leaving vengeance to God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 29, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF PERCY DEARMER, ANGLICAN CANON AND TRANSLATOR AND AUTHOR OF HYMNS

THE FEAST OF SAINT BONA OF PISA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MYSTIC AND PILGRIM

THE FEAST OF JIRI TRANOVSKY, LUTHER OF THE SLAVES AND FATHER OF SLOVAK HYMNODY

THE FEAST OF RUBY MIDDLETON FORSYTHE, AFRICAN-AMERICAN EPISCOPAL EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARY THERESA LEDÓCHOWSKA, FOUNDRESS OF THE MISSIONARY SISTERS OF SAINT PETER CLAVER, AND “MOTHER OF AFRICAN MISSIONS;” AND HER SISTER, SAINT URSULA LEDÓCHOWSKA, FOUNDRESS OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE URSULINES OF THE AGONIZING HEART OF JESUS (GRAY URSULINES)

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Second Maccabees: Two Letters   Leave a comment

Above:  Alexandria in Ptolemaic Egypt

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART II

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2 Maccabees 1:1-2:18

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The Second Book of the Maccabees is, according to scholarly consensus, inferior to the First Book of the Maccabees.  1 Maccabees, like any legitimate work of history, has a thesis.  History, by definition, is interpretation of the past, based on written sources.  1 Maccabees, therefore, is not objective.  It is, however, a legitimate work of history.  Its thesis is that the Hasmonean Dynasty was, by right, the ruling family of Judea.

The Second Book of the Maccabees also has a thesis:  Egyptian Jews ought to celebrate Hanukkah, the feast of the rededication of the Temple on Kislev 25 (December 14), 164 B.C.E..  The author of 2 Maccabees is anonymous.  Scholars refer to him as the Epitomist.  In contemporary analogy, 2 Maccabees is the Reader’s Digest condensed book form (from circa 124 B.C.E.) of a five-volume work by Jason of Cyrene.  The longer, original work is lost, unfortunately.  x

I wonder if the condensation is the major reason for problems with 2 Maccabees.  Perhaps the following analogy is crass, but it is the best one I can muster.  Consider, O reader, one of the three Flash Gordon serials:  Flash Gordon (1936), Flash Gordon’s Trip to Mars (1938), and Flash Gordon Conquers the Universe (1940).  Neither one is Shakespeare, obviously, but each one is, within the context of its complete run, intelligible.  Then consider, in contrast, the condensed version of one of those serials.  The pacing makes no sense.  Plot threads dangle.  Certain scenes make no sense, given the editing.  This is not the optimum way to watch the story; one should watch the full serial.

As in 1 Maccabees, the dates are according to the Hellenistic/Seleucid calendar.  Therefore, the year 169 equals 143 B.C.E.  As an attentive student of history should know, the C.E/A.D.-B.C.E./B.C. scale did not exist until our 500s C.E./A.D.

Today’s portion of 2 Maccabees consists of two prefatory letters from the Epitomist.  The first one, in order, spans 1:1-10a, and dates to the year 188 (124 B.C.E.).  This letter refers to events from the year 169 (143 B.C.E.).  In the first reign of King Demetrius II Nicator (145-139/138 B.C.E.) of the Seleucid Empire, “we Jews” had written of previous perfidious acts by the High Priest Jason (2 Maccabees 4:7-22; 5:1-14).  Jason had led his followers in rebellion against the covenant (therefore God) and the Seleucid Empire.  Jason was also responsible for a fire at the Temple and the slaughter of his own followers.  The first letter mistakes Hanukkah (in Kislev–that is, November-December) for the Feast of the Tabernacles (in Tishrit–that is, September-October).  This error makes sense, for the length of Hanukkah is, on purpose, the length of the Feast of Tabernacles.

The theology of the first letter is clear:  God is faithful.  Be reconciled to God.

The second letter (1:10b-2:18) predates the first one.  The second letter dates to 164 B.C.E.  This letter, also addressed to Egyptian Jews, also encourages these Jews of the Diaspora to celebrate Hanukkah, then a new feast.  Hanukkah was so new that the very old Torah did not command keeping it.  But the victory of Judas Maccabeus was for all Jews, even Jews of the Diaspora.

This second letter contains references that require explanation.

  1. “King Antiochus” was Antiochus IV Epiphanes (reigned 175-164/163 B.C.E.) of the Seleucid Empire.  He was an extremely bad man.
  2. “King Ptolemy” was Ptolemy VI Philometor (reigned 80-145 B.C.E.) of the Ptolemaic Empire.
  3. Aristobolus was a Jewish philosopher in Alexandria, Egypt, and a teacher of Ptolemy VI Philometor.
  4. Nanaea, also known as Aniatis, was an Elamite goddess equivalent to and associated with Diana/Artemis.
  5. “Friend of the King” was an official position.  There were, in fact, four ranks of the “Friends of the King.”  Those ranks were:  Friend, Honored Friend, First Friend, and Preferred Friend.
  6. Antiochus IV Epiphanes seemed to enjoy invading and defiling temples of various religions.  He did not die (Sorry, 2 Maccabees 1:16), just yet–not until 2 Maccabees 9.

In the second letter, we read a summary of part of Ezra-Nehemiah, followed by a story (2 Maccabees 1:18-36) absent from Ezra-Nehemiah.  The point of this account is to emphasize the continuity of worship from one Temple to the next one.

The story in 2 Maccabees 2:4-8 is false at worst and unlikely at best.  (See Jeremiah 3:16.)  Besides, 2 Maccabees 2:7 contradicts Deuteronomy 32:49, where the place was known.

Jews of the Diaspora were family of the Jews of Judea.  Jews of the Diaspora were insiders, not outsiders, despite their distance from Jerusalem and the Holy Land.

That inclusive attitude is admirable.  It is one to emulate.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 4, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT CORNELIUS THE CENTURION

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Tobit’s Thanksgiving to God   Leave a comment

Above:  Judas Maccabeus

Image in the Public Domain

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READING TOBIT

PART X

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Tobit 13:1-14a

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There is much going on in this reading.  Quickly, the Theory of Retribution, prominent in the Book of Tobit, recurs.  So does the Biblical theme of divine judgment and mercy being in balance.  Also, Tobit has two final testaments (Tobit 4:3-21 and 14:3-11), reminiscent of Moses in Deuteronomy 31-32 and 33.  Community and repentance are other evergreen themes.

I am most interested, however, in another aspect of this reading.  Jerusalem (Tobit 1:3-9) returns to the story.  I read the verses about Jerusalem in the Book of Tobit in the context of the Hasmonean rebellion (contemporary or nearly so to the composition of the Book of Tobit), not in the context of the Babylonian Exile.  I detect echoes of Hebrew prophecy and ponder how pious Jews living in the Hellenistic world related prophecy from prior centuries to their present day.  I also wonder if the anonymous author of the Book of Tobit expected the restoration of Jerusalem or wrote after the rededication of the Temple.

The Book of Tobit teaches the importance of faithful community.  Christian fundamentalism tends to be hyper-individualistic.  It teaches Jesus-and-Meism.  The Bible is not hyper-individualistic, though.  No, it teaches mutuality.  I cannot become my best self unless you, O reader, can become your best self, and vise versa.

The purpose of the book[of Tobit] is to move its readers from despair to prayer.

The Catholic Study Bible (1990), RG210

Sinking into despair is easy.  Hoping for better times can seem like setting oneself up for disappointment.  Trusting God can seem like a fool’s errand.  In other words,

Blessed are those who expect nothing;

they will not be disappointed.

Yet the Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12; Luke 6:20-26), on which that quote riffs, teach lived prayer, not despair.  They teach hope.  They teach trust in God.

So does the Book of Tobit.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 4, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE SIXTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JOHN OF DAMASCUS AND COSMAS OF MAIUMA, THEOLOGIANS AND HYMNODISTS

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALEXANDER HOTOVITZKY, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1937

THE FEAST OF SAINT BERNARD OF PARMA, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH MOHR; AUSTRIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST; AND FRANZ GRUBER, AUSTRIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC TEACHER, MUSICIAN, AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF SAINT OSMUND OF SALISBURY, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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Good and Bad Fruit, Part V   Leave a comment

Above:  The Parable of the Fig Tree, by Jan Luyken

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Sixteenth Sunday after Trinity, Year 1

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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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Lord, we pray thee, that thy grace may always go before and follow after us,

and make us continually to be given to all good works;

through Jesus Christ, thy Son, our Lord, who liveth and reigneth

with thee and the Holy Spirit, ever one God, world without end.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 214

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Deuteronomy 32:39, 40

Psalm 94:11-23

Ephesians 3:13-21

Luke 13:1-17

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The justice of God equals the righteousness of God.  Justice and righteousness are the same word in the Bible.  We read that God will vindicate the faithful, out of justice.  (Aside:  Read Deuteronomy 32:36-42, not 32:39, 40.  The passage makes more sense that way.)  That theme also exists in Psalm 94.  The balance of divine judgment and mercy tilts toward mercy for one more year in the case of the barren fig tree.  If the tree remains barren, however, the balance will tilt toward judgment.  That will be just, in that case.

If we do not lose heart–if we, in the context of faith community, support each other in grasping the love of God in Christ–we will mature spiritually.  We will not be like any barren fig tree.  No, we will be like healthy, productive fig trees.  The evidence will be in our fruits, which will include righteousness/justice.  We may suffer, but God will vindicate us.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 27, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF GEORGE WASHINGTON DOANE, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF NEW JERSEY; AND HIS SON, WILLIAM CROSWELL DOANE, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF ALBANY; HYMN WRITERS

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ANTONY AND THEODOSIUS OF KIEV, FOUNDERS OF RUSSIAN ORTHODOX MONASTICISM; SAINT BARLAAM OF KIEV, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX ABBOT; AND SAINT STEPHEN OF KIEV, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX ABBOT AND BISHOP

THE FEAST OF CHRISTINA ROSSETTI, POET AND RELIGIOUS WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS REMACLUS OF MAASTRICHT, THEODORE OF MAASTRICHT, LAMBERT OF MAASTRICHT, HUBERT OF MAASTRICT AND LIEGE, AND FLORIBERT OF LIEGE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS; SAINT LANDRADA OF MUNSTERBILSEN, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBESS; AND SAINTS OTGER OF UTRECHT, PLECHELM OF GUELDERLAND, AND WIRO, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARIES

THE FEAST OF SAINT ZITA OF TUSCANY, WORKER OF CHARITY

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Good and Bad Fruit, Part IV   Leave a comment

Above:  The Death of Moses (1907)

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Fourteenth Sunday after Trinity, Year 1

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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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Keep, we beseech thee, O Lord, thy Church with thy perpetual mercy;

and because the frailty of men without thee cannot but fail,

keep us ever by thy help from all things hurtful,

and lead us to all things profitable to our salvation;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 210

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Deuteronomy 34

Psalm 76

Galatians 5:13-24

Matthew 7:15-23

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That which is despicable to you, do not do to your fellow, this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary, go and learn it.

–Rabbi Hillel (110 B.C.E.-10 C.E.)

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You, O friends, were called to be free; only beware of turning your freedom into licence for your unspiritual nature.  Instead, serve one another in love, for the whole law is summed up in a single commandment:  “Love your neighbour as yourself.”  But if you go on fighting one another, tooth and nail, all you can expect is mutual destruction.

–Galatians 5:13-15, The Revised English Bible (1989)

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Our fruits reveal our true nature.  We can put on false faces for a long time, but the truth will be become obvious eventually.  The real pattern will become unmistakable.  It will not be “fake news,” regardless of how loudly and often we shout that it is.  God is like what God does, and we are like what we do.  Even the best of us receive mixed reviews from God.

Consider Moses, O reader.  The image of the great leader, forbidden to cross over into Canaan, gazing into the Promised Land from a height, is poignant.  One understanding in Deuteronomy is that he had failed to give proper recognition to God (Numbers 20:10-13; Numbers 27:12-14; Deuteronomy 32:48-52).  Another explanation from Deuteronomy is that Moses bore the penalty of the sins of the people he led (Deuteronomy 1:37-38; Deuteronomy 3:18-28).  Either way, the failure to give proper recognition to God was the problem.  This pattern continued, as anyone who has read the rest of the story should know.

What are our fruits?  Do we give proper recognition to God?  Do we obey the Golden Rule?  Do we lie then lie about our lying?  Many people may fall for deception, but God never does.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 25, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARK THE EVANGELIST, MARTYR, 68

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Missing the Point, Part I   1 comment

archery-target

Above:  Archery Target

Image Source = Alberto Barbati

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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 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.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Deuteronomy 32:28-47 or Isaiah 5:18-30

Psalm 74

Matthew 12:22-37 or Luke 11:14-23

1 John 3:8-15 (16-24); 4:1-6

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Ah,

Those who call evil good

And evil good;

Who present darkness as light

And light as darkness;

Who present bitter as sweet

And sweet as bitter!

Ah,

Those who are so wise–

In their own opinion;

So clever–

In their own judgment!

–Isaiah 5:20-21; TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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But the Pharisees on hearing this remark said, “This man is only expelling devils because he is in league with Beelzebub, the prince of devils.”

–Matthew 12:24, J. B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English–Revised Edition (1972)

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Missing the point is a recurring theme in the assigned readings for Proper 5.  Psalm 74, an exilic text, asks why the Babylonian Exile has occurred.  Deuteronomy 32 and Isaiah 5 answer the question; faithlessness, evident in idolatry and rampant in institutionalized social injustice is the cause.  Certain opponents on Jesus accuse him of being in league with Satan when he casts out demons (in the Hellenistic world view).  However we moderns classify whatever Jesus did in exorcisms, that is not a point on which one should fixate while pondering the texts from the Gospels.

How often do we fail to recognize good for what is evil for what it is because of any number of reasons, including defensiveness and cultural conditioning?  How often do we become too lax or too stringent in defining sin?  I recall a single-cell cartoon.  A man is standing before St. Simon Peter at the Pearly Gates.  The apostle tells him,

No, that is not a sin either.  You must have worried yourself to death.

Falling into legalism and condemning someone for playing bridge or for having an occasional drink without even becoming tipsy is at least as bad as failing to recognize actual sins.

1 John 3:18-20 provides guidance:

Children, love must not be a matter of theory or talk; it must be true love which shows itself in action.  This is how we shall know if we belong to the realm of truth, and reassure ourselves in his sight where conscience condemns us; for God is greater than our conscience and knows all.

The Revised English Bible (1989)

Love does not object when Jesus cures someone on the Sabbath or any other day.  (Consult Matthew 12:1-14) for the Sabbath reference.)  Love does not seek to deny anyone justice, as in Isaiah 5:23.  Love does not compel one to seek one’s own benefit at the expense of others.  Love is not, of course, a flawless insurance policy against missing the point, but it is a good start.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 16, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE TWENTIETH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF GUSTAF AULEN, SWEDISH LUTHERAN THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT FILIP SIPHONG ONPHITHAKT, ROMAN CATHOLIC CATECHIST AND MARTYR IN THAILAND

THE FEAST OF MAUDE DOMINICA PETRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MODERNIST THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF RALPH ADAMS CRAM AND RICHARD UPJOHN, ARCHITECTS; AND JOHN LAFARGE, SR., PAINTER AND STAINED GLASS MAKER

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/12/16/devotion-for-proper-5-year-d/

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Faithfulness and Faithlessness   1 comment

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda

©Photo. R.M.N. / R.-G. OjŽda

Above:  The Exorcism

Image in the Public Domain

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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 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.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Deuteronomy 31:30-32:27 or Isaiah 5:8-17

Psalm 142

Matthew 17:9-20 or Mark 9:9-29 or Luke 9:18-27 (28-36) 37-45

Philippians 2:14-30

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A typically Jewish way of speaking and writing about God is to recall what God has done.  After all, God is like what God has done.  Furthermore, we are like what we have done, although we are far more than the worst deeds we have committed.  The relevant issue is the pattern of what we have done and of what we are doing.  Repentance is possible, after all, and the past is not necessarily accurate in predicting the future.

Consider with me, O reader, the assigned readings for this Sunday.  The two options for the First Reading proclaim divine judgment upon the faithless, for whom God has done much.  The faithless should know better.  Perhaps they do know better, but they are not acting as if they do.  The lection from Isaiah 5 follows the famous passage likening rebellious Israel to a well-tended vineyard that yields wild grapes.  God will judge that vineyard, we read.  Likewise, we read of faithless Israel in Deuteronomy.  If Richard Elliott Friedman is correct, lurking in the background of the text is a condemnation of polytheism.  God is, after all, insistent upon monotheism in the Hebrew Bible.  If Dr. Friedman is correct, faithlessness to YHWH entails turning to supposedly subordinate deities, members of the divine council–a concept Hebrew prophets opposed vigorously.

In contrast to those lections we read Psalm 142, the lament of a dying man whom other mortals have abandoned.  This man, contemplating the imminent unknown, turns to God alone.  One may assume safely that God is faithful to those who demonstrate fidelity.

The passage from Philippians belongs to a section of that epistle in which one finds advice regarding how to live faithfully in community.  People are to think about each other and model their lives after Jesus, whose humility and selflessness is certainly challenging to emulate.  In this context the customary verses about people with polysyllabic names take on more importance than they might otherwise; these verses model the attitudes and behaviors the preceding verses extol.  People are like what they do.

The three options for the Gospel reading are parallel versions of the same story, set immediately after the Transfiguration of Jesus.  One might fixate on the typically Hellenistic diagnosis of epilepsy as demonic possession, but to do so would be to miss the point.  In the narrative the Apostles have just learned of Christ’s true identity in all of its glory, yet they have not grasped this revelation, and were therefore ineffective.  The lesson for we who read these stories thousands of years later is to ponder whether we grasp who Jesus is and whether we are as effective as we can be in our discipleship.

Our challenge in this regard is to render proper thanksgiving to God in our lives.  We can do this only be grace, of course, but our desire to pursue this course of action is also essential.  Obstacles include laziness, fear, selfishness, cultural conditioning, the pressure to conform, and simple obliviousness.  If we are to grow into our full spiritual stature, however, we must seek to follow and honor God and to trust in divine grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 16, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE TWENTIETH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF GUSTAF AULEN, SWEDISH LUTHERAN THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT FILIP SIPHONG ONPHITHAKT, ROMAN CATHOLIC CATECHIST AND MARTYR IN THAILAND

THE FEAST OF MAUDE DOMINICA PETRE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MODERNIST THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF RALPH ADAMS CRAM AND RICHARD UPJOHN, ARCHITECTS; AND JOHN LAFARGE, SR., PAINTER AND STAINED GLASS MAKER

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/12/16/devotion-for-proper-4-year-d/

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Building Communities of Shalom   1 comment

Rode

Above:  Christ Heals a Man Paralyzed by the Gout, by Bernhard Rode

Image in the Public Domain

Building Communities of Shalom

JANUARY 15, 2017

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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 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.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Isaiah 26:7-27:1

Psalm 109

Matthew 8:1-4; 9:1-8 or Luke 5:12-26

Hebrews 10:1-4 (10-14) 26-39

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May my accusers be clothed with dishonor;

may they be wrapped in their own shame as in a mantle.

–Psalm 109:29, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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Justice, according to Psalm 109 and Isaiah 26, is for God to deliver the faithful and to smite the evildoers.  I understand the sentiment well, just as I also grasp the reality that prolonged anger can easily become a spiritual toxin.  In small doses and for brief periods of time it might help one make the proper decisions, but its toxicity becomes apparent quickly.  One does better to pray for one’s persecutors, that they may repent, and leave the rest to God.  Not all will repent, unfortunately, and those who persist in perfidy will bring their fates upon themselves.

Lo, I have it all put away,

Sealed up in My storehouses,

To be My vengeance and recompense,

At the time that their foot falters.

Yea, their day of disaster is near,

And destiny rushes upon them.

For the LORD will vindicate His people

And take revenge for His servants,

When He sees that their might is gone,

And neither bond nor free is left….

O nations, acclaim His people!

For He’ll avenge the blood of His servants,

Wreak vengeance on His foes,

And cleanse the land of His people.

–Deuteronomy 32:34-36, 43, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

In the Lukan account of the healing of the paralyzed man he glorifies God immediately, and witnesses become filled with amazement because of the miracle.  It is easy to maintain faith in God during good times, but a different matter during difficult times.  That is part of the reason for the existence of the Letter to the Hebrews, with its encouragement of perseverance and warning against committing apostasy, of falling away from God.

I have learned via living that faith in God is essential to getting through dark chapters in life as well as possible.  I have also learned that the light of God seems to burn brightest in the darkness and that grace seems most evident during times of distress.  The faithful do not walk exclusively in paths of pleasantness.  Neither do they walk alone.  They trusting in God, can focus on the positive and seek to build communities of shalom.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 4, 2016 COMMON ERA

PROPER 18:  THE SIXTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR C

THE FEAST OF ALL CHRISTIAN PEACEMAKERS AND PEACE ACTIVISTS

THE FEAST OF PAUL JONES, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF UTAH AND PEACE ACTIVIST; AND HIS COLLEAGUE, JOHN NEVIN SAYRE, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND PEACE ACTIVIST

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2016/09/04/devotion-for-the-second-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-d/

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A Consuming Fire, Part II   1 comment

Fire

Above:  Fire

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Sovereign God, ruler of all hearts,

you call us to obey you, and you favor us with true freedom.

Keep us faithful to the ways of your Son, that,

leaving behind all that hinders us,

we may steadfastly follow your paths,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 41

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The Assigned Readings:

Leviticus 9:22-10:11 (Thursday)

2 Kings 1:1-16 (Friday)

Deuteronomy 32:15-27, 39-43 (Saturday)

Psalm 16 (All Days)

2 Corinthians 13:5-10 (Thursday)

Galatians 4:8-20 (Friday)

Luke 9:21-27 (Saturday)

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To Yahweh I say, “You are my Lord,

my happiness is in none of the sacred spirits of the earth.”

–Psalm 16:2-3a, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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St. Paul the Apostle was perplexed with the Galatian Church.  Many members of it had reverted to idolatry or to the Law of Moses, both of which he considered to be forms of spiritual slavery.  As he instructed the Corinthian Church, the proper course of action was to pass the test and remember that they carried Jesus Christ inside them.  In Christ, according to St. Paul, was liberation, although not to engage in negative activities, but to build up the faith community, and to pursue virtue (2 Corinthians 12:19-21).

The theme of rebelling against God unites these days’ readings.  Nadab and Abihu, sons of Aaron, laid incense upon their fire pans in violation of divine instructions.  This constituted sacrilege and an attempt to control God.

Further, the sin of the two brothers was not simply that they went too far in their super-piety.  Rather, they acted in utter disregard for the deity.  God intended that the manifestation of His Presence would ignite the altar fire, marking His acceptance of His people’s devotion.  Their intent was for the divine fire to ignite their own pans; that is, they were attempting to arrogate control of the deity for themselves.

The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014), page 216

Divine fire consumed the two priests.

Disregard for God was present in the population as a whole.  Idolatry and arrogance were difficult habits to break.  This was true in Biblical times, as in the days of Elisha.  It was true in the time that Jesus of Nazareth walked the face of the earth.

It remains true today, for human nature is a constant factor.

God is a consuming fire.  Fire is a destructive force, reducing much to ashes.  Yet destruction is frequently part of a creative process, as in the renewal of ecosystems in forests.  Divine fire destroys the corrupt and idolatrous, and arrogant so that seeds of fidelity, justice, and humility may germinate.

Jesus faced a difficult decision, and he resolved to take up his cross.  His challenge to the Apostles to do likewise has applied to members of generations for nearly 2000 years.  Will we be faithful or will we seek the easy way out?  Will we turn away from the truth, or will we act as people with Jesus Christ in them?  Will we follow the fire of the Holy Spirit or will we risk the fire of divine punishment?

The choice is ours.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 8, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CHARLOTTE ELLIOTT, JULIA ANNE ELLIOTT, AND EMILY ELLIOTT, ANGLICAN HYMN WRITERS

THE FEAST OF SAINT HUMPHREY OF PRUM, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF THEROUANNE

THE FEAST OF JOHN HAMPDEN GURNEY, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN OF GOD, FOUNDER OF THE BROTHERS HOSPITALLERS OF SAINT JOHN OF GOD

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/03/08/devotion-for-thursday-friday-and-saturday-before-proper-8-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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