Archive for the ‘Exodus 11’ Category

Announcement of Judgment, with Confidence in God’s Future   Leave a comment

Above:  Map of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire

Image in the Public Domain

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READING MICAH, PART VII

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Micah 6:1-7:20

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A motif in Hebrew prophetic literature in God making a legal case against a group of people.  That motif recurs at the beginning of Chapter 6.

Another motif in the Hebrew Bible is that God is like what God has done.  In other words, divine deeds reveal God’s character.  Likewise, human deeds reveal human character.  We read reminders of divine deliverance in Micah 6:4-5.  These verses call back to Exodus 1:1-15:21; Numbers 22:1-24:25; and Joshua 3:1-5:12.  God, who is just, expects and demands human justice:

He has told you, O man, what is good,

And what the LORD requires of you:

Only to do justice

And to love goodness,

And to walk modestly with your God.

Then will your name achieve wisdom.

–Micah 6:8-9, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Not surprisingly, no English-language translation captures the full meaning of the Hebrew text.  For example, to walk humbly or modestly with God is to walk wisely or completely with God.  Doing this–along with loving goodness and doing justice–is more important than ritual sacrifices, even those mandated in the Law of Moses.  This theme occurs also in Hosea 6:4-6.  One may also recall the moral and ethical violations of the Law of Moses condemned throughout the Book of Amos.  Micah 6 and 7 contain condemnations of such sins, too.  The people will reap what they have sown.

To whom can they turn when surrounded by corruption and depravity?  One can turn to and trust God.  In the fullest Biblical and creedal sense, this is what belief in God means.  In the Apostles’ Creed we say:

I believe in God, the Father almighty, creator of heaven and earth….

In the Nicene Creed, we say:

We believe in one God,

the Father, the Almighty,

maker of heaven and earth,

of all that is, seen and unseen.

Sometimes belief–trust–is individual.  Sometimes it is collective.  So are sin, confession, remorse for sins, repentance, judgment, and mercy.  In Micah 7:7-13, belief–trust–is collective.  Divine judgment and mercy exist in balance in the case of Jerusalem, personified.  The figure is Jerusalem, at least in the later reading of Micah.  The reference to Assyria (7:12) comes from the time of the prophet.

“Micah” (1:1) is the abbreviated form of “Micaiah,” or “Who is like YHWH?”  That is germane to the final hymn of praise (7:18-20).  It begins:

Who is a God like You….

–Micah 7:18a, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Imagine, O reader, that you were a Jew born and raised in exile, within the borders of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  Imagine that you had heard that the Babylonian Exile will end soon, and that you will have the opportunity to go to the homeland of which you have only heard.  Imagine that you have started to pray:

Who is a God like you, who removes guilt

and pardons sin for the remnant of his inheritance;

Who does not persist in anger forever,

but instead delights in mercy,

And will again have compassion on us,

treading underfoot our iniquities?

You will cast into the depths of the sea all our sins;

You will show faithfulness to Jacob, and loyalty to Abraham,

As you have sworn to our ancestors from days of old.

The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

Imagine, O reader, how exuberant you would have been.

As R. B. Y. Scott wrote regarding the Book of Hosea:

[The prophet] speaks of judgment that cannot be averted by superficial professions of repentance; but he speaks more of love undefeated by evil.  The final word remains with mercy.

The Relevance of the Prophets, 2nd. ed. (1968), 80

Thank you, O reader, for joining me on this journey through the Book of Micah.  I invite you to join me as I read and write about First Isaiah (Chapters 1-23, 28-33).

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 27, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF PAUL GERHARDT, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ALFRED ROOKER, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST PHILANTHROPIST AND HYMN WRITER; AND HIS SISTER, ELIZABETH ROOKER PARSON, ENGLISH CONGREGATINALIST HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF AMELIA BLOOMER, U.S. SUFFRAGETTE

THE FEAST OF JOHN CHARLES ROPER, ANGLICAN ARCHBISHOP OF OTTAWA

THE FEAST OF SAINT LOJZE GROZDE, SLOVENIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR, 1943

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The Superscription and First Epigram of the Book of Amos   2 comments

Above:  Map of the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel during the Reigns of Kings Azariah (Uzziah) of Judah and Jeroboam II of Israel

Image Scanned from an Old Bible

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READING AMOS, PART I

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Amos 1:1-2

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The superscription (1:1) provides information useful in dating the original version of the Book of Amos.  Jeroboam II (r. 788-747 B.C.E.; 2 Kings 14:23-29) was the King of Israel.  Azariah/Uzziah (r. 785-733 B.C.E.; 2 Kings 15:1-17; 2 Chronicles 26:1-23).  In a seismically-active region, the “big one” of circa 770 or 760 or 750 B.C.E. was apparently a memorable natural disaster.  (Ironing out wrinkles in the chronology of the era from Uzziah to Hezekiah has long been difficult, as many Biblical commentaries have noted.  For example, reputable sources I have consulted have provided different years, ranging from 742 to 733 B.C.E., for the death of King Uzziah.)  Centuries later, after the Babylonian Exile, Second Zechariah recalled that cataclysm in the context of earth-shaking events predicted to precede the Day of the Lord–in Christian terms, the establishment of the fully-realized Kingdom of God:

And the valley in the Hills shall be stopped up, for the Valley of the Hills shall reach only to Azal; it shall be stopped up as a result of the earthquake in the days of King Uzziah of Judah.–And the LORD my God, with all the holy beings, will come to you.

–Zechariah 14:5, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The original version of the Book of Amos, then, dates to circa 772 or 762 or 752 B.C.E.

The final version of the Book of Amos, however, dates to the period after the Babylonian Exile.  The prophecies of Hosea, Amos, Micah, and First Isaiah, in their final forms, all do.  So do the final versions of much of the rest of the Hebrew Bible, from Genesis to the two Books of Kings.  The final version of the Book of Amos indicates a pro-Judean bias, evident first in the listing of Kings of Judah before King Jeroboam II of Israel.

“Amos,” the shorter version of “Amasiah,” derives from the Hebrew verb for “to carry” and means “borne by God.”

Amos was a Judean who prophesied in the (northern) Kingdom of Israel.  He was, by profession, a breeder of sheep and cattle, as well as a tender of sycamore figs (1:1, 7:14).  The prophet was wealthy.  In 2 Kings 3:4, King Mesha of Moab was also a sheep breeder.  Amos hailed from the village of Tekoa, about eight kilometers, or five miles, south of Bethlehem, and within distant sight of Jerusalem (2 Samuel 14:2; Jeremiah 6:1).  King Rehoboam of Judah (r. 928-911 B.C.E.; 1 Kings 12:1-33; 1 Kings 15:21-31; 2 Chronicles 10:1-12:16; Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 47:23) had ordered the fortification of Tekoa (2 Chronicles 11:6).  Although Amos prophesied in the (northern) Kingdom of Israel, “Israel” (Amos 1:1) was a vague reference.

Since the prophetic office as manifested in Amos was a function of Yahweh’s lordship over his people, the political boundary that had been set up between Judah and Israel was utterly irrelevant.  Amos was concerned with Israel in their identity as the people of the Lord; the sphere of his activity was the realm of the old tribal league, all Israel under Yahweh, and not the state cult with its orientation to the current king and his kingdom.

–James Luther Mays, Amos:  A Commentary (1969), 19

I wonder if the vagueness of “Israel” in Amos 1:1 is original or if it is a product of subsequent amendment and editing.  The later editing and amendment do present questions about how to interpret the edited and amended texts.  Anyhow, I recognize that the message of God, via Amos of Tekoa, received and transmitted faithfully in a particular geographical and temporal context, remains relevant.  That message remains germane because human nature is a constant force, often negatively so.

The reference to the cataclysmic earthquake (Amos 1:) may do more than help to date the composition of the first version of the book.  One may, for example, detect references to that earthquake in Amos 2:13, 3;14f, 6:11, and 9:1.  One may reasonably speculate that the Book of Amos, in its final form, at least, may understand the earthquake of circa 770 or 760 or 750 B.C.E. as divine punishment for rampant, collective, persistent, disregard for the moral demands of the Law of Moses.  This presentation of natural disasters as the wrath of God exists also in Joel 1 and 2 (in reference to a plague of locusts) and in Exodus 7-11 (in reference to the plagues on Egypt).  This perspective disturbs me.  I recall certain conservative evangelists describing Hurricane Katrina (2005) as the wrath of God on New Orleans, Louisiana, allegedly in retribution for sexual moral laxity.  I wish that more people would be more careful regarding what they claim about the divine character.  I also know that earthquakes occur because of plate tectonics, swarms of locusts go where they will, and laws of nature dictate where hurricanes make landfall.

Amos seems to have prophesied in the (northern) Kingdom of Israel briefly, perhaps for only one festival and certainly for less than a year, at Bethel, a cultic site.  Then officialdom saw to it that he returned to Tekoa, his livestock and sycamore figs, and the (southern) Kingdom of Judah.

[Amos] proclaimed:

The LORD roars from Zion,

Shouts aloud from Jerusalem;

And the pastures of the shepherds shall languish,

And the summit of Carmel shall wither.

–Amos 2:2, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The theological understanding in Amos 2:2 holds that God was resident in Zion.  The reference to Mount Carmel, on the Mediterranean coast and in the (northern) Kingdom of Israel makes plain that the message was, immediately, at least, for the Northern Kingdom.  Looking at a map, one can see the geographical setting.  For the divine voice, shouted in Jerusalem, to make the summit of Mount Carmel writhe, poetically, God really is a force with which to reckon.

God is near, but he is also far–immeasurably exalted, inexpressively different.  He is the king who does not die.

–R. B. Y. Scott, The Relevance of the Prophets, 2nd. ed. (1968), 121

How we mere mortals think, speak, and write about God depends largely on our theological and social contexts–how well we understand science, how we define moral parameters, and how wide or narrow our theological imagination may be.  How we mere mortals think, speak, and write about God must also include much poetry, even prose poetry.  If we are theologically, spiritually, and intellectually honest, we will acknowledge this.  How we mere mortals think, speak, and write about God may or may not age well and/or translate well to other cultures.

Despite certain major differences from the pre-scientific worldview of the eighth-century B.C.E. prophet Amos and the world of 2021 B.C.E., the social, economic, and political context of the Book of Amos bears an unfortunate similarity to the world of 2021.  Economic inequality is increasing.  The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated the numbers of poor people while a relative few already extremely wealthy people have become richer.  God still cares deeply about how people treat each other.  God continues to condemn institutionalized inequality.  Many conventionally pious people–religious leaders, especially–are complicit in maintaining this inequality.

Amos of Tekoa continues to speak the words of God to the world of 2021.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 19, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JACQUES ELLUL, FRENCH REFORMED THEOLOGIAN AND SOCIOLOGIST

THE FEAST OF SAINT CELESTINE V, BISHOP OF ROME

THE FEAST OF SAINT DUNSTAN OF CANTERBURY, ABBOT OF GLASTONBURY AND ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY

THE FEAST OF SAINT IVO OF KERMARTIN, ROMAN CATHOLIC ATTORNEY, PRIEST, AND ADVOCATE FOR THE POOR

THE FEAST OF GEORG GOTTFRIED MULLER, GERMAN-AMERICAN MORAVIAN MINISTER AND COMPOSER

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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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The Philistine Army Captures the Ark of the Covenant   Leave a comment

Above:  The Ark of the Covenant, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1-2 SAMUEL, 1 KINGS, 2 KINGS 1-21, 1 CHRONICLES, AND 2 CHRONICLES 1-33

PART V

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1 Samuel 4:1b-22

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O God, you have cast us off and broken us;

you have been angry;

oh, take us back to you again.

–Psalm 60:1, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Military defeat (which God allowed, according to the text) of the Israelite forces did not constitute the defeat of God.  Philistine capture of the Ark of the Covenant (in lieu of the statue of a deity, the conventional booty) did not constitute the defeat of God.  Military defeat of Israelite forces did, however, constitute a crisis.

The Ark of the Covenant symbolized the presence of God.  The Ark’s unprecedented presence on the battlefield indicated the belief that the Ark was a talisman.

The deaths of Hophni and Phinehas (per 1 Samuel 2:24) and of Eli (once he heard of the capture of the Ark of the Covenant, not the deaths of his wayward sons) added to the seriousness of the situation.  Had the glory of God departed from Israel?  The mother of Ichabod thought so.

I wonder how Ichabod felt going through life with a name meaning “no glory.”

This story, in context, contains no hint of pervasive national wickedness for which God punished Israel via the Philistines.  One must, therefore, wonder why the defeat occurred.  A prosaic answer would entail an explanation of military strategies, of course.  That, however, is not the point of this story.  No, the point relates to the sovereignty of God.

The defeat was ironic.  The Philistines were polytheists who misquoted the history of the plagues of Egypt (Exodus 7:8-11:10), placing them in the wilderness, oddly.  Yet, according to 1 Samuel 4, these Philistines were agents of God.  They were about to learn how little they understood about the God of the Israelites.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 14, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM CROFT, ANGLICAN ORGANIST AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF JOHN BAJUS, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF JOHN HENRY HOPKINS, JR., EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND HYMNODIST; AND HIS NEPHEW, JOHN HENRY HOPKINS, III, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND MUSICIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT MAXIMILIAN KOLBE, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1941; AND JONATHAN MYRICK DANIELS, EPISCOPAL SEMINARIAN AND MARTYR, 1965

THE FEAST OF SARAH FLOWER ADAMS, ENGLISH UNITARIAN HYMN WRITER; AND HER SISTER, ELIZA FLOWER, ENGLISH UNITARIAN COMPOSER

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The Suffering of the Innocent, Part II   1 comment

Above:  A Crucifix

Photograph by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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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:

Exodus 11:1-6; 12:29-36

Psalm 69:19-21

1 Corinthians 11:17-22, 27-34

John 15:18-25

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The Corinthian congregation was fractious during and after the time of St. Paul the Apostle.  A generation after St. Paul, for example, St. Clement of Rome wrote his letter, called 1 Clement, to that church, which had recently deposed all of its presbyters.  Reinstate them, he instructed.  The issue at hand in 1 Corinthians 11 was the potluck meal, an early version of the Holy Eucharist.  The poorer members of the congregation depended on that meal, which some of the more fortunate members were abusing by eating ahead of time and/or taking the occasion of the potluck meal to become intoxicated.  These individuals were not contributing their fair share of the menu.

Jesus, unlike them, gave of himself selflessly and sacrificially.  He understood well that following God might make one unpopular to the point of persecution and even execution.  To make a mockery of the Holy Eucharist was (and is) to take Jesus lightly.

The author of the canonical Gospels were clear that Jesus was innocent of the charge (insurrection) upon which Roman imperial officials crucified him.  Also innocent were the firstborn Egyptian sons in Exodus; they were in the wrong place at the wrong time.

Maundy Thursday is an especially appropriate time, guided by these readings, to ponder the suffering of the innocent, whether at the hand of the state, selfish individuals, or any other actors.  It is also a fine time to consider how our religious tradition continues to ascribe much of this suffering of the innocent to God.  What are we accusing God of being like anyway?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 10, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE INAUGURATION OF THE PRESBYTERIAN CHURCH (U.S.A.), 1983

THE FEAST OF THE INAUGURATION OF THE UNITED CHURCH OF CANADA, 1925

THE FEAST OF SAINT LANDERICUS OF PARIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2017/06/10/devotion-for-maundy-thursday-ackerman/

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Exodus and Hebrews, Part IV: The Word of God   1 comment

christ-in-majesty-chartres-cathedral

Above:  Christ in Majesty, Chartres Cathedral

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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 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.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Exodus 10:21-11:10

Psalm 5 (Morning)

Psalms 27 and 51 (Evening)

Hebrews 4:1-16

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Some Related Posts:

Exodus 11:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/29/week-of-proper-10-friday-year-1/

Hebrews 4:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/19/week-of-1-epiphany-friday-year-1/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/09/20/week-of-1-epiphany-saturday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/11/02/proper-23-year-b/

Prayer:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/02/24/prayer-for-wednesday-of-passion-weekholy-week/

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For the word of God is living and active….

–Hebrews 4:12a, The Anchor Bible

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For the word of God is instinct with life….

–Hebrews 4:12a, translated by William Barclay

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The “word of God” in Hebrews 4:12a, as the note in The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (2003), explains,

is not Scripture but the living voice of God…. (page 2158)

And, as William Barclay commented in his (revised) volume on the Letter to the Hebrews,

…the word of God is something that every man must face, its offer something he must accept or reject.  (page 39)

The word of God comes through various media, including and not restricted to the Bible, nature, and other people.  In Exodus we read of the word of God coming directly to Moses, then going from there.  As a Christian I recognize the word of God, Jesus of Nazareth, whom I encounter in the Gospels.  That Word–that Logos–is the great high priest due to whom I can approach the throne of grace boldly.

One might wonder how to distinguish the voice of God from another–perhaps one’s own.  One’s God concept is far too small if it resembles what one sees when one looks into a mirror.  The best test I can determine is that of compassion, especially for the vulnerable members of society.  The Hebrew Prophets testified to this standard.  Love–sometimes the kind which leads to self-sacrifice (This is Holy Week)–yet which always seeks the best for others is another way of stating the case.  There is no divine law against such things.  Or, to use a concrete image, would Jesus do it, whatever “it” is?  Yes, the living exemplar is Jesus.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 30, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF EUSEBIUS OF CAESAREA, HISTORIAN AND ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF APOLO KIVEBULAYA, ANGLICAN EVANGELIST

THE FEAST OF JOACHIM NEANDER, GERMAN REFORMED MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOSEPHINE BUTLER, WORKER AMONG WOMEN

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Adapted from this post:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/05/30/devotion-for-the-thirty-seventh-day-of-lent-wednesday-in-holy-week-lcms-daily-lectionary/

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Metropolis (1927)   Leave a comment

metropolis-1927-shift-change

Above:  Shift Change from Metropolis (1927)

A Screen Capture I Took

METROPOLIS (1927)

Directed by Fritz Lang

Written by Thea von Harbou

To say that Metropolis is a classic and influential film is to understate reality greatly; immediately I recognize echoes of it in the works of James Whale (Frankenstein and Bride of Frankenstein), George Lucas (Star Wars, sequels, and prequels), and Ridley Scott (Blade Runner).  Scholars of cinema can and do create long lists of influences and subsequent homages.  And to state that those who butchered the movie (even destroying cut scenes) shortly after the movie’s debut were blooming idiots is to claim the obvious as true.  Fortunately, a nearly complete restored version (finished in 2010) is available.

There are versions of the movie available for home viewing.  I have the 2001 restored version (with about 3/4 of the movie present) and the 2010 restored version (with 99% of the footage included).  Alas, two scenes are, to the best of current knowledge, beyond salvage, so intertitles summarizing them will have to suffice.  Each of these versions–the Restored Authorized Version of 2001 and the Complete Metropolis of 2010–has different and helpful special features, so I recommend owning both if one is a cinephile.  The commentary track on the 2001 version is quite informative, for example, as is the documentary included with the 2010 edition.

This is a religious blog, so I choose to leave most aspects of the movie to already extant websites (such as http://www.metropolis1927.com/ and http://www.filmsite.org/metr.html ), which cover that ground quite well as I ponder some of the movie’s spiritual connections.  A film in which a city leader rules from the New Tower of Babel (a reference to Genesis 11:1-9), people read from the Book of Revelation (with references to the Whore of Babylon from chapters 17 and 19), and the leader’s son must serve as the mediator between the head (the ruler) and the hands (the oppressed workers) calls out for theological analysis.

Thea von Harbou’s story is set in an unnamed European city in 2026.  Urban elites live in skyscraper penthouses and play in the Eternal Gardens.  Meanwhile, those who built the city and who keep it functioning live hard lives, work ten-hour shifts, and occupy subterranean homes.  Joh Fredersen, the ruthless industrialist who governs the city, considers this arrangement just; the workers are, he says,

Where they belong.

His son, Freder, is naively unaware of the plight of the “other half” until Maria, the prophet of the working class, brings some of the workers’ barefoot children, clad in rags, to the Eternal Gardens and shows them their

brothers and sisters.

The butler shoos them away, of course.  But Freder begins to search the city in search of the woman with whom he has just fallen in love.  He does find her eventually, but not before he witnesses and experiences the harsh industrial conditions.  And he begins to realize his destiny to function as the mediator who will avert the violent overthrow of his father’s regime and who will create justice for the workers.

Some characters are inexact analogs for biblical figures.

Freder Fredersen is the Christ figure.  Not only is he the mediator, but he is crucified on a clock in one scene in which he takes a worker’s place.

If Freder Fredersen is the Christ figure, his father Joh is the YHWH figure.  If one reads the Hebrew Scriptures closely, one realizes that YHWH is not always nice.  Joh does approve of the workers’ rebellion so that he can crush it, eliminate troublemakers, and rule with an even more iron fist; he is an unsympathetic character.  Meanwhile, back in the Old Testament, depictions of YHWH are sometimes unpleasant; YHWH does send plagues and pestilences upon innocent populations more than once.  (See Exodus 7:14-12:32 and 2 Samuel 24:10-17, for example.)

Above:  Rotwang shows Joh Frederson the “Machine Man”

Rotwang, the inventor and prototypical cinematic mad scientist, is the Satan figure.  He pursues his own agenda and desires to undermine Joh.  Rotwang almost succeeds.

The movie portrays inhumane industrial conditions as idolatry.  In one scene Freder witnesses an industrial accident which claims human casualties.   He imagines the machine as Moloch/Molech, the Ammonite deity mentioned in 1 Kings 11:7 and 2 Kings 23:10, and experiences a hallucination of the machine consuming willing and unwilling human sacrifices.

Alas, the film’s conclusion does seem like a too-convenient deus ex machina, one which leaves the oppressive Joh Fredersen in charge.  But perhaps he will change his ways; nobody is beyond repentance and redemption, right?

Metropolis, despite its inconsistencies, is a staggering achievement and a masterpiece, one worthy of thoughtful appreciation and analysis beyond its obvious technical excellence.  This is not a story of the violent overthrow of the dictatorial and insensitive regime. Rather, the aborted uprising is the work of Rotwang, the Satan analog, who seeks to overthrow Joh, and of Joh, who wants to use the opportunity for his own purposes, only to find that they backfire on him.  So the politics of the film are inconsistent.  One might guess, based on the early scenes, that the ending might be different:  Freder and Maria overthrow Joh, with the screenwriter’s approval.  But no!

Yet the movie is what it is.  And the theme of social justice, especially that of the economic variety, is consistent with the ethos of the Hebrew prophets.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 3, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE TENTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS

THE FEAST OF EDWARD CASWALL, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EDWARD PERRONET, BRITISH METHODIST PREACHER

THE FEAST OF SAINT GENEVIEVE, PROPHET

THE FEAST OF GLADYS AYLWARD, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY TO CHINA

A Perfect Sacrifice   1 comment

Above: A Flock of Sheep

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Exodus 11:10-12:14 (An American Translation):

So Moses and Aaron performed all these portents before Pharaoh; but the LORD made Pharaoh stubborn, so that he would not let the Israelites leave his land.

Then the LORD said to Moses and Aaron in the land of Egypt,

This month shall be the first of the months for you; it shall be the first month of the year for you,’ announce to the whole community of Israel; ‘on the tenth day of this month they must provide for themselves one sheep each for their several families, a sheep for each household; if any household is too small for a sheep, it shall provide one along with its neighbor who is nearest to its own household in the number of persons, charging each for the proportionate amount of the sheep that it ate.  Your sheep must be a perfect male, a year old; you may take one of the lambs or goats.  You must keep it until the fourteenth day of this same month, and then the whole assembly of the community of Israel must slaughter it at twilight, and taking some of the blood, they must apply it to the two door-posts and the lintels for the sake of the houses in which they eat it.  That same night they must eat the flesh, eating it roasted, along with unleavened cakes and bitter herbs; do not eat any of it raw, nor cooked in any way with water, but roasted, its head along with its legs and entrails; and you must not leave any of it over until morning; any that might be left over until morning you must burn up.  This is how you are to eat it:  with your loins girded, your sandals on your feet, and your staff in your hand; you must eat it in trepidation, since it is a passover to the LORD.  This very night I will pass through the land of Egypt, striking down all the first-born in the land of Egypt, both man and beast, and executing judgment on all the gods of Egypt, I, the LORD.  The blood will serve as a sign for you on the houses where you live; and when I see the blood, I will pass by you, so that no deadly plague will fall on you when I smite the land of Egypt.  This day shall be a memorial for you; so you must keep it as a feast to the LORD; throughout your generations you must keep it as a perpetual ordinance….

Psalm 116:10-17 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

10 How shall I repay the LORD

for all the good things he has done for me?

11 I will lift up the cup of salvation

and call upon the Name of the LORD.

12 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD

in the presence of all his people.

13 Precious in the sight of the LORD

is the death of his servants.

14 O LORD, I am your servant;

I am your servant and the child of your handmaid;

you have freed me from my bonds.

15 I will offer you the sacrifice of thanksgiving

and call upon the Name of the LORD.

16 I will fulfill my vows to the LORD

in the presence of all his people,

17 In the courts of the LORD’s house,

in the midst of you, O Jerusalem.

Hallelujah!

Matthew 12:1-8 (An American Translation):

At that same time Jesus walked through the wheat fields, and his disciples became hungry and began to pick the heads of wheat and eat them.  But the Pharisees saw it and said to him,

Look!  Your disciples are doing something which it is against the Law to do on the Sabbath!

But he said to them,

Did you ever read what David did, when he and his companions were hungry?  How is it that he went into the House of God and that they ate the Presentation Loaves which it is against the Law for him and his companions to eat, or for anyone except the priests?  Or did you ever read in the Law how the priests in the Temple are not guilty when they break the Sabbath?  But I tell you, there is something greater than  the Temple here!  But if you knew what the saying means,”‘It is mercy, not sacrifice, that I care for,” you would not have condemned  men who are not guilty.  For the Son of Man is master of the Sabbath.

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The Collect:

O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and also may have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

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Overlapping material occurs in the devotion for Maundy Thursday, a link to which is here:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/29/thirty-eighth-day-of-lent-maundy-thursday/.

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What is a perfect sacrifice?  This question hinges on the word “perfect.”  In the Biblical context it means “suitable for its purpose.”  This is how Matthew 5:48 can quote Jesus as saying,

Be perfect, therefore, as your heavenly Father is perfect  (New Revised Standard Version).

Our story in Exodus jumps a few chapters from the burning bush incident to the latter stage of the plagues in Egypt.  The blood of a perfect sacrificial lamb smeared on one ‘s doorpost will be the sign of being spared from the death of the first-born.  The blood of the lamb will spare one from the sins of others-namely the Egyptian leadership, not oneself.  This is a vital point to understand, for to make the analogy of Jesus as Passover Lamb cannot support Penal Substitutionary Atonement, the idea that the blood of Jesus saves us from our sins.  No, the Atonement works differently, and blood is involved in it in a way I do not pretend to comprehend.  At St. Gregory the Great Episcopal Church, Athens, Georgia, when I hold a chalice of wine and say

The blood of Christ, the cup of salvation,

I mean it.  Whenever I say this to one particular gentleman, he says, “Thank God.”  That is an appropriate response.

I wonder why there was not passover blood for those little boys.  I have no easy answers.

So the Israelites are spared, but what about the Egyptians?  Are not their lives just as valuable?  I am not shy about arguing with the Biblical texts, for I engage them, not worship them.  The Bible is the most ubiquitous idol within Christianity.  This is not its purpose, but that is what well-intentioned people have made it.

Speaking of accidental idolaters, let us turn to the Pharisees.

Consider this verse:

When you enter another man’s field of standing grain, you may pluck ears with your hand; but you must not put a sickle to your neighbor’s grain.

–Deuteronomy 23:26 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures)

And, of course, there is Hosea 6:6, also from TANAKH:

For I desire goodness, not sacrifice;

Obedience to God, rather than burnt offerings.

The reference to David comes from 1 Samuel 21:1-6, set during a time when David was on the run from King Saul.  David and his men were hungry, so, with the aid of a priest, Ahimelech, eat the only bread available–consecrated loaves reserved for priests.

Consider the context in Matthew.  Jesus has just completed his “Come to me, all who are heavy-laden” invitation. The day is the Sabbath, and his disciples are hungry.  They obey Deuteronomy 23:26 by reaping with with their hands.  Religious legal codes subsequent to Deuteronomy 23:26 forbade reaping on the Sabbath, and the disciples had violated this law.  Jesus replies by referring to David, whom the Pharisees revered, and to the fact that professional religious people worked at the Temple on the Sabbath legally.  So why is satisfying the basic human need to eat considered improper?

The verses following incident immediately tell of Jesus healing on the Sabbath.  He has to defend himself from criticism then, too.

William Barclay offers the most succinct analysis of the moral of these stories:

The claims of human need took precedence over any ritual custom.  (The Gospel of Matthew, Volume, 2, Philadelphia, PA:  Westminster Press, page 23)

A previous owner of my copy wrote the following comment in the margin:

People more imp. than things!

Indeed, people are more important than things and ritual customs, and goodness and mercy are more valuable than sacrifices and legalistic proscriptions.  To quote Barclay again, this time from page 25:

Jesus insisted that the greatest ritual service is the service of human need.

This statement is so obvious to me that I stand in dismay at someone having to argue for it.  This should be a given, something people assume and to which they stipulate and then act upon.

So the service of human needs is the perfect sacrifice to God.  May we read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest this concept and act accordingly, as our circumstances dictate the particulars.

But lest we pat ourselves on the back and cast historical stones at the Pharisees, we need to examine ourselves spiritually.  The late Shirley C. Guthrie, Jr., a U.S. Presbyterian theologian, offered the following in the first edition of Christian Doctrine:  Teachings of the Christian Church (Richmond, VA:  CLC Press, 1968, pages 247-248):

One danger of the sacrificial imagery is that the significance of Christ’s work can easily be corrupted in the same way the sacrificial system of the Old Testament was corrupted.  It easily becomes a kind of bargaining with God.  A sacrifice has been offered to satisfy his demands and appease him–so now we are free go go on being and doing anything we like without interference from him.  How did the prophets protest against such a perversion of the sacrificial system?  See Isaiah 1:10-31; Amos 5:21-24; Hosea 6:6; Micah 6:6-8.  Is the prophetic protest against the misuse of sacrifices relevant also to our understanding of the sacrifice of Christ?  Would the prophets allow the split we sometimes make between preaching concerned with social action and preaching concerned with salvation from sin?

Think about it.  Pray about it.  Learn what God teaches, and act accordingly.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 29, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FIFTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS:  THE FEAST OF SAINT THOMAS BECKET, ARCHBISHOP OF CANTERBURY

THE FEAST OF JOSIAH CONDER, ENGLISH ABOLITIONIST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF AUSTIN FARRER, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF JOHN BURNETT MORRIS, JR., EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/12/29/week-of-proper-10-friday-year-1/

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