Archive for the ‘Ezekiel 18’ Category

The Martyrdom of the Fifth and Sixth Brothers   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of the Mother and Her Seven Sons

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART XII

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2 Maccabees 7:15-19

4 Maccabees 11:1-27

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As usual, 2 Maccabees focuses on theology and is succinct.  Also as usual, 4 Maccabees gives up philosophy, theology, and graphic descriptions of torture.

A few main points stand out in my mind:

  1. Again, brothers about to die told King Antiochus IV Epiphanes he would suffer in the afterlife (2 Maccabees 7:17, 19; 4 Maccabees 11:3).
  2. Descendants of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes were also going to suffer divine punishment (2 Maccabees 7:17).  Is this an echo of intergenerational reward and punishment (Exodus 20:5-6)?  (Ezekiel 18 argues for individual responsibility before God and against intergenerational reward and punishment, by the way.)  Or were those descendants going to suffer for their sins?
  3. God has not abandoned the persecuted Jews (2 Maccabees 7:16).
  4. 2 Maccabees (in 6:12-17; 7:18)  teaches that this persecution was a form of divine punishment of Israel for sins.  I chose not to write about this point when I covered 2 Maccabees 6, for I was focusing on other matters.

Let us–you, O reader, and I–unpack this last theological point.  Who (plural) sinned to bring on this punishment, allegedly?  Were pious Jews, especially the ones who willingly suffered and died rather than violate kosher food laws in the Law of Moses–suffering because of the sins of impious Jews.  Or were these pious Jews suffering because of the perfidy of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes and those who did his bidding?

Rabbi HIillel quoted Rabbi Jose son of Rabbi Judah:

Precious are chastisements, for the name of God rests upon him to whom chastisements come.

The Wisdom of Solomon, a book roughly contemporary with 2 Maccabees, disagrees somewhat with the interpretation of the suffering of pious Jews in 2 Maccabees:

By acting thus you have taught a lesson to your people

how the virtuous man must be kind to his fellow men,

and you have given your sons the good hope

that after sin you will grant repentance.

If with such care and such indulgence you have punished

the enemies of your children,

when death was what they deserved,

and given them time and room to rid themselves of wickedness,

with what attention have you not judged your sons,

to whose ancestors you made such fair promises by oaths and covenants.

Thus, while you correct us, you flog our enemies ten thousand times harder,

to teach us when we judge, to reflect on your kindness

and when we are judged, to look for mercy.

–Wisdom of Solomon 12:19-22, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

Furthermore, according to the Wisdom of Solomon 11:1-14, the righteous receive benefits through punishments.  Adding the Wisdom of Solomon 12:9-10 to the mix, we read that God permits pagan nations time to repent.  However, according to the Wisdom of Solomon 12:23-27, divine mercy follows divine judgment.  And as Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 5:4-9 warns us, do not assume divine indulgence to be an entitlement.

I recognize Deuteronomic theology of collective suffering when I read it.  That theology exists in 2 Maccabees and the Wisdom of Solomon.  That theology is the Hebrew Biblical party line regarding the causation of the Babylonian Exile.  And that theology may not apply in all circumstances.

We who identify as devout have a responsibility to be careful in how we think, speak, and write about God.  On one hand, we ought never to try to domesticate God.  On the other hand, we must refrain from depicting God as a monstrous figure worthy of our dread and unworthy of praise and adoration.  We have an obligation not to depict God as being abusive.  How can we draw people to the sole deity if we present that deity as an abuser?  Theodicy, poorly executed, quickly devolves into idiocy.

Perhaps the Jews suffered under King Antiochus IV Epiphanes because he was a bastard intolerant of cultural diversity.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 8, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOSEPHINE BAKHITA, ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN

THE FEAST OF SAINT JEROME EMILIARI, FOUNDER OF THE COMPANY OF THE SERVANTS OF THE POOR

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JOHN OF MATHA AND FELIX OF VALOIS, FOUNDERS OF THE ORDER OF THE MOST HOLY TRINITY

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOSEPHINA GABRIELLA BONINO, FOUNDRESS OF THE SISTERS OF THE HOLY FAMILY

THE FEAST OF MITCHELL J. DAHOOD, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

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The Rape of Tamar and the Murder of Amnon   3 comments

Above:  Amnon Forces Tamar to Leave in Humiliation

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 XL

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2 Samuel 13:1-39

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Thus said the LORD:  “I will make a calamity rise against you in your own house….”

–2 Samuel 12:11a, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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King David had a large, dysfunctional family.  He had seventeen children by seven women.

For the purposes of this post, one needs to know the following:

  1. Tamar and Absalom were children of David and Maacah.  One may remember Maacah from 2 Samuel 3:3 and 1 Chronicles 3:2.
  2. Amnon was the son of David and Ahinoam.  One may remember Ahinoam from 1 Samuel 25:43; 1 Samuel 27:3; 1 Samuel 30:5; 2 Samuel 2:2; 2 Samuel 3:2; and 1 Chronicles 3:1.

This story assumes intergenerational punishment, consistent with Exodus 20:5-6 and contrary to Ezekiel 18.

Amnon was a sick puppy.  He lusted after and raped his half-sister, Tamar.  Then he sent her away, forcing her to remain unmarried for the rest of her life.  Amnon disobeyed Deuteronomy 22:28-29, which secured a rape victim’s social position by requiring her rapist to marry her.  As Amy-Jill Levine has said about certain aspects of the Hebrew Bible, people did things differently then.

Anyway, I refuse to defend Deuteronomy 22:28-29.

Tamar wore an ornamented tunic, which wound up torn.  This was a garment a high-status person wore.  The only other mention of such a garment in the Hebrew Bible was in Genesis 37.  Joseph also became a victim of family violence and perfidy.  And his ornamented tunic became torn, too.

Why did David not punish Amnon and sympathize with Tamar?

Absalom served up the cold dish of revenge; he ordered Amnon’s murder two years after the rape of Tamar.  Then Absalom fled.  He spent several years in exile as David grieved for Amnon.

This story presents David in an unflattering light.  It makes clear that the monarch did not punish Amnon for raping Tamar.  The story also depicts David as yielding to Absalom in verses 24-27.

Although I reject intergenerational punishment by God, I acknowledge both positive and negative intergenerational influences.  Children learn what they live.  Based on what I have read in 1 and 2 Samuel, I do not know how one could grow up in David’s family and not be warped.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 27, 2020 COMMON ERA

PROPER 21:  THE SEVENTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAINT FRANCES DE SALES, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF GENEVA; SAINT VINCENT DE PAUL, “THE APOSTLE OF CHARITY;” SAINT LOUISE DE MARILLAC, COFOUNDER OF THE DAUGHTERS OF CHARITY OF SAINT VINCENT DE PAUL; AND SAINT CHARLES FUGE LOWDER, FOUNDER OF THE SOCIETY OF THE HOLY CROSS

THE FEAST OF ELIZA SCUDDER, U.S. UNITARIAN THEN EPISCOPALIAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF MELANESIA, 1864-2003

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King David and Mephibosheth   1 comment

Above:  Mephibosheth Kneels Before King David

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 XXXVI

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2 Samuel 21:1-14

2 Samuel 9:1-13

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David asked, “Is there anyone belonging to Saul’s family left, to whom I might show faithful love for Jonathan’s sake?”

–2 Samuel 9:1, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

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Consistent chronology is not the organizing principle in the books of Samuel, Kings, and Chronicles.  Neither is it the organizing principle in this blogging project.  Thematic considerations override chronology sometimes.

Remnants of the House of Saul remained alive and constituted potential political threats to King David.  Mephibosheth, born Meribbaal, was a son of Jonathan.  (Recall, O reader, that “bosheth” means “shame.”)  David and Jonathan had made a pact (1 Samuel 18:3 and 23:18).  David honored that pact by keeping Mephibosheth alive, in the royal court, and at a place of honor, the king’s dining table.  Also, David could always watch Mephibosheth.

Mentions of Mephibosheth also occur in 2 Samuel 16 and 19.

Mephibosheth was not all that was left of the House of Saul.  There was Michal, of course.  And Saul had at least seven surviving sons.  Seven sons of Saul, despite being innocent of any offense other than being sons of Saul, died.  They died, Chapter 21 tells us, to satisfy Saul’s blood guilt and to end a three-year-long drought.  In an incident recorded nowhere else in the Bible, Saul had attempted the genocide of the Gibeonites.  Seven sons of Saul died horribly–via impaling–for their father’s sin.

I, citing Ezekiel 18, reject holding children accountable for the sins of their parents.

These two passages portray King David as a complicated figure.  We read of a man–a monarch–who kept faith/kindness/faithful love (hesed) with Jonathan’s son and simultaneously reined him in.  Mixed motives are old news; human nature is a constant factor.  One may also reasonable argue that David should have kept hesed with Michal and those seven unfortunate sons of Saul.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 30, 2020 COMMON ERA

PROPER 17:  THE THIRTEENTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAINT JEANNE JUGAN, FOUNDRESS OF THE LITTLE SISTERS OF THE POOR

THE FEAST OF JOHN LEARY, U.S. ROMAN CATHOLIC SOCIAL ACTIVIST AND ADVOCATE FOR THE POOR AND THE MARGINALIZED

THE FEAST OF KARL OTTO EBERHARDT, GERMAN MORAVIAN ORGANIST, MUSIC, EDUCATOR, AND COMPOSER

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This is post #2300 of BLOGA THEOLOGICA.

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Judgment and Mercy, Part XV   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of the Holy Trinity, by Andrei Rublev

Image in the Public Domain

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For Trinity Sunday, 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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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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Ezekiel 18:30-32 or Isaiah 6:1-8

Psalms 149 and 150

Ephesians 1:3-14

John 3:1-15

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Trinity Sunday is one of those feasts for which I dread writing, due to having rewritten the same post repeatedly.

I can, however, bring the readings from Ezekiel, Ephesians, and John together and weave the threads into a pattern.  The pattern is one of divine love being consistent with divine judgment and mercy.  Judgment need not occur; human repentance is one way to avoid it.  Another way of preventing judgment is direct divine action, meant to, among other goals, invite people to repent.  One may recall scenes of Jesus associating with notorious sinners in the Gospels, for example.  Furthermore, there is the matter of the Atonement.  Yet many continue to reject grace.  They condemn themselves.

The Holy Trinity is a great mystery.  The Church does not grasp this mystery, despite Ecumenical Councils and millennia of theological development.  The Eastern and Western branches continue to disagree about the filioque clause of the Nicene Creed.  Furthermore, Christological differences separate the Eastern Orthodox from the Oriental Orthodox.

The mystery will sort itself out.  We can, however, acknowledge the mystery and listen for the Holy Spirit urging us along spiritual pathways.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 10, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MARIE-JOSEPH LAGRANGE, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF SAINT AGRIPINNUS OF AUTUN, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; SAINT GERMANUS OF PARIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; AND SAINT DROCTOVEUS OF AUTUN, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF FOLLIOT SANDFORD PIERPOINT, ANGLICAN EDUCATOR, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN OGLIVIE, SCOTTISH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1615

THE FEAST OF SAINT MACARIUS OF JERUSALEM, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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Faithful Servants of God, Part VI   1 comment

Above:  Chapel of the Beatitudes, Galilee, 1940

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-matpc-20815

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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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Ecclesiastes 3:1-14, 20-22 or Ezekiel 18:1-9, 25-32

Psalm 5

Galatians 2:14-21

Matthew 5:1-12

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I, as a member of a monthly book group, have been reading Jonathan T. Pennington’s Heaven and Earth in the Gospel of Matthew, a volume that overturns more than a century of scholarly consensus.  Pennington rejects the idea, ubiquitous in sermons, Sunday School lessons, commentaries, and study Bibles, that “Kingdom of Heaven” is a reverential circumlocution–a way to avoid saying “God.”  He posits that “Kingdom of Heaven” actually refers to God’s rule on the Earth, that the “Kingdom of Heaven” is essentially the New Jerusalem, still in opposition to the world.  God will, however, take over the world, thereby resolving the tension.

The Kingdom of Heaven, we read in the Beatitudes, belongs to those who know their need for God and who experience persecution for the sake of righteousness.  They would certainly receive the kingdom, I agree.

Justification is a theme in Galatians 2.  There we read an expression of the Pauline theology of justification by faith, not by works or the Law of Moses.  This seems to contradict James 2:24, where we read that justification is by works and not by faith alone.  It is not actually a disagreement, however, given the different definitions of faith in the thought of James and St. Paul the Apostle.  Both of them, one learns from reading their writings and dictations, affirmed the importance of responding to God faithfully.  The theme of getting one’s act together and accepting one’s individual responsibility for one’s actions fits well with Ezekiel 18, which contradicts the theology of intergenerational guilt and merit found in Exodus 20:5.

How we behave matters very much; all of the readings affirm this.  Thus our actions and inactions have moral importance.  Do we comfort those who mourn?  Do we show mercy?  Do we make peace?  Do we seek to be vehicles of divine grace to others?  Hopefully we do.  And we can succeed, by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 20, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SEBASTIAN CASTELLIO, PROPHET OF RELIGIOUS FREEDOM

THE FEAST OF CHRISTOPHER WORDSWORTH, HYMN WRITER AND ANGLICAN BISHOP OF LINCOLN

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIA JOSEFA SANCHO DE GUERRA, FOUNDRESS OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE SERVANTS OF JESUS

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL RODIGAST, GERMAN LUTHERAN ACADEMIC AND HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2018/03/20/devotion-for-the-fourth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-a-humes/

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Sins of Omission, Part II   Leave a comment

Above:  The Widow’s Mite, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain

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FOR THE SEVENTH SUNDAY OF KINGDOMTIDE, ACCORDING TO A LECTIONARY FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP IN THE BOOK OF WORSHIP FOR CHURCH AND HOME (1965)

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Heavenly Father, in whom we live and move and have our being:

We humbly pray you so to guide and govern us by your Holy Spirit that in all the

cares and occupations of our daily life we may remember that we are ever walking in your sight;

for your name’s sake.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 154

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Ezekiel 18:23-32

Psalm 38

James 1:17-27

Luke 21:1-4

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Responsibility comes in two varieties–collective and individual.  My Western culture emphasizes the latter, frequently to the exclusion or minimization of the former.  Other cultures commit the opposite errors.  A balance is proper.

The theme of individual responsibility is present.  Ezekiel 18 (as well as 3:16-21; 14:12-23; and 33:1-20) argues against the theology of Exodus 20:5 and Deuteronomy 5:9, whereby God holds members of subsequent generations accountable for one’s sins.  Yes, one’s life can have consequences for members of subsequent generations.  I can, for example, identify how two of my great-grandfathers on my father’s side influence me, for good and ill.  I am not responsible for their sins, however.  I am, of course, responsible for my own.

The theme of collective responsibility is also present.  In Luke 21:21:1-4 we read the story of the widow’s mite.  If we read immediately before and after it also, however, we find context.  In Luke 20:45-57 Jesus denounces those scribes who “devout widows’ houses” while seeking and enjoying social status, as well as maintaining the appearance of piety.  Then we read of a devout and impoverished widow donating money she cannot spare to the Temple.  Next, in 21:5, Jesus predicts the destruction of that Temple.  A progression is evident.

We are responsible for what we do in groups as well as by ourselves.  We are also responsible for sins of omission.  May we, by grace, care effectively for each other, individually and collectively, and never “devour widows’ houses” or stand by idly and silently while that happens, when we have an opportunity to say or do something to protest, if not to protect the exploited.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 11, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MARY SLESSOR, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN MISSIONARY IN WEST AFRICA

THE FEAST OF GEORGE FOX, FOUNDER OF THE RELIGIOUS SOCIETY OF FRIENDS

THE FEAST OF MIEP GIES, RIGHTEOUS GENTILE

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAULINUS OF AQUILEIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC PATRIARCH

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Human Weaknesses and Divine Faithfulness   1 comment

Above:  Temptations of Jesus

Image in the Public Domain

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FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY IN LENT, ACCORDING TO A LECTIONARY FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP IN THE BOOK OF WORSHIP FOR CHURCH AND HOME (1965)

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Almighty God, you see that we have no power of ourselves to help ourselves:

Keep us both outwardly in our bodies and inwardly in our souls,

that we may be defended from all adversities which may happen to the body,

and from all evil thoughts which may hurt the soul;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 95

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Ezekiel 33:7-16

Psalm 18

1 John 2:1-3, 15-17

Mark 1:9-12

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A witty saying tells us,

I can resist anything except temptation.

Temptations are indeed strong and alluring, therefore, for lack of a better word, tempting.  We, although created in the image of God (Genesis 1:27), are “but dust” (Psalm 103:14).  We are accountable for our sins (not those of our ancestors; read Ezekiel 18), although the sins of ancestors might affect ancestors for generations (hence Exodus 34:7).  We are far from hopeless, fortunately, for we have Christ (who knows temptation) and the Holy Spirit interceding for us (John 14:16 and 26; John 15:26).

But how will we respond to the reality of our responsibility and of divine love?  Even if we strive to accept our responsibility and to welcome divine love, we might behave badly.  We might be like St. Paul the Apostle in Romans 7, knowing what we ought to do yet being incapable of doing it.  Or we might not know precisely what we ought to do.  Principles might be plain enough, but their practical applications might prove mysterious to us.  Another problem might be the category of sins of omission, which can be more difficult to recognize than sins of commission.

Fortunately, God is faithful; we can rely on that.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 17, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FIFTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT:  THE THIRD SUNDAY OF ADVENT, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM LLOYD GARRISON, ABOLITIONIST AND FEMINIST; AND MARIA STEWART, ABOLITIONIST, FEMINIST, AND EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF EGLANTYNE JEBB AND DOROTHY BUXTON, FOUNDERS OF SAVE THE CHILDREN

THE FEAST OF FRANK MASON NORTH, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER

THE FEAST OF MARY CORNELIA BISHOP GATES, U.S. DUTCH REFORMED HYMN WRITER

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Spiritual Responsibility   1 comment

Zedekiah

Above:  King Zedekiah of Judah

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Eternal God, your kingdom has broken into our troubled world

through the life, death, and resurrection of your Son.

Help us to hear your word and obey it,

and bring your saving love to fruition in our lives,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 28

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 11:1-17 (Monday)

Ezekiel 17:1-10 (Tuesday)

Psalm 39 (Both Days)

Romans 2:1-11 (Monday)

Romans 2:12-16 (Tuesday)

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You chastise mortals in punishment for sin,

consuming like a moth what is dear to them;

surely everyone is a mere breath.

–Psalm 39:11, The Book of Worship of North India (1995)

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The judgment of God is righteous, the readings for these days tell us.

Ezekiel 17:1-10 requires explanation, for it uses metaphorical language.  The references involving the cedar, the vine, and the eagles refer to international relations from 598 to 588 B.C.E.  In verses 3-6 the meaning is that King Nebuchadnezzar II of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire had taken many prominent people of Judah, including King Jehoiachin (reigned in 597 B.C.E.), into exile, after which King Zedekiah (reigned 597-586 B.C.E.), who was initially loyal to Nebuchadnezzar II, came to the throne of Judah.  The eagle in verses 7-8 is the Pharaoh of Egypt, to whom Zedekiah transferred his loyalty.  The pericope concludes that the survival of Zedekiah and Judah is impossible.

Part of the background of the assigned passage from Ezekiel is the position that pursuing those alliances with dangerous foreign leaders was not only foolish but faithless.  Obey and trust in God instead, prophets said.  Theological interpretation in the context of the Babylonian Exile reinforced that position.  The people and bad kings of Judah reaped what they sowed, the final versions of certain books of the Hebrew Bible argued.  (There were, of course, good kings of Judah.)

God is angry with Judah in Jeremiah 11:1-17.  The people, having generally (with some notable exceptions) refused to obey the covenant with God, will suffer the punishments for noncompliance which the covenant contains.  Among the accusations is rampant idolatry.

The first word of Romans 2 is “therefore,” which leads me back into chapter 1.  The essence of Romans 1 is that Gentiles have no excuse for persistent unrighteousness, including idolatry.  Divine punishment for them for these offenses is therefore justified.  Then, in Romans 2, St. Paul the Apostle tells his Jewish audience not to be spiritually complacent.

The very fact that the Jew agrees so entirely with Paul’s charge against the Gentile shows that he himself is without excuse and subject to the wrath of God.

–Anders Nygren, Commentary on Romans (1944); Translated by Carl C. Rasmussen (Philadelphia, PA:  Muhlenberg Press, 1949), page 113

Furthermore, some Gentiles have the law of God inscribed on their hearts, when even some Jews do not.  Doing is better than merely hearing, according to the Apostle.

Three thoughts come to my mind at this point.  The first is that St. Paul was correct.  He echoed Jeremiah 31:31f (the inner law), but expanded the text to include Gentiles.  St. Paul also sounded much like Jesus in Matthew 7:1-5.

Do not judge, and you will not be judged.  For as you judge others, so will yourselves be judged, and whatever measure you deal out will be dealt to you.

–Matthew 7:1-2, The Revised English Bible (1989)

The Gospel of Matthew did not exist during St. Paul’s lifetime, but the Apostle did have some familiarity with oral traditions and perhaps some written sayings of Jesus, from which the author of the Gospel of Matthew drew.

My second thought is that St. Paul’s challenge to question one’s assumptions and prejudices is timeless.  Who are those we define as spiritual outsiders?  Some of them might be closer to God than we are, and we might not be as close to God as we think we are.

My final thought in this collection is that St. Paul sounds very much like the perhaps later Letter of James.

Exhibit A:

For it is not the hearers of the law who are righteous in God’s sight, but the doers of the law who will be justified.

–Romans 2:13, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

The emphasis here is on active faith.  The Pauline definition of faith was confidence, in the absence of evidence for or against, which leads to actions.  Thus, later in the epistle, St. Paul argued:

Therefore since we are justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ….

–Romans 5:1, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

Romans 2:13 and 5:1 stand as portions of a unified, steadily building case in a theological treatise.

Exhibit B:

What good is it, my friends, for someone to say he has faith when his actions do nothing to show it?  Can faith save him?…So with faith; if it does not lead to action, it is by itself a lifeless thing.

–James 2:14, 17, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Exhibit C:

Do you have to be told, you fool, that faith divorced from action is futile?…You see then it is by action and not by faith alone that a man is justified.

–James 2:20, 24, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Faith, in the Letter of James, is intellectual, hence the necessity of pairing it with deeds.  On the surface the theologies of justification in the Letter of James and the Letter to the Romans might seem mutually contradictory, but they are not.  No, they arrive at the same point from different destinations.

The judgment of God exists alongside divine mercy.  The balance of the two factor resides solely in the purview of God.  Our actions influence divine judgment and mercy in our cases, however.  One can find that teaching in several places in the Bible, including Ezekiel 18, Matthew 7:1-5, Romans 2:6f, and James 2:8f.  Yes, the legacies of ancestors influence us, but our spiritual responsibility for ourselves remains intact.  May we exercise it properly.

Related to one’s spiritual responsibility for oneself is one’s spiritual responsibility for others, as in Romans 2:17-24.  That, however, is a topic for another post.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 19, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN HERMANN SCHEIN, GERMAN LUTHERAN COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF F. BLAND TUCKER, EPISCOPAL PRIEST

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2015/11/19/devotion-for-monday-and-tuesday-after-the-third-sunday-in-lent-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Money, Status, and Ego   1 comment

Robinson's Arch

Above:  Robinson’s Arch, Jerusalem, Palestine, Ottoman Empire, Between 1898 and 1914

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-matpc-07504

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The Collect:

God of love, giver of life, you know our frailties and failings.

Give us your grace to overcome them,

keep us from those things that harm us,

and guide us in the way of salvation,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 48

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The Assigned Readings:

Ezekiel 12:17-28 (Thursday)

Ezekiel 18:5-18 (Friday)

Ezekiel 18:19-24 (Saturday)

Psalm 25:1-9 (All Days)

James 4:11-16 (Thursday)

Acts 13:32-41 (Friday)

Mark 11:27-22 (Saturday)

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Gracious and upright is the LORD;

therefore he teaches sinners in his way.

He guides the humble in doing right

and teaches he way to the lowly.

All the paths of the LORD are love and faithfulness

to those who keep his covenant and his testimonies.

–Psalm 25:7-9, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The readings for these days combine to form a tapestry about sin, righteousness, judgment (both human and divine), and forgiveness.  The lessons also overlap like circles in a Venn Diagram.  This richness of content from various sources explains why I have chosen to write from the Complementary Series of the daily lectionary attached to the (mostly Sunday) Revised Common Lectionary.  There is also a continuous reading track, but this one works better for me.

We humans make decisions every day.  As a poster I heard of years ago declares, “YOU CANNOT NOT DECIDE.”  We decide to take one course of action or another one.  Sometimes we decide to do nothing.  Thus, when we sin, we might do so via commission or omission.  There will be consequences of sins and sometimes even for proper deeds; one cannot evade their arrival forever.  No matter how much God approves or disapproves of certain deeds, some human beings will have a different opinion.  Thus divine judgment might seem to arrive late or not at all in some cases and those innocent of a great offense suffer for the sake of righteousness.

Ezekiel 18 makes clear the point that God evaluates us based on what we do and do not do, not on what any ancestor did (or has done) and did not do (or has not done.)  Yes, as I have mentioned in a recent post at this weblog, parts of the Torah either disagree with that point or seem to do so.  Why should the Bible not contradict itself in places, given the lengthy span on its composition?  To expect consistency on every point is to harbor unrealistic expectations.  This why we also need tradition and reason, not just scripture, when arriving at theological decisions.  Anyhow, Ezekiel 18 tells us God does not evaluate us based on what our grandparents did.  This is good news.  What they did might still affect us negatively and/or positively, however.  I can identity such influences reaching back to some of my great-grandparents, in fact.  But I am responsible for my sins, not theirs.  As James 4:17 (The Revised English Bible, 1989) tells us:

What it comes to is that anyone who knows the right thing to do and does not do it a sinner.

Sometimes we know right from wrong and choose the latter because it is easier than the former.  I think that this summary applies to our Lord’s questioners in Mark 11:27-33.  Jesus, already having entered Jerusalem triumphantly while looking like a victorious king en route to the peace negotiations after battle, had also scared the living daylights out of money changers exploiting the pious poor at the Temple.  Our Lord and Savior was challenging a religious system in league with the Roman Empire.  And he was doing so during the days leading up to the annual celebration of Passover, which was about God’s act of liberating the Hebrews from slavery in Egypt.  The man was not keeping a low profile.  He was doing the right things and his questioners were attempting to entrap him verbally.  I suspect that they knew that he was the genuine article and that they preferred to lie to themselves and to oppose him rather than to follow him.  They had matters of money, status, and ego to consider, after all.

Are they really quite different from many of us?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 21, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF GEORGIA HARKNESS, UNITED METHODIST THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT KENNETH OF WALES, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2014/08/21/devotion-for-thursday-friday-and-saturday-before-proper-21-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Wrestling With Biblical Texts   1 comment

moses-with-the-tablets-of-the-law-rembrandt-van-rijn

Above:  Moses With the Tablets of the Law, by Rembrandt Van Rijn

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

O God, on this day you open the hearts of your faithful people

by sending us your Holy Spirit.

Direct us by the light of that Spirit,

that we may have a right judgment in all things

and rejoice at all times in your peace,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 36

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The Assigned Readings:

Exodus 20:1-21

Psalm 33:12-22

Matthew 5:1-12

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Some Related Posts:

Exodus 20:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2013/10/18/devotion-for-monday-tuesday-and-wednesday-after-the-sixth-sunday-after-epiphany-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2011/07/26/third-sunday-in-lent-year-b/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/06/06/devotion-for-the-eighth-day-of-easter-second-sunday-of-easter-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/01/09/week-of-proper-11-friday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/04/24/proper-22-year-a/

Matthew 5:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/05/fourth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-a/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2013/04/19/devotion-for-september-28-lcms-daily-lectionary/

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Shall we unpack the Ten Commandments, at least a little?

  1. Many more commandments follow immediately, starting in Exodus 20.
  2. Many of the Ten Commandments are self-explanatory, so not committing adultery against a neighbor are straight-forward, for example.
  3. Swearing falsely by the name of God refers to insincere oaths and to attempts to control God, not to certain curse words and related expressions.
  4. On the troubling side, the text classes wives with property and livestock (20:14) and allows for slavery (20:10).
  5. The commandment to have no other gods might deny the existence of other deities or mean simply not to worship them while acknowledging their existence.  Hebrew Bible scholars debate that point.  Yet I know that many Hebrews during Biblical times not only acknowledged the existence of other deities but worshiped some of them.
  6. Sometimes displaying the Ten Commandments constitutes idolatry, which intention defines.

Exodus 20:5-6 requires some explanation.  Does God really punish descendants for someone’s sins?  Or is this a description of behaviors repeated across generations?  The ultimate context in which to consider any passage of Scripture is the entire canon thereof.  Thus I point out that a note on page 149 of The Jewish Study Bible (2004) lists Deuteronomy 24:6; Jeremiah 31:29-30; and Ezekiel 18:1-20 as passages which state that God punishes a person for his or her sins alone.  This nuance helps to fill out the picture.  Sometimes Biblical authors wrote of effects as if they were divine purposes, even when they were not.  Human understandings have changed, even if God has not.

If we read Exodus 20:5-6 as descriptive and interpret it within the context of the previously listed passages from Deuteronomy, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel, a certain understanding takes shape.  One’s good and bad behaviors might echo for three or four or more generations.  I can, for example, identify positive and negative legacies from two of my paternal great-grandfathers which have affected me.  I, being aware of my responsibility for my own actions, have endeavored to keep the good and to break with the bad.  God know how successful that has proven so far.

The Ten Commandments and the Beatitudes are about, among other things, how faithful people of God ought to live with God and in community.  Depending on one’s community, living with God properly might contradict the former and lead to persecutions–even death.  The Beatitudes (Matthew 5:3-12 and Luke 6:20-23) say that God’s order is not the dominant human one in which a person lives.  The Beatitudes are counter-cultural.  And Luke 6:24-26 (the Woes) goes beyond anything Matthew 5:3-12 indicates.  If one really reads them, one should recognize that the Beatitudes and Woes remain political hot potatoes.

One part of the honest–not autopilot–interaction with the Bible I like is that we must wrestle with texts and reconsider aspects of our opinions, culture, politics, and economics–even ones which we like and which benefit us.  This is healthy to do.  We will do it if we take the Bible seriously and seek to cut through confirmation bias and defense mechanisms.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 20, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE TWENTIETH DAY OF ADVENT, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAINT DOMINIC OF SILOS, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT PETER CANISIUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

THE FEAST OF KATHERINA VON BORA LUTHER, WIFE OF MARTIN LUTHER

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Adapted from this post:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2013/12/20/devotion-for-the-forty-ninth-day-of-easter-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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