Archive for the ‘Jeremiah 2’ Category

Judah’s History of Sin: The Not-Safe-For-Work Version   1 comment

Above:  Icon of Ezekiel

Image in the Public Domain

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READING EZEKIEL, PART IX

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Ezekiel 16:1-63

Ezekiel 20:1-44

Ezekiel 23:1-49

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This project of reading the Book of Ezekiel is part of a larger project of reading the Hebrew prophetic books, roughly in chronological order.  I know already, based on this larger project alone, that the Hebrew prophetic books are repetitive.  For example, idolatry is, metaphorically, sexual–prostitution and/or adultery.  This metaphorical prostitution is, functionally, pagan temple prostitution, common in the ancient Near East into New Testament times (from Genesis 38:15 to 1 Corinthians 6:15f).  Also, much of the language of this sexual metaphor is Not Safe for Work (NSFW) and replete with shaming.

The Bible is not G-rated.

Ezekiel 16 is not G-rated.  It uses the marital metaphor, also present in Isaiah 8:5-8; Isaiah 49-54; Isaiah 66:7-14; Jeremiah 2-3; Hosea 1-3; Zephaniah 3:14-20.

Robert Alter provides perhaps the most memorable synopsis of Ezekiel 16:

Among the themes of Ezekiel’s prophecies, the most striking expression of neurosis is his troubled relation to the female body.  Real and symbolic bodies become entangled with each other.  In biblical poetry, a nation, and Israel in particular, is quite often represented as a woman.  God’s covenant with Israel–see Jeremiah 1–is imagined as a marriage, and so the bride Israel’s dalliance with pagan gods is figured as adultery or whoring.  This is a common trope in biblical literature, but the way Ezekiel articulates it is both startling and unsettling.

The most vivid instance of this psychological twist in Ezekiel is the extended allegory of whoring Israel in chapter 16.  The allegory here follows the birth of the nation in Canaan–represented with stark physicality in the image of the infant girl naked and wallowing in the blood of afterbirth, then looked after by a solicitous God–to her sexual maturity and her betrayal of God through idolatry.  The focus throughout is on Israel as a female sexual body.  Thus, the prophet notes (as does no other biblical writer) the ripening of the breasts and the sprouting of pubic hair.  The mature personification of the nation is a beautiful woman, her beauty enhanced by the splendid attire God gives her (this is probably a reference to national grandeur and to the Temple).  Yet, insatiably lascivious, she uses her charms to entice strangers to her bed:  “you spilled out your whoring” (given the verb used and the unusual form of the noun, this could be a reference to vaginal secretions) “upon every passerby.”  Israel as a woman is even accused of harboring a special fondness for large phalluses:  “you played the whore with the Egyptians, your big-membered neighbors.”  She is, the prophet says, a whore who asks for no payment for her services.  “You befouled your beauty,” he inveighs, “and spread your legs for every passerby.”  All this concern with female promiscuity is correlative with Ezekiel’s general preoccupation with purity and impurity.

It is of course possible to link each of these sexual details with the allegory of an idolatrous nation betraying its faith.  But such explicitness and such vehemence about sex are unique in the Bible.  The compelling inference is that this was a prophet morbidly fixated on the female body and seething with fervid misogyny.  What happens in the prophecy in chapter 16 is that the metaphor of the lubricious woman takes over the foreground, virtually displacing the allegorical referent.  Ezekiel clearly was not a stable person.

The Hebrew Bible:  A Translation with Commentary, Volume 2, Prophets (2019), 1051

Corinne L. Carvalho comments:

In Israel, spouses were not equal partners; women were legally and socially subservient to their husbands.  Betrothal and marriage were contractual arrangements by which a woman became the exclusive “property” of her husband, even before the actual marriage.  In practical terms, this meant that her husband was her sole sexual partner from the moment of betrothal.  Since men could have more than one wife, adultery occurred only when it involved a married woman; it was a crime, punishable by death, against the sole property rights of a wronged husband (Lev 18:20; 20:10; Deut 22:22).

Ezekiel 16 plays on these elements of marriage.  God is the one who owns Jerusalem, and Jerusalem owes him her exclusive allegiance and fidelity.  Anything less gives him the legal right to punish her.  Ezekiel 16 uses hyperbole and inflammatory rhetoric to achieve a shocking literary effect.  Here, the author utilizes a common metaphor, the city as God’s wife, in ways that border on pornography.  (Modern translations tone down the sexually explicit language of the Hebrew texts.)  It is an image to provoke a response.

–in Daniel Durken, ed., The New Collegeville Bible Commentary:  Old Testament (2015), 1431

Ezekiel 16 concludes on a sexually graphic metaphor of future restoration (verses 59-63).  After all, to “know” is frequently a euphemism for sexual intimacy.

And I Myself will establish the covenant with you, and you will know that I am the LORD.

–Ezekiel 16:62, Robert Alter, 2019

Consider the following verse, O reader:

Thus you shall remember and feel shame, and you shall be too abashed to open your mouth again, when I have forgiven you, for all that you did–declares the Lord GOD.

–Ezekiel 16:63, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

I feel too abashed after reading Ezekiel 16.

My library contains a variety of editions and versions of the Bible.  The Children’s Living Bible (1972) is one of these.  The artwork depicts a smiling Jesus holding lost-and-found sheep, smiling at children wearing attire from 1972, and generally smiling.  The volume also includes Ezekiel 16.  I imagine a child reading Ezekiel 16 and asking a horrified parent about the contents of that chapter.  I also imagine that parent’s horror that the tyke was reading a volume that included the term, “son of a bitch” (1 Samuel 20:30).  Just wait for Ezekiel 23!

Ezekiel 20 continues the themes of idolatry and apostasy.  The text dwells on the sabbath.  This suggests that the sabbath had become important, as a substitute for the Temple, during the Babylonian Exile.  The sabbath is foundational in the covenant.  The sabbath is also a sign of a free person in the context of liberation from slavery in Egypt.  And to keep the sabbath is to emulate God, the creator and original keeper of the sabbath.

God, as depicted in Ezekiel 20, is not worthy of emulation, respect, love, and awe:

  1. God, according to 20:9, 14, 22, and 44, acts selfishly, to preserve the divine reputation.
  2. God gave the people “laws that were not good and rules by which they could not live (20:25) then promised to destroy the people as punishment for obeying the bad laws and disobeying the impossible rules (20:26).

Chapter 20 exists in the shadow of Ezekiel 18–about individual moral accountability to God.  The verdict on the people of Judah, in the yet-future context of the Fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.E.) is damning.

Ezekiel 20 concludes on a note of future restoration, but not for the sake of the covenant people:

Then, O House of Israel, you shall know that I am the LORD, when I deal with you that I am the LORD, when I deal with you for My name’s sake–not in accordance with your evil ways and corrupt acts–declares the Lord GOD.

–Ezekiel 20:44, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

I wonder how many agnostics and atheists grew up devout, with this understanding of God, or one close to it.  That theology may explain their current spiritual status as they properly reject that understanding of God yet go too far and remain out of balance.

Ezekiel 23 returns to the imagery of idolatry as harlotry.  It also returns to the category of Not Safe for Work.  (What was it with Ezekiel and sex?)  Break out the plain brown wrappers again, O reader!  The text speaks of the Babylonian Exile as punishment for persistent, collective, and unrepentant idolatry.

Some G-rated details (There are some.) require explanation:

  1. Samaria, the capital of the (northern) Kingdom of Israel, is, metaphorically, Oholeh, “her tent.”  One may recall that, in the theology of the Hebrew Bible, the Presence of God dwelt in a text then in the Temple.  We read of the fall of the Kingdom of Israel and of the causes of that collapse.
  2. Jerusalem, the capital of the (southern) Kingdom of Judah, is, metaphorically, Oholibah, “my tent is in her.”
  3. Ezekiel 23 condemns the kingdoms’ foreign alliances.  This is an old Hebrew prophetic theme, albeit one other prophets presented in less graphic terms.

I try to maintain a spiritual and theological equilibrium.  The God of Ezekiel 16, 20, and 23 is a self-absorbed, abusive, and misogynistic monster.  This is not my God-concept.  Neither is the God of my faith anything like a cosmic teddy bear or a warm fuzzy.  No, the God of my faith holds judgment and mercy in balance.  I do not pretend to know where that balance is or where it should be.  The God of my faith also loves all people and models selflessness.  Neither is the God of my faith a misogynist or any kind of -phobe or bad -ist.  The model for the God of my faith is Jesus of Nazareth, God Incarnate.  I read stories of Jesus having harsh words for those who deserved them and compassion for the desperate.  I understand Jesus as being stable, unlike Ezekiel, apparently.

Ezekiel clearly was not a stable person.

–Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible:  A Translation with Commentary (2019), 1051

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 27, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 8:  THE FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF CORNELIUS HILL, ONEIDA CHIEF AND EPISCOPAL PRIEST

THE FEAST OF SAINT ARIALDUS OF MILAN, ITALIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC DEACON AND MARTYR, 1066

THE FEAST OF HUGH THOMSON KERR, SR., U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND LITURGIST; AND HIS SON, HUGH THOMSON KERR, JR., U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, SCHOLAR, AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF JAMES MOFFATT, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, SCHOLAR, AND BIBLE TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN THE GEORGIAN, ABBOT; AND SAINTS EUTHYMIUS OF ATHOS AND GEORGE OF THE BLACK MOUNTAIN, ABBOTS AND TRANSLATORS

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Prophetic Symbols   1 comment

Above:  Jeremiah and Jerusalem

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JEREMIAH, PART IX

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Jeremiah 13:1-27

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Jeremiah 13:1-14 uses the images of a ruined loincloth and of smashed jars of wine to make a point of the Kingdom of Judah during its waning decades.  The people should have kept the covenant, but did not do so.  They had become useless, and would suffer a terrible fate.

None of this pleased God.

For if you will not give heed,

My inmost self must weep,

Because of your arrogance;

My eye must stream and flow

With copious tears,

Because the flock of the LORD

Is taken captive.

–Jeremiah 13:17, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The people’s identity had come to include the betrayal of the covenant.  Jerusalem, personified as an adulterous woman, had become incapable of being purified.

The conclusion of Jeremiah 13 may allude to laws regarding menstruation (Leviticus 12:4, 6-8; 15:28).  The conclusion of Jeremiah 13 also echoes Jeremiah 2:20-25 thematically.

Many of the themes in Jeremiah 13 are old news to people who read the Old Testament and prophetic writings, in particular.  They are old news to me, for I have been immersing myself in Hebrew prophetic literature for a few book already.  I choose, therefore, to ponder ritual impurity.

Ritual impurity, foreign to many people (including yours truly) was ubiquitous in the ancient Mediterranean world.  Within the Jewish context, prohibitions against ritually impure people performing certain acts and entering sacred precincts was to prevent people from approaching God wrongly.  Therefore, the intent of the system was to preserve God’s presence among the covenant people.  Ritual impurity did not indicate abnormality or a diseased state.  In fact, ritual impurity was commonplace.  Rituals to remove it existed.  And only the ritually pure were supposed to enter sacred precincts.  Entering sacred space while ritually impure would cause the offending people to die, according to Leviticus 15:31.

Ritual impurity excluded the impure from the realm of the sacred.  Jeremiah used ritual impurity as a metaphor for moral impurity, evident in idolatry, economic injustice, the exploitation of vulnerable people, and judicial corruption.  No ritual of purification took away moral impurity; repentance did that.

Some of the language in Jeremiah 13, as elsewhere in Hebrew prophetic literature, is disturbing.  It speaks superficially of sexual shaming.  The Bible does not carry a “G” rating.  Life is not G-rated either.  Anyhow, metaphors are metaphors.  I advise growing a thick skin and continuing careful study of the Bible.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 9, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT COLUMBA OF IONA, CELTIC MISSIONARY AND ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT GIOVANNI MARIA BOCCARDO, FOUNDER OF THE POOR SISTERS OF SAINT CAJETAN/GAETANO; AND HIS BROTHER, SAINT LUIGI BOCCARDO, APOSTLE OF MERCIFUL LOVE

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOSÉ DE ANCHIETA, APOSTLE OF BRAZIL AND FATHER OF BRAZILIAN NATIONAL LITERATURE

THE FEAST OF THOMAS JOSEPH POTTER, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILL HERZFELD, U.S. LUTHERAN ECUMENIST, PRESIDING BISHOP OF THE ASSOCIATION OF EVANGELICAL LUTHERAN CHURCHES, AND CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST

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Indictment for Apostasy and Call to Repentance   Leave a comment

Above:  Jeremiah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JEREMIAH, PART III

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Jeremiah 2:1-4:4

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Has any nation changed its gods

Even though they are no-gods?

But My people has exchanged its glory

For what can do no good.

–Jeremiah 2:11, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

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God had liberated the Hebrew slaves from Egypt.  Then the former slaves had quickly started grumbling.  No member of that generation had entered Canaan.  In Canaan, the Hebrews had practiced idolatry.  The practice of idolatry had continued through the time of Jeremiah.  The abandonment of the covenant, with the common good built into it, constituted infidelity to God.  The irony of self-serving religion was that it could “do no good,” as TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985) masterfully renders 2:11.

I like the translation of Jeremiah 2:11 in TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985).  The wordplay of “no-gods” and “no good” is wonderful.  “Do no good” is not a literal translation, though.  The New Revised Standard Version (1989) uses “does not profit,” not “do no good.”  The germane Hebrew verb is ya’al, or “to confer or gain profit of benefit.”  Ya’al also occurs in Jeremiah 2:8:

The priests never asked themselves, “Where is the LORD?”

The guardians of the Teaching ignored Me,

And the prophets prophesied by Baal

And followed what can do no good.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Ya’al sounds like “Baal,” as in Baal Peor, the Canaanite fertility and storm god.  The connotation of ya’al (profit) is almost entirely negative in the Hebrew Bible, and frequently occurs in the context of idolatry.  This verb occurs 23 times:  1 Samuel 12:21; Job 15:3; Job 21:15; Job 30:13; Job 35:3; Proverbs 10:2; Proverbs 11:4; Isaiah 30:5-6; Isaiah 44:9-10; Isaiah 47:12; Isaiah 48:17; Job 57:12; Jeremiah 2:8 and 11; Jeremiah 12:13; Jeremiah 16:19; Jeremiah 23:32; and Habakkuk 2:18.

The metaphor of the covenant as a marriage should be familiar to anyone who has read the Book of Hosea attentively.  That metaphor plays our in this portion of Jeremiah, too.  Idolatry is, metaphorically, infidelity to God.  And this infidelity entails economic injustice, hence the reference to “the blood of the innocent poor” (Jeremiah 2:34).  The metaphor of irreversible divorce (Jeremiah 3:105) draws from Deuteronomy 24:1-4, in which the husband may not take back his wife after she has remarried.  Can the sinful population return to YHWH?  (The Book of Jeremiah, with its layers of composition and authorship, is inconsistent in the answer to this question.)  The people, not YHWH, have broken the relationship.  Yes, we read in this part and other segments of the Book of Jeremiah, the sinful population can return if it will repent, we read.  It can return if it will turn its back to its sins and return to God, we read.  The text mixes metaphors.  The adulterous wife becomes rebellious children.  Yet the call to repent remains.

We know that the (northern) Kingdom of Israel and the (southern) Kingdom of Judah fell, however.  Knowing this adds melancholy to our understanding of these verses.  Nevertheless, we also know that the Babylonian Exile ended.  That detail should add some joy to the mix as we read Jeremiah 2:1-4:4.

To return to my opening theme, the irony of idolatry in the name of self-serving religion is that it is in vain.  The Law of Moses, with its ethical core, builds up the common good and teaches mutuality.  Whatever affects one person, affects others.  We are all responsible to and for each other as we stand together, completely dependent upon God.  Selfish gain, the sort that enriches some while impoverishing others, works against the common good and harms the one who benefits the one who benefits from that selfish gain.  This selfish gain turns into a liability in the long term.

God longs to heal our afflictions, even the ones we have inflicted on ourselves.  We must turn back toward God, however.  If we refuse to do so, we judge and condemn ourselves.  This truth applies on more than one level.  There is the individual level, of course.  Yet may we not forget that Jeremiah 2:1-4:4 addresses populations, not individuals or one person.  Sin is both collective and individual.  So are forgiveness and restoration.  We may feasibly apply this call to collective repentance to neighborhoods, families, congregations, denominations, societies, nation-states, et cetera.

God is the source of the best stuff, for lack of a better word.  Do we want the best stuff or inferior stuff?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 7, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MATTHEW TALBOT, RECOVERING ALCOHOLIC IN DUBLIN, IRELAND

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANTHONY MARY GIANELLI, FOUNDER OF THE MISSIONARIES OF SAINT ALPHONSUS

THE FEAST OF FREDERICK LUCIAN HOSMER, U.S. UNITARIAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HUBERT LAFAYETTE SONE AND HIS WIFE, KATIE HELEN JACKSON SONE, U.S. METHODIST MISSIONARIES AND HUMANITARIANS IN CHNA, SINGAPORE, AND MALAYSIA

THE FEAST OF SEATTLE, FIRST NATIONS CHIEF, WAR LEADER, AND DIPLOMAT

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The Accession of King David of Judah and the Beginning of the Israelite Civil War   Leave a comment

Above:  Abner

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 XXIX

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2 Samuel 2:1-32

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Do you indeed decree righteousness, you rulers?

do you judge the peoples with equity?

No; you devise evil in your hearts,

and your hands deal out violence in the land.

–Psalm 58:1-2, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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1 Chronicles 11:1-3 skips over years of civil war (2 Samuel 2-4) and jumps to 2 Samuel 5:1-5.  Civil war?  What civil war?  There was a civil war?

Yes, there was.

David became the King of Judah after the death of Saul, the King of Israel.  Ishbaal/Ishbosheth, one of Saul’s surviving sons, became the King of Israel.  Ishbaal (“Man of Baal”) was his given name.  Ishbosheth (“Man of shame”) was an editorial comment.  Ishbaal/Ishbosheth reigned for about two years.

Aside:  On occasion, “Baal” functioned as a synonym for YHWH, as in 2 Samuel 5:20.  Usually, though, it referred to a Canaanite deity, often Baal Peor, the storm/fertility god.  “Baal” mean “Lord.”  Some Biblical texts referred to “the Baals” (Judges 2:11; Judges 3:7; Judges 8:33; Judges 10:6; Judges 10:10; 1 Samuel 7:4; 1 Samuel 12:10; 1 Kings 18:18; 2 Chronicles 17:3; 2 Chronicles 24:7; 2 Chronicles 28:2; 2 Chronicles 33:3; 2 Chronicles 34:4; Jeremiah 2:33; Jeremiah 9:14; Hosea 2:13: Hosea 2:17; and Hosea 11:2).

The civil war began at Gibeon.  Abner served as the general loyal to Ishbaal/Ishbosheth.  Joab was David’s general.  The forces under Joab’s command won the first battle.

The narrative emphasizes the legitimacy of David as monarch.  God was on David’s side, according to the text; Abner’s forces had a higher death toll.

Abner’s question, from the context of those high casualties, remains applicable.

Must the sword devour forever?

–2 Samuel 2:26a, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

How long will the sword, tank, missile, drone, bullet, et cetera, devour?

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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Sin and Its Consequences   1 comment

Above:  Gideon

Image in the Public Domain

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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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Judges 6:11-24 or Jeremiah 2:4-13

Psalm 89:1-4, 24-33

Romans 1:16-32

Luke 7:36-50

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Sin, or rebellion against God, leads to consequences.  To “miss the mark,” literally, is to fail God and our fellow human beings spiritually and morally.  Consequences are inevitable.  Yet may we avoid the error of mistaking consequences of sin for God proverbially sending a thunderbolt one’s way.  May we not blame God when we should hold ourselves accountable.

We–collectively and individually–have moral and spiritual blind spots.  We learn many of them from other people and develop or find other blind spots independently.

The old Presbyterian Church in the United States (the “Southern Presbyterian Church”) summarized our collective quandary well in its Brief Statement of Belief (1962).  It read, in part:

Sin permeates and corrupts our entire being and burdens us more and more with fear, hostility, guilt, and misery.  Sin operates not only within individuals but also within society as a deceptive and oppressive power, so that men of good will are unconsciously and unwillingly involved in the sins of society.  Man cannot destroy the tyranny of sin in himself or in his world; his only hope is to be delivered from it by God.

As we (as in Judges) play our cycles of sin, consequences, repentance, and deliverance, we do not learn our collective and individual lessons.  If we did, we would not repeat the cycle.

The contrast between God and human beings is stark.  As we read in the Confession of 1967 (The United Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A.):

The reconciling act of God in Jesus Christ exposes the evil in men as sin in the sight of God.  In sin men claim mastery of their own lives, turn against God and their fellow men, and became exploiters and despoilers of the world.  They lose their humanity in futile striving and are left in rebellion, despair and isolation.

May we accept God’s offer to deliver us from the tyranny of sin in ourselves and in the world.  May we, by grace, repeat the cycle fewer times than we would otherwise.  And may we not be self-righteous.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 13, 2020 COMMON ERA

MONDAY IN EASTER WEEK

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH BARBER LIGHTFOOT, BISHOP OF DURHAM

THE FEAST OF HENRI PERRIN, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC WORKER PRIEST

THE FEAST OF JOHN GLOUCESTER, FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICAN PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARTIN I, BISHOP OF ROME, AND MARTYR, 655; AND SAINT MAXIMUS THE CONFESSOR, EASTERN ORTHODOX MONK, ABBOT, AND MARTYR, 662

THE FEAST OF SAINT ROLANDO RIVI, ROMAN CATHOLIC SEMINARIAN AND MARTYR, 1945

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2020/04/13/devotion-for-proper-9-year-c-humes/

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Apostasy and Idolatry   1 comment

Kingdoms of Judah and Israel

Above:  Map of the Kingdoms of Judah and Israel

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Beloved God, from you come all things that are good.

Lead us by the inspiration of your Spirit to know those things that are right,

and by your merciful guidance, help us to do them,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 49

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 2:14-22 (Thursday)

Jeremiah 2:23-37 (Friday)

Jeremiah 6:1-10 (Saturday)

Psalm 80:7-15 (All Days)

Colossians 2:16-23 (Thursday)

Philippians 2:14-18; 3:1-4a (Friday)

John 7:40-52 (Saturday)

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Restore us, O God of hosts;

show us the light of your countenance, and we shall be saved.

–Psalm 80:7, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The reading for these three days overlap nicely, focusing on the themes of idolatry and apostasy.  To commit apostasy is to fall away from grace.  (Thus grace is not irresistible.  Strict Calvinism is therefore mistaken about that fifth of the TULIP formula.  I am also dubious of the Perseverance of the Saints, which relates to Irresistible Grace.)  An idol is anything which takes the place of God in one’s life.  Thus an idol might be a false deity, an activity, or even a sacred text.  Function in one’s life determines that thing’s status relative to idolatry.  Among the most popular idols is the Bible, which is supposed to function instead as an icon–through which people see God.  But, if one treats it as an idol, that is what it is for that person.

The lessons from Jeremiah condemn idolatry which has led to national apostasy, evident in ill-advised alliances with foreign, predatory empires.

What then do you gain by going to Egypt,

to drink the waters of the Nile?

or what do you gain by going to Assyria,

to drink the waters of the Euphrates?

Your wickedness will punish you,

and your apostasies will convict you.

Know and see that it is evil and bitter

for you to forsake the LORD your God;

the fear of me is not in you,

says the LORD GOD of hosts.

–Jeremiah 2:18-19, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

From the gloom of Jeremiah 2 and 6 we turn to the Pauline tradition, which emphasizes Christ crucified and resurrected.  St. Paul the Apostle rejects, among other things, Gnostic asceticism, a form of Jewish ritualism, and the practice of worshiping angels as methods as obtaining the spiritual upper hand.  Christ is sufficient, the ever-Jewish Paul tells us through the ages.

I understand the Apostle’s objection to Gnosticism, with its reliance on secret knowledge and belief that matter is evil.  If salvation comes from having secret knowledge, as Gnostics insisted, the death and resurrection of Jesus were pointless.  In fact, in Gnostic thought, he did not die because he was not even corporeal, for, in Gnosticism, he could not have had a body, a body being material and therefore evil.  Thus Gnosticism was not Christian.  The exclusion of Gnostic texts from the Bible was not, as some “documentaries” on the History Channel claim, a conspiracy of Church leaders to suppress truth and crush dissent.  No, it was a proper course of action.

As for rituals (especially Jewish ones), I approach the text from Colossians differently than do the authors of some of the commentaries I consulted.  A high proportion of these writers were Presbyterians with little use for ritual.  Their paragraphs screamed between the lines “This is why I am not a Papist!”  I, as an Episcopalian, know the value of ritual and of approaching it properly.  It should be an icon, not an idol, although it functions as the latter for many people.  But so does the Bible, and I do not heap scorn on that sacred anthology either.

Apostasy, a theme from the Jeremiah readings, recurs in John 7.  Temple officials accuse some Temple policemen of it for refusing to arrest Jesus, who had impressed them.  These officials also accuse Nicodemus of the same offense.  I realize that much of the Gospel of John reflects late first-century C.E. Jewish Christian invective, for Jewish Christians had found themselves marginalized within Judaism.  Nevertheless, the stories in John 7:40-52 have the ring of truth, for fearful people in positions of power have attempted to retain it in many places and at numerous times.

Idols come in many varieties, shapes, sizes, and ages.  As I have written in this post, function in one’s life determines status relative to idolatry in that life.  Among the more common idols is attachment to the status quo ante, especially if one benefits from it.  Thus we become upset when God does something we do not expect.  This might threaten just our sense of order (hardly a minor issue), but also our identity (also a major consideration) and socio-economic-political or socio-economic standing (of which we tend to be quite protective).  But when was religion supposed to function as a defense against God?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 25, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MICHAEL FARADAY, SCIENTIST

THE FEAST OF BAYARD RUSTIN, WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

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Adapted from This Post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2014/08/25/devotion-for-thursday-friday-and-saturday-before-proper-22-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Idolatry Versus Wholeness   1 comment

palma_il_giovane_001

Above:  The Pool, by Palma Giovane

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Merciful God, the fountain of living water,

you quench our thirst and wash away our sin.

Give us this water always.

Bring us to drink from the well that flows with the beauty of your truth

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 27

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 2:4-14

Psalm 81

John 7:14-31, 37-39

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Some Related Posts:

Jeremiah 2:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/09/23/week-of-proper-11-thursday-year-2/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2012/12/17/proper-17-year-c/

John 7:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/04/26/devotion-for-february-21-and-22-in-epiphanyordinary-time-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2012/04/26/devotion-for-february-23-in-epiphanyordinary-time-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2010/10/28/twenty-eighth-day-of-lent/

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But my people would not hear my voice:

and Israel would not obey me.

–Psalm 81:11, A New Zealand Prayer Book (1989)

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The living water theme from the previous post exists also in Jeremiah 2:

Be aghast at this, you heavens,

shudder in horror,

says the LORD.

My people have committed two sins:

they have rejected me,

a source of living water,

and they have hewn out for themselves cisterns,

cracked cisterns which hold no water.

–Verses 12 and 13, The Revised English Bible (1989)

God had done much for the people who had chased instead after false gods

who were powerless to help.

–Jeremiah 2:8e, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Idolatry is a frequent human reality.  Lest one lull oneself into complacency, one can commit idolatry while trying to pursue holiness.  Consider, O reader, the scene in John 7.  Our Lord and Savior stood accused of having violated Sabbath laws by having healed a paralyzed man (Chapter 5).  These forbade many activities allowed on the other six days.  One who worked on the Sabbath was even supposed to be put to death, except in certain circumstances.  If the Sabbath was the eighth day of a boy’s life, circumcision remained mandatory on that date.  And actions which saved life were permissible.  The former removed part of a person.  The latter prevented death.  Thus what could be wrong with restoring someone to wholeness on the Sabbath?

Picking legal nits without compassion is as idolatrous as is worshiping an imaginary deity.  May none of us be guilty of either of these deeds.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 26, 2013 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN BERCHMANS, ROMAN CATHOLIC SEMINARIAN

THE FEAST OF ISAAC WATTS, HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2013/11/26/devotion-for-the-nineteenth-day-of-lent-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Posted January 14, 2014 by neatnik2009 in Jeremiah 2, John 5, John 7, Psalm 81

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Duties to God and Each Other   1 comment

christ-pantocrator-moody

Above:  Christ Pantocrator, Daphni, Greece

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 2:4-13 and Psalm 81:1, 10-16

or 

Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 10:12-18 or Proverbs 25:6-7 and Psalm 112

then 

Hebrews 13:1-8, 15-16

Luke 14:1, 7-14

The Collect:

Grant, O merciful God, that your Church, being gathered together in unity by your Holy Spirit, may show forth your power among all peoples, to the glory of your Name; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Some Related Posts:

Proper 17, Year A:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/03/08/proper-17-year-a/

Proper 17, Year B:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/10/14/proper-17-year-b-3/

Prayer of Praise and Adoration:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/03/23/prayer-of-praise-and-adoration-for-the-fifteenth-sunday-after-pentecost/

Prayer of Confession:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/03/23/prayer-of-confession-for-the-fifteenth-sunday-after-pentecost/

Prayer of Dedication:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/03/23/prayer-of-dedication-for-the-fifteenth-sunday-after-pentecost/

Jeremiah 2:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/09/23/week-of-proper-11-thursday-year-2/

Proverbs 25:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2012/07/16/devotion-for-june-21-and-22-lcms-daily-lectionary/

Hebrews 13:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/08/week-of-4-epiphany-friday-year-1/

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/09/week-of-4-epiphany-saturday-year-1/

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/06/03/devotion-for-the-seventh-day-of-easter-saturday-in-easter-week-lcms-daily-lectionary/

Luke 14:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/06/16/devotion-for-the-thirty-fourth-and-thirty-fifth-days-of-easter-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/13/week-of-proper-25-friday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/13/week-of-proper-25-saturday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/16/week-of-proper-26-monday-year-1/

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Let mutual love continue.

–Hebrews 13:1, New Revised Standard Version

Thus I find my theme for this post.  That theme unites the assigned readings for Proper 17, Year C.  The rest of the Hebrews lection speaks of our obligations to God and each other.  These duties exist in the context of mutual love.

I am, among other things, intellectually honest.  The readings from Jeremiah 2, Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 10, and Psalm 81 speak of divine judgment for faithlessness among people for God has done much.  These lections do not seem loving.  And Psalm 112 sounds too much like Prosperity Theology for my comfort.  I can think of parts of both Testaments which contradict it.  If you, O reader, expect me to provide simple answers to these, I will disappoint you.  I could provide such answers, but I would do so insincerely and they would be useless.

I write these words during Advent 2012.  (I like to write ahead of schedule.)  During this time the words attributed to Hannah in 1 Samuel 2 and Mary in Luke 1 ring in my head.

The LORD makes poor and makes rich,

he brings low, he also exalts.

He raises up the poor from the dust;

he lifts up the needy from the ash heap,

to make them sit with princes

and inherit a seat of great honor.

–1 Samuel 2:7-8a, New Revised Standard Version

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He has routed the proud and all their schemes;

he has brought down monarchs from their thrones,

and raised high the lowly.

He has filled the hungry with good things,

and sent the rich empty away.

–Luke 1:51b-53, Revised English Bible

Those beloved passages are consistent with Jeremiah 2, Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 10, and Psalm 81.  Whether this reversal of fortune is good news depends on who one is.

The context for this reversal of fortune is faithlessness to God, who has done much for us.  It is polite to be grateful to one who delivers, is it not?  So attitudes occupy the heart of the matter.  And we cannot love God, whom we cannot see, unless we love people, whom we can see.  Our deeds will reveal our creeds.  That much I know for certain.  As for the rest, ask God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 17, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MARIA STEWART, EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF EGLANTYNE JEBB, FOUNDER OF SAVE THE CHILDREN

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

THE FEAST OF SAINT OLYMPIAS, ORTHODOX DEACONESS

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2012/12/17/proper-17-year-c/

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The God-Shaped Hole   1 comment

Above:  A Football Stadium

Image in the Public Domain

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Jeremiah 2:1-13 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

The word of the LORD came to me, saying,

Go proclaim to Jerusalem:  Thus says the LORD:

I accounted to your favor,

The devotion of your youth,

Your love as a bride–

How you followed Me in the wilderness,

In a land not sown.

Israel was holy to the LORD,

The first fruits of His harvest.

All who ate of it were held guilty;

Disaster befell them

–declares the LORD.

Hear the word of the LORD, O House of Jacob,

Every clan of the House of Israel!

Thus said the LORD:

What wrong did your fathers find in Me

That they abandoned Me

And went after delusion and were deluded?

They never asked themselves, Where is the LORD,

Who brought us up from the land of Egypt,

Who led us through the wilderness,

A land of deserts and pits,

A land of drought and darkness,

A land no man had traversed,

Where no human being had dwelt?”

I brought you to this country of farm land

To enjoy its fruit and its bounty;

But you came and defiled My land,

You made My possession abhorrent.

The priests never asked themselves, “Where is the LORD?”

The guardians of the Teaching ignored Me;

The rulers rebelled against Me,

And the prophets prophesied by Baal

And followed what can do no good.

Oh, I will go on accusing you

–declares the LORD–

And I will accuse your children’s children!

Just cross over to the isles of the Kittim and look,

Send to Kedar and observe carefully;

See if aught like this has ever happened:

Has any nation changed its gods

Even though they are no-gods?

But My people has exchanged its glory

For what can do no good.

Be appalled, O heavens, at this;

Be horrified, utterly dazed!

–says the LORD–

For My people have done a twofold wrong:

They have forsaken Me, the Fount of living waters,

And hewed them out cisterns, broken cisterns,

Which cannot even hold water.

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There is inside of each of us a God-shaped hole.  If we are wise, we insert God there.  Yet many of us are foolish, for we resort to our collection of idolatrous pegs.  These idols include inherently destructive habits (such as drug abuse, overeating, and risky sexual acts), activities healthy except in excess (Dare I say certain varieties of religion?), and neutral activities (such as watching movies and television programs).  There is a time to watch television and there is a time to pray contemplatively.  There is a time to read a book and there is a time to take a brisk walk and enjoy nature.

I live in Athens-Clarke County, Georgia, home of The University of Georgia (UGA).  It is not an exaggeration to describe football (especially UGA football) as a religion here.  Sport, as sport, is fine.  However, sport, as an object of idolatry is wrong.  In late 2009, on the front page of the local newspaper, there was a story about the murder of a woman by her boyfriend or former boyfriend.  This story filled one column on the periphery of the page.  Yet the dominant story above the fold, complete with huge font, concerned the death of the UGA football team mascot, a bulldog.  ”SHOCKING LOSS,” the headline screamed.  Which should have been the shocking loss?

We are here on this planet to, among other things, love God fully and to love our neighbors as we love ourselves.  How we live constitutes an act of daily worship.  So, when we chase idols, whether they are football or Baal Peor or cocaine, we forsake God.  We hew out broken cisterns which cannot even hold water.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 23, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CHURCHILL JULIUS, ANGLICAN ARCHBISHOP OF NEW ZEALAND

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/09/23/week-of-proper-11-thursday-year-2/

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Posted September 23, 2011 by neatnik2009 in Jeremiah 2

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