Archive for the ‘Luke 6’ Category

Psalm 1: The Blessed Man   Leave a comment

READING THE BOOK OF PSALMS

PART I

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Psalm 1

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I have studied the Book of Psalms for decades.  I started by keeping notebooks nobody else saw.  I have been blogging through lectionaries since 2010.  I have also taught some iteration of a class on the Revised Common Lectionary since August 2015.

“Reading the Book of Psalms” is a companion project to the Septuagint Psalter Project (2017), all posts of which exist here at BLOGA THEOLOGICA.  The main organizing principle at the Septuagint Psalter Project is the pattern for reading through the Book of Psalms in thirty-one days (morning and evening) in The Book of Common Prayer (1979).  The plan for this new project follows a combination of factors, though.  Two texts may have originally been one text, may have a similar theme, may be nearly identical, et cetera.  A spreadsheet I have created guides this project.

I invite you, O reader, to join me on this guided tour of the Book of Psalms.

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The placement of the text labeled Psalm 1 is logical and intentional.  Psalm 1 is the summary of the Book of Psalms.

The first verse opens with a beatitude.  The man who studies the torah and keeps its ethical obligations is, depending on the translation, blessed, happy, or fortunate.  He is a man in the narrow definition of “man,” in the original context.  Psalm 1 comes from a time before women studied the torah.  The blessed man is stable while the wicked are unstable and in motion.  When they do find a stable posture and a place to dwell, they are in the wrong place.

The definition of torah matters.  Narrowly, it refers to the first five books of the Hebrew Bible.  But, in the Book of Psalms, the definition is broad.  The definition of torah is divine instruction, with law built in.  So, to return to content from the previous paragraph, the blessed man stands in contrast to the wicked, who pursue dubious moral choices in life.  Their dubious moral choices exist outside divine instruction.

One may do well to ponder the Beatitudes in Matthew 5 and the Beatitudes and Woes in Luke 6.  Those beatitudes (and woes) are countercultural.  They are not upside-down.  No, they reveal that the world’s conventional wisdom is upside-down.  Likewise, the beatitude in Psalm 1:1 performs the same function.  The pious may not seem to be blessed, but they are blessed.  And the wicked may appear to be fortunate or happy, but they are, in words of Luke 6, receiving their consolation.

Psalm 1 also likens the blessed man to a tree planted by streams of water in a desert.  Water is precious.  It is especially precious in a desert.  In that setting, a tree planted by streams of water has the source of sustenance it needs to thrive.

For the sake of context, I tell you, O reader, that I have just completed a study of the Book of Job.  So, that work of wisdom literature is fresh in my mind.  The wind bags who posed as friend of Job sound like many verses in Psalms and Proverbs.  All four of them sound like Psalm 1, with its message that the righteous flourish and the wicked perish.

Given that scripture is one context in which to interpret scripture, how ought we to interpret Psalm 1, then?  I propose that we start with the particulars of Biblical blessedness.  Such blessedness has outward manifestations.  Such blessedness does not preclude unjust suffering, as many psalms, the Book of Job, the Book of Tobit, the example of Jesus, the example of St. Paul the Apostle, the examples of a great cloud of martyrs, and the examples of other witnesses attest.  The water of divine instruction enables the blessed man, woman, or child to bear much spiritual fruit.  The prosperity in Psalm 1 is not evidence of selfish ambition.  No, this prosperity affirms that the righteous and the blessed have tapped into God, on whom they rely.  Their life is in God.  That is their prosperity.

“Righteousness” is another word that requires definition.  Biblically, a righteous person has right relationships with God, others, and self.  Righteousness is synonymous with justice.  Righteousness is tangible.  To return to my immediately prior Bible study project, the four pneumatic pains in every part of the human anatomy are not righteous.  They lack right relationship with God and Job, at least.

Psalm 1 is theocentric; God is the core.  God is the source of a blessed person’s identity and strength.  The blessed man, woman, or child is like a flourishing, well-watered tree in a desert.  God does not promise an easy life and material riches.  Yet God does promise never to abandon anyone.  Whether one wants to heed God is an individual matter.  Nevertheless, even those who reject God are not outside the scope of divine love.  Yet, as Psalm 1 attests, the wicked–those who go their own way–choose their path.  To cite a cliché, they lie down in the bed they have made.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 6, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE TENTH DAY OF ADVENT, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAINT NICHOLAS OF MYRA, BISHOP OF MYRA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ABRAHAM OF KRATIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK, ABBOT, BISHOP OF KRATIA, AND HERMIT

THE FEAST OF ALICE FREEMAN PALMER, U.S. EDUCATOR AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF ANNE ROSS COUSIN, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HENRY USTICK ONDERDONK, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF NEW YORK, LITURGIST, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF PHILIP BERRIGAN AND HIS BROTHER, DANIEL BERRIGAN, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND SOCIAL ACTIVISTS

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St. Paul’s Second Missionary Journey   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of St. Paul the Apostle

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LUKE-ACTS, PART LXIX

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Acts 15:36-18:23

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STS. PAUL, BARNABAS, AND MARK

I begin by backing up to 13:13:

Paul and his friends went by sea from Perga in Pamphylia where John left them to go back to Jerusalem.

The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

John was St. (John) Mark.

The tone in 13:13 is neutral.  The verse does not explain why St. (John) Mark returned to Jerusalem.  Consulting commentaries uncovers a variety of possible reasons and the intimation that St. Luke was being diplomatic in 13:13.

If St. Luke was diplomatic in 13:13, his diplomacy had ceased by 15:38:

…but Paul was not in favour of taking along the very man who had deserted them in Pamphylia and had refused to share in their work.

The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

St. (John) Mark and St. (Joseph) Barnabas were cousins.  Naturally, then, St. Barnabas (“son of encouragement”) wanted to include his kinsman.  Yet human frailty broke up the team from the First Missionary Journey.  Sts. Barnabas and Paul separated.

A few years later, by the middle 50s C.E., St. Paul had forgiven St. Mark.

Aristarchus, who is here in prison with me, sends his greetings, and so does Mark, the cousin of Barnabas–you were sent some instructions about him, if he comes to you, give him a warm welcome….

–Colossians 4:10, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

St. Barnabas reunited with St. Mark shortly after separating from St. Paul.  The cousins embarked on a mission to Cyprus (Acts 15:39).

St. Paul seems never to have reconciled with St. Barnabas.  Nevertheless, the reference to St. Barnabas in 1 Corinthians 9:6, in the early 50s C.E., is not hostile:

Are Barnabas and I the only ones who are not allowed to stop working?

The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

STS. PAUL AND SILAS

St. Paul found a new missionary partner, St. Silas/Silvanus, and embarked on the Second Missionary Journey.  St. Timothy joined the team early in the journey.  St. Luke was part of the team, too, based on “we” (Acts 16:10-17).

During the Second Missionary Journey, St. Paul founded the house churches at Philippi, Thessalonica, and Corinth, to whom he subsequently addressed epistles.  Yet opponents continued to work against the success of the mission.

DYNAMICS OF POWER:  THE KINGDOM OF GOD AND THE ROMAN EMPIRE

One crucial detail of 16:25-40 is that Sts. Paul and Silas were Roman citizens.  Therefore, the beating and incarceration of them without trial was illegal.  The possible penalties for those who had abused Sts. Paul and Silas included disqualification from holding public office (at best) to execution (at worse).  Therefore, the magistrates at Philippi tried to sweep this matter under the proverbial rug; they begged Sts. Paul and Silas to leave.

Paul’s citizenship is an important, although ironic, feature of his apologia in Acts.  In this regard, Paul’s acceptance of Philippi’s official apology (see v. 39) symbolizes his general attitude toward Rome in Acts.  His point is that Rome is unable to subvert the work of God’s salvation in the world; and even this great empire must come hat in hand to the prophets of the Most High God.

–Robert W. Wall, in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 10 (2002), 235

Notably, one house church in Philippi met at the home of St. Lydia (a woman, obviously), a Gentile.  The other house church met in the home of the jailer.

Paul’s strategic acceptance of their apology (16:39) suggests a reversal of power that has become an important political matter only after the households of faith have been established in Philippi.  The proper role of civil authority is not to dictate terms so that the church becomes yet another institution of its power.  Rather civil authority is now obliged to safeguard the deposit of faith in their city as an institution of divine power (cf. Rom. 13:1-7).  Luke’s portrait of Rome in Acts is of the inability of secular authority to subvert the work of God’s salvation in the world.

–Robert W. Wall, in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 10 (2002), 236

The separation of religion and state (in the best interest of religion and of religious institutions, by the way) did not exist in St. Paul’s time, hence the events of Acts 17:1-15.

“The people who have been turning the whole world upside down have come here now….”

–Acts 17:6b, The Jerusalem Bible

These critics were wrong.  The people turning the world right side up.  The world was upside down already.  The Lucan Beatitudes and Woes (Luke 6:20f) made that point clearly.

When we mere mortals, accustomed and acculturated to the status quo, fail to understand that the world is upside down, we may react negatively to those turning the world right side up.  Not one of us is immune to this moral blindness.

THEOLOGY AND PHILOSOPHY

The relationship of Christianity to philosophy has sometimes been a fraught topic.  St. Clement of Alexandria (died circa 210) defended the validity of Greek philosophy (especially that of Plato) in Christianity.  St. Clement, the “Pioneer of Christian Scholarship,” accepted secular knowledge as valid; the truth was the truth.  Period.  After more than a millennium of favoring Platonism, Holy Mother Church switched to the thought of Aristotle in the Middle Ages.  St. Thomas Aquinas (d. 1274) would have rejoiced to have lived long enough to witness this change, which he helped to effect.  St. Clement of Alexandria became a heretic post mortem and ex post facto.  Eventually, Rome revoked his pre-congregation canonization.

For the record, I like both Sts. Clement of Alexandria and St. Thomas Aquinas.

I have conversed with fundamentalists who have chafed at philosophy as something that informs theology.  When I mentioned the Greek philosophy in the New Testament (especially Acts 17:16-34 and throughout the Letter to the Hebrews), I prompted greater irritation.  Facts be damned; I changed no minds.

St. Paul used whatever was available to him in service to his mission.  In Athens, Greece, for example, he stood on common ground with the Stoics and the Epicureans when he proclaimed that God, not captured in human sanctuaries, does not need human worship.  St. Paul even quoted the Stoic philosopher Epimenies of Knossos when the Apostle decreed:

…it is in him that we live, and move, and exist….

–Acts 17:28, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

Yet the Apostle argued against other aspects of Stoicism and Epicureanism.  Against Stoicism, he rejected pantheism and asserted the existence of one transcendent creator who sustains everything.  St. Paul also replaced the endless cycles in Stoicism with doomsday.  Against Epicureanism, he countered deism with God being intimately involved with creation.

St. Paul worked within circumstances.  He was not a systematic theologian.  Therefore, he contradicted himself sometimes.  (Newsflash:  People do contradict themselves.)  He spoke philosophically in Athens, Greece, but did not dictate philosophically in 1 Corinthians (see chapter 1).  The manner of how he spoke, dictated, and wrote depended on who the audience was and what the circumstances were.

CONCLUSION

The account of St. Paul’s Second Missionary Journey tells of his successes and his failures.  Nobody can succeed all the time.  Success depends greatly on the receptiveness (or lack thereof) of the audience.  As St. Teresa of Calcutta (d. 1997) said, God calls us to be faithful, not successful.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 26, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM COWPER, ANGLICAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT ADELARD OF CORBIE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK AND ABBOT; AND HIS PROTÉGÉ, SAINT PASCAHSIUS RADBERTUS, FRANKISH ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK, ABBOT, AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF ROBERT HUNT, FIRST ANGLICAN CHAPLAIN AT JAMESTOWN, VIRGINIA

THE FEAST OF RUGH BYLLESBY, EPISCOPAL DEACONESS IN GEORGIA

THE FEAST OF SAINT STANISLAW KUBITSA, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1940; AND SAINT WLADYSLAW GORAL, POLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP AND MARTYR, 1945

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM STRINGFELLOW, EPISCOPAL ATTORNEY, THEOLOGIAN, AND SOCIAL ACTIVIST

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The Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of the Ascension, by Andrei Rublev

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LUKE-ACTS, PART LIII

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Luke 24:50-53

Acts 1:1-11

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Given that I have written numerous blog posts about the Ascension, and given that they are available at this weblog, I do not seek to replicate them in this post.

As I continue through Luke-Acts, I notice a narrative contradiction.  Luke 24:50-53, read within the narrative context of chapter 24, dates the Ascension to Easter Day.  Yet Acts 1:3 dates the Ascension to forty days after Easter Day.  Interpretations of this discrepancy include:

  1. “Forty days” is symbolic,
  2. The forty days fill out the calendar, and
  3. Acts 1:3 corrects Luke 24 after St. Luke the Evangelist uncovered more information than he had when he wrote the Gospel of Luke.

I am not a fundamentalist.  Biblical inerrancy and infallibility are utter nonsense.  If St. Luke changed his mind, so be it.  If “forty days” is symbolic, so be it.  I do not know which interpretation is corect.

Forty is frequently a symbolic number in the Bible.  One may recall that the reign of King David lasted for about forty years, that the Hebrews wandered in the desert for forty years, that Jesus spent forty days in the desert, and that the mythical Great Flood lasted for forty days and forty nights.  Forty is a sacred number in the Bible.  It, therefore, recurs in the Bible for many more examples than i have cited.  Forty, symbolically, is a round number that designates a fairly long time in terms of human existence or endurance.

So, even if the forty days (Acts 1:3) are symbolic, they still contradict Luke 24, with Jesus’s resurrection and the Ascension occurring on the same day.

Anyway, “ascension” may not be the most accurate word for Jesus’ departure.  “Assumption” may be better.  Christ’s departure resembles the assumptions of Elijah (2 Kings 2:9-11; Sirach 48:9) and Enoch (Genesis 5:23-24; Sirach 49:14b), with apocalyptic imagery added.

The priestly gestures and blessings of Jesus before his departure, followed by worship, close the Gospel of Luke fittingly.  Recall Luke 1:20-23, O reader:  the priest Zechariah could not pronounce a blessing.

The Lukan accounts of the Ascension of Jesus also draw from Sirach 50:1-21, about the high priest Simon II.  The account of Simon II depicts him as the culmination of Israel’s history, at the point of the composition of that book.  Luke-Acts, which postdates Sirach, depicts Jesus as the culmination of Israel’s history.

In Luke 24, the Ascension is the fitting end of the story of Jesus.  In Acts 1, however, the Ascension is the beginning of the story of the mission of the Church.  Placing the two Lukan interpretations side-by-side provides the full picture.

I also detect one of St. Luke’s organizing principles in Luke 24 and Acts 1.  Luke-Acts finishes focusing on one story before focusing on another one, although the stories may overlap.  Consider the focus on St. John the Baptist (Luke 3) before the focus on Jesus (Luke  4-24), O reader.  Then we come to a different focus, starting in Acts 1.

The story of the mission of the Church, empowered by the Holy Spirit, follows.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 2, 2022 COMMON ERA

ASH WEDNESDAY

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The Sermon on the Plain   Leave a comment

Above:  The Sermon of the Beatitudes, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LUKE-ACTS, PART XVI

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Luke 6:20-49

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If the FOX News Channel had existed in the time of Jesus, its “talent” would have lambasted Jesus.  The Woes (6:24-26) would have been examples of class warfare.  Jesus would have been a “woke” Social Justice Warrior–and probably a communist.  To quote a meme from a few years ago,

NO, BARACK OBAMA IS NOT A DARK-SKINNED SOCIALIST GIVING AWAY HEALTH CARE.  YOU’RE THINKING OF JESUS.

Jesus was a social revolutionary.  He comforted the afflicted and afflicted the comfortable.  He died for doing so.

The Gospel of Matthew has the Sermon on the Mount.  The Gospel of Luke has the Sermon on the Plain.  This is no matter; both sermons are literary constructs anyway.  Their importance is their content.  In Luke 6:20f, the poor are poor, the hungry are hungry, and the weeping weep.  Also, the wealthy are receiving their consolation, those with plenty to eat will go hungry, those who are laughing will weep, and those who are renowned will be like false prophets.  The Lucan reversal of fortune is in full swing.

Jesus taught in a particular context.  The vast majority of the population was desperately poor.  The wealthy had either build their fortunes or maintained their fortunes by exploiting the poor.  The middle class was small.  This model has remained current in much of the world, unfortunately.

The gap between the rich and the poor has been growing wider for decades in my country, the United States of America.  The Right Wing has long placed too high a value on property rights and too low a value on human rights.  The moral critique that the United States society needs to value people more than things has remained as valid as it was on April 4, 1967, when a modern-day prophet, the Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King, Jr., uttered it in the Riverside Church, New York, New York.  The Right Wing detested him and suspected him of communism, too.

As Michael Eric Dyson correctly argues, the version of Martin Luther King, Jr., many White conservatives find non-threatening is a historical fiction.  King’s radicalism offers a stinging critique of many current conservative talking points.  King’s radicalism still comforts the afflicted and afflicts the comfortable.

The teachings of Jesus continue to comfort and afflict simultaneously.  Loving enemies, for example, breaks the cycle of violence.  But hearing that we should love our enemies may afflict us.  Condemnations of hypocrisy apply to everyone, too.  Jesus continues to meddle in our business, as he ought to do.  We want God to comfort us and people similar to ourselves, but to smite “those people”–everyone else, those whom we have othered.  God loves them, too, of course.

As Christians we believe that what Jesus began with the call of the Twelve and the sharp-edged teaching of blessings and curses remains in force today.  This is the shape of the kingdom:  the kingdom which still today turns the world upside down, or perhaps the right way up, as much as it ever did.

–N. T. Wright, Advent for Everyone:  Luke–A Daily Devotional (2018), 17

The world is upside down when it ought to be right side up.  Are you, O reader, complicit in maintaining this disorder?  If so, the teachings of Jesus afflict you, as they should.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 29, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FIFTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS

THE FEAST OF THE HOLY INNOCENTS (TRANSFERRED)

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Followers of Jesus   4 comments

Above:  Icon of the Ministry of the Apostles

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LUKE-ACTS, PART XV

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Luke 6:12-19; 10:1-24

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INTRODUCTION

Jesus had many disciples.  There were, for example the Twelve apostles (6:13), literally, persons sent out.  May we not forget the seventy(-two) disciples he sent out in 10:1-24.

Some numbers were simultaneously literal and symbolic:

  1. Twelve symbolized the restoration of Israel.  There had been twelve tribes of Israel, with ten of them lost to assimilation.  The Twelve apostles were the nucleus of the new people of God.
  2. Seventy or seventy-two (depending on the manuscript of the Gospel of Luke one believes) calls back to Numbers 11:16, 25.  One may recall the story.  Moses had selected seventy elders with whom to share his burden of leadership.  The spirit of God had fallen upon the seventy elders plus two other men.  According to Luke 10:1-24, Jesus was the new Moses, and his seventy or seventy-two other disciples helped to lead the new exodus.

We have encountered the the themes of exile and exodus in Luke-Acts already.  Was the ministry of Jesus an exodus?  Was living under Roman occupation a form of exile?

Think about it, O reader.

THE TWELVE

Comparing the names of the Twelve, according to the canonical Gospels, yields superficially different names in some lists:

  1. The Synoptic tradition lists St. Bartholomew; the Johannine tradition lists St. Nathanael.
  2. Tradition associates St. Matthew Levi the tax collector (Luke 5:27f), as the same man, but both “Bartholomew” and “Matthew” mean “gift of God.”
  3. Tradition associates St. Bartholomew with St. Nathanael, as the same man.
  4. The Gospels of Matthew and Mark list St. Thaddeus.  The Gospel of Luke and the Acts of the Apostles list St. Judas, son of James, instead.

None of this disturbs me; a person can have more than one name.  In the New Testament alone, I point to some examples:

  1. St. Simon (Peter), a.k.a. Cephas;
  2. St. (Joseph) Barnabas;
  3. St. (John) Mark; and
  4. (Joseph) Barsabbas, who nearly filled the vacancy Judas Iscariot left.

The scholarly debate whether the Twelve were literally twelve in number marginally interests me.  Besides, the burden of proof is on those who argue that the Twelve consisted of more than twelve men.  I prefer to shave with Ockham’s Razor.

THE KINGDOM OF GOD

Luke 10:1-16 and 10:17-20 bear a striking similarity to Luke 9:1-6 and 9:10.

“…the kingdom of God is very near to you.”

–Luke 9:9b, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

In other words, the partially-realized Kingdom of God is present.  The fully-realized Kingdom of God remains in the future tense, at least from a human perspective.  According to Realized Eschatology, the Kingdom of God does not arrive; it is.  Given that God exists outside of time, so does the Kingdom of God.  Certain events make the reality of the Kingdom of God more apparent and, in so doing, up the ante.  Consider the incarnation of the Second Person of the Trinity as Jesus of Nazareth.  Upping the ante increases the consequences for rejection and heightens responsibility.  Grace is free, not cheap.  One has a responsibility to respond favorably to grace, which imposes demands.

MY COMPLEX FAITH

I have asked myself a hypothetical question:  Would I have followed Jesus if I had met him in person during his earthly life?  I have concluded that I do not know.  Hypothetically, I may have found him objectionable, given my hypothetical attachment to certain “received wisdom.”  Or, hypothetically, I may have been receptive to Jesus’s teachings.

I wonder because I am a complex human being.  My faith is complex, not simple.  On one hand, I have a rebellious streak a mile wide, so to speak.  I delight in poking my proverbial fingers into the equally proverbial eyes of authority figures.  They have it coming!  I am, obviously, neither an authoritarian, a conservative, nor a likely member of any cult.  However, I balance my rebelliousness with a healthy respect for order.  Rebellion must serve a constructive purpose; it must resist and hopefully destroy an unjust social and political order.  This is why Luke-Acts and Revelation appeal to me; they speak of God turning the upside-down social order right side-up.  The unjust human order must fall before the divine order can commence.

As I age, I simultaneously moderate and become more radical.  My theological approach moderates; I remain a liberal yet have moved slightly to the right.  Yet, as I continue to study the Bible and internalize its ethics and morals (read in historical and cultural contexts, of course), the more dissatisfied I become with the human order and the Religious Right (of whom I have never been a fan).  The radicalism of the Hebrew prophets and Jesus appeals to me.

So, I wonder how I, hypothetically, would have responded to Jesus in person.  I question whether I would have favored order and routine or whether I would have supported the creative destruction God brings.

I invite you, O reader, to ask yourself the same question and to answer it honestly.  Then take the result of that spiritual self-examination to God.

STANDING ON THE SHOULDERS OF FAITH

I, as a Christian at the end of 2021, owe much to the earliest followers of Jesus.  I stand on their shoulders.  My faith exists in part because of their faith.

How many people will stand your shoulders of faith, O reader?  How many will stand on mine?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 28, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FOURTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN THE EVANGELIST (TRANSFERRED)

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Scandalous Sabbath Activities   1 comment

Above:  Christ Healing the Man with a Withered Hand

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LUKE-ACTS, PART XIV

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Luke 6:1-11; 13:10-17; 14:1-6

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INTRODUCTION

The Gospel of Luke tells four stories (6:1-5; 6:6-11; 13:10-17; and 14:1-6) pertaining to scandalous activities on the Sabbath.  For the sake of not repeating myself more often than necessary; I combine the material for all three stories in this post.

The Sabbath is a gift.  It is a mark of freedom.  (Hebrew slaves in Egypt had no days off.)  To keep the Sabbath is to live in freedom and to imitate God.  The Sabbath reminds us that we do not need to be  productive every day of the week.  The Sabbath should inspire joy.  Why, then, do so many people transform it into an occasion of boredom and misery?  I leave the answer to that question to you, O reader.

Also, ancient diagnoses were unreliable much of the time.  Possession does not cause a person’s crippled state, a condition with other origins.

6:1-5

Deuteronomy 23:24-25 permits someone to enter another person’s field and to pluck ears of grain, provided that one does not use a sickle.  The Law of Moses also considers reaping and sowing forms of work forbidden on the Sabbath.

We read that some of Christ’s disciples followed the provisions of Deuteronomy 23:24-25, but did so on the Sabbath.  We also read that, in their defense, Jesus cited the example of David (1 Samuel 21:1-6).  The defense Jesus offered, we read, is that, if David had the authority to overturn Levitical rules when he and his companions were hungry, so did Christ and his disciples, for the same reason.

6:6-11; 13:10-17; 14:1-6

According to later rabbinic tradition, the only healing permitted on the Sabbath was that which spared a life.  The man with a withered hand was not in a life-threatening situation.  Neither were the crippled woman and the man with dropsy.  Jesus insisted that the Sabbath is a day to perform good deeds.

The combination of these three healing stories points to the universalism of Christ’s message.  A withered hand.  Eighteen years of being crippled and bent over.  Dropsy.  One woman.  Two men.  The Gospel of Luke casts a large and inclusive net.

AVOIDING STEREOTYPES AND GRASPING THE TRUTH

The Law of Moses is a complex code.  Obeying one provision may require a violation of another one sometimes.  Therefore, one must rank priorities.  We read that, in Jesus, satisfying hunger and helping other people outranked a hypothetical standard.  Ideals are necessary, but people live in reality, not hypothetical scenarios.

Jewish tradition before and during the time of Jesus understood the ranking of commandments in conflict with each other.  (Modern Judaism still does, too.)  In the First Book of the Maccabees, the Hasmoneans–sticklers for the Law of Moses–waged combat on the Sabbath more than once.  They reasoned that not waging defensive combat on the Sabbath as necessary would contribute to the failure of their cause, which they carried on in the names of God and the Law of Moses.  In the Gospels, Jesus mentioned Pharisaic exceptions to Sabbath-keeping.

So, what was really going in these stories?  Why were critics of Jesus and his disciples unjustly critical?  I posit that Jesus and his disciples threatened the traditional understandings of what was orthodox and proper.  As I keep repeating ad nauseum, O reader, heaping scorn upon long-dead scribes and Pharisees is easy.  Doing so is part of a self-righteous effort if one is not careful.  Examining oneself for undue rigidity is another matter–and a vital one.

I reject Gentile stereotypes of Judaism.  (I grew up with them.)  These are traditional misunderstandings born of ignorance, not malice.  Yet the often feed malice, at worst.  At best, these stereotypes lead to misunderstanding certain Bible stories.

Nevertheless, legalistic people have always existed.  Some otherwise commendable pushing back against stereotypes of Judaism have ignored or minimized this point.  I have chosen to eschew stereotypes and false, easy answers, in favor of recognizing reality.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 28, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FOURTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN THE EVANGELIST (TRANSFERRED)

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Posted December 28, 2021 by neatnik2009 in 1 Samuel 21, Deuteronomy 23, Luke 13, Luke 14, Luke 6

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Introduction to Luke-Acts   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of St. Luke the Evangelist

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LUKE-ACTS, PART I

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The whole of Luke’s gospel is about the way in which the living God has planted, in Jesus, the seed of that long-awaited hope in the world.

–N. T. Wright, Lent for Everyone:  Luke, Year C–A Daily Devotional (2009), 2

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The Gospel of Luke is the first volume of a larger work.  The Acts of the Apostles is the second volume.  One can read either volume spiritually profitably in isolation from the other one.  However, one derives more benefit from reading Luke-Acts as the two-volume work it is.

Each of the four canonical Gospels bears the name of its traditional author.  The Gospel of Luke is the only case in which I take this traditional authorship seriously as a matter of history.  One may recall that St. Luke was a well-educated Gentile physician and a traveling companion of St. Paul the Apostle.

Luke-Acts dates to circa 85 C.E.,. “give or take five to ten years,” as Raymond E. Brown (1928-1998) wrote in his magisterial An Introduction to the New Testament (1997).  Luke-Acts, having a Gentile author, includes evidence that the audience consisted of Gentiles, too.  The text makes numerous references to the inclusion of Gentiles, for example.  Two of the major themes in Luke-Acts are (a) reversal of fortune, and (b) the conflict between the Roman Empire and the Kingdom of God.  The smoldering ruins of Jerusalem and the Second Temple in 70 C.E. inform the present tense of the story-telling.

Many North American Christians minimize or ignore the imperial politics in the New Testament.  In doing so, they overlook essential historical and cultural contexts.  Luke-Acts, in particular, performs an intriguing political dance with the Roman Empire.  The two-volume work unambiguously proclaims Jesus over the Emperor–a treasonous message, by Roman imperial standards.  Luke-Acts makes clear that the Roman Empire was on the wrong side of God, that its values were opposite those of the Kingdom of God.  Yet the two-volume work goes out of its way to mention honorable imperial officials.

Know six essential facts about me, O reader:

  1. This weblog is contains other blog posts covering Luke-Acts, but in the context of lectionaries.  I refer you to those posts.  And I will not attempt to replicate those other posts in the new posts.  Finding those posts is easy; check the category for the book and chapter, such as Luke 1 or Acts 28.
  2. I know far more about the four canonical Gospels, especially in relation to each other, than I will mention in the succeeding posts.  I tell you this not to boast, but to try to head off anyone who may chime in with a rejoinder irrelevant to my purpose in any given post.  My strategy will be to remain on topic.
  3. My purpose will be to analyze the material in a way that is intellectually honest and applicable in real life.  I respect Biblical scholarship that goes deep into the woods, spending ten pages on three lines.  I consult works of such scholarship.  However, I leave that work to people with Ph.Ds in germane fields and who write commentaries.
  4. I am a student of the Bible, not a scholar thereof.
  5. I am a left-of-center Episcopalian who places a high value on human reason and intellect.  I value history and science.  I reject both the inerrancy and the infallibility of scripture for these reasons.  Fundamentalists think I am going to Hell for asking too many questions.  I try please God, not fundamentalists. I know too much to affirm certain theological statements.
  6. I am a sui generis mix of Roman Catholic, Lutheran, and Anglican theological influences.  I consider St. Mary of Nazareth to be the Theotokos (the Bearer of God) and the Mater Dei (the Mother of God).  I also reject the Virgin Birth and the Immaculate Conception with it.

Make of all this whatever you will, O reader.

Shall we begin our journey through Luke-Acts?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 20, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE TWENTY-THIRD DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF SAINT DOMINIC OF SILOS, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF BATES GILBERT BURT, EPISCOPAL PRIEST, HYMN WRITER, AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF BENJAMIN TUCKER TANNER, AFRICAN METHODIST EPISCOPAL BISHOP AND RENEWER OF SOCIETY

THE FEAST OF D. ELTON TRUEBLOOD, U.S. QUAKER THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF JOHANN CHRISTOPH SCHWEDLER, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MICHAL PIASCZYNSKI,POLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1940

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Deeds and Creeds VII   Leave a comment

READING THE GENERAL EPISTLES, PART III

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James 2:1-26

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Do not rob the poor because they are poor,

nor crush the needy at the gate;

For the LORD will defend their cause,

and will plunder those who plunder them.

–Proverbs 22:22-23, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

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If I were inclined toward theft, I would steal from the wealthy, not the poor, for the same reason Willie Sutton (1901-1980) robbed banks:

That’s where the money is.

Robbing the poor is counter-productive.  Yet many tax codes do just that; they fall more heavily on the poor than on the wealthy, in percentage of income.  The poor cannot game the system, but the wealthy can.

James 2:1-18 reminds me of Proverbs 22:22-23, which I hear read before James 2:1-18 every Proper 18, Year B, in The Episcopal Church.  Both passages speak of proper and improper attitudes toward the poor.

Do not curry favor with the rich, we read.  James 2:1-13 refers to its context.  One may envision a rich man–a Roman nobleman–clad in a toga and wearing a gold ring.  Only a member of that class had the sight to dress in that way.  Such a man was also seeking political office.  To curry favor with such a man was to seek the benefits he could bestow.

Yet members of the wealthy class also dragged Christians into courts of law.  If the rich man in question was on the bad side of Emperor Domitian (reigned 81-96), the Christian congregation allied with that wealthy man suffered imperial wrath, too.

Recall James 1:27, O reader:  Care for the widows and orphans, and keep oneself uncontaminated from the world.

God has decreed the poor the most valuable people (1 Corinthians 1:27).  Jesus taught that the poor will inherit the Kingdom of God (Luke 6:20).  The Gospels teach that the first will be last, the last will be first, and those serve are the greatest.  God disregards and contradicts human social hierarchies.

The audience of the Epistle of James consisted of Jewish Christians, marginalized within their Jewish tradition.  They knew about the Law of Moses and its ethical demand to take care of the less fortunate.  Apparently, some members of that audience had not acted in accordance with those common commandments.

St. Paul the Apostle addressed Gentiles.  The author of the Epistle of James addressed Jews.  St. Paul understood faith and works to be a package deal, hence justification by faith.  The author of the Epistle of James used “faith” narrowly, to refer to intellectual assent.  Therefore, he wrote of justification by works.  These two authors arrived at the same point after departing from different origins.  They both affirmed the importance of faithful actions.

We read of two scriptural examples–the near-sacrifice of Isaac (Genesis 22:1-19) and the hospitality of Rahab the prostitute (Joshua 2:1-23).  I stand by my criticism of Abraham in Genesis 22.  I refer you, O reader, to follow the germane tags, if you are inclined to do so.

None of that detracts from the summary of the faith-works case in the Epistle of James:

So just as the body without a spirit is dead, so faith is dead without deeds.

–2:26, Helen Barrett Montgomery, Centenary Translation of the New Testament (1924)

That theme continues, in another context, in the next chapter.

The allure of status is strong; even Christians are not necessarily immune to its appeal.  The ultimate status that really matters, though, is heir of God.  No earthly political power has any say over that status.  Another germane status is bearer of the image of God.  All people hold that status inherently.  If we really believe that, we will treat each other accordingly.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 21, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MATTHEW THE EVANGELIST, APOSTLE AND MARTYR

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Oracles of Divine Punishment, Part II   Leave a comment

Above:  Micah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING MICAH, PART III

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Micah 2:1-13

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The more I read commentaries, the more I realize how frequently wordplay occurs in the Hebrew Bible.  Puns to not translate from Language A into Language B, of course.  Given my fondness for puns, these details appeal to me.  Consider Micah 2:1-3, O reader.  Powerful and corrupt people design or work (depending on translation) evil/evil deeds/evil and wicked deeds (depending on translation).  God plans misfortune/evil/disaster (depending on translation) in retribution.

The human evil in 2:1-3 consisted of flagrant violations of the Law of Moses.  These wealthy, powerful, and corrupt evildoers were coveting and seizing the fields and homes of peasants.  These greedy, already-wealthy people enriched themselves further at the expense of the less fortunate.  These terrible human beings, who had sinned against God and those they had defrauded, had judged and condemned themselves.  The Assyrians were about to swallow the (northern) Kingdom of Israel.  Those greedy, corrupt, and powerful defrauders would lose everything then.  This text, applied to a later period and the (southern) Kingdom of Judah, condemned greedy, powerful, and corrupt defrauders in the south.  They would lose everything when the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire took over.

These situations remind me of the Beatitudes and Woes (Luke 6:20-26) from the Sermon on the Plain.  This is the passage in which Jesus says that the poor–not the poor in spirit–the poor will receive the Kingdom of God.  The translation of Luke 6:24 in The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011) fits in with standard English-language versions of this verse.

But woe to you who are rich,

for you have received your consolation.

The Greek text can also mean:

But woe to you who are rich,

for you are receiving your consolation.

The wealthy, corrupt, and powerful defrauders of Micah 2 (regardless of timeframe)–before the Fall of Samaria in 722 B.C.E. or after 722 B.C.E. and before the Fall of Jerusalem in 586 B.C.E.–received their consolations.  Then the Assyrians or the Chaldeans/Neo-Babylonians took that consolation from them.

Divine judgment and mercy exist in balance.  In the case of Micah 2:1-11, divine mercy on the oppressed constituted judgment on the oppressors, who did not want to hear the words of divine judgment.

Micah 2:12-13 refers to the return from the Babylonian Exile.  Were these two verses original to Micah?  They may have come from a subsequent period.  Evidence of editors’ handiwork exists in the final version of the Book of Micah.  The main idea, whenever someone wrote 2:12-13, holds:  divine judgment and mercy exist in balance.

Micah 2:13 is ambiguous about the identity of the king.  Is he human, certainly of the House of David?  Or is God the king?  Exegetes disagree.  Study Bibles I consulted did not indicate a consensus position.

Micah 2 is unambiguous on another point, however:  God will not tolerate injustice.  The Book of Micah highlights economic injustice.  I live in a society in which the chasm separating the rich from the poor has been growing wider for decades.  In this context, I read Micah 2 and tremble.  Divine punishment assumes many forms, all of them unpleasant.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 25, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BEDE OF JARROW, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT AND FATHER OF ENGLISH HISTORY

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALDHELM OF SHERBORNE, POET, LITERARY SCHOLAR, ABBOT OF MALMESBURY, AND BISHOP OF SHERBORNE

THE FEAST OF SAINTS CRISTOBAL MAGOLLANES JARA AND AGUSTIN CALOCA CORTÉS, MEXICAN ROMAN CATHOLIC SAINTS AND MARTYRS, 1927

THE FEAST OF SAINT MADELEINE-SOPHIE BARAT, FOUNDRESS OF THE SOCIETY OF THE SACRED HEART; AND SAINT ROSE PHILIPPINE DUCHESNE, ROMAN CATHOLIC NUN AND MISSIONARY

THE FEAST OF SAINT MYKOLA TSEHELSKYI, UKRAINIAN GREEK CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1951

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False Significance and True Significance   Leave a comment

THE QUEST FOR FALSE SIGNIFICANCE IS A FORM OF IDOLATRY.

Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, “Master, when did we see you hungry and feed you; or thirsty and give you drink?  When did we see you a stranger and take you in; or naked and clothe you?  When did we see you sick or in prison, and come to see you?”  “In solemn truth I tell you,” the King will answer them, “that inasmuch as you have done it to one of the least of these, my brothers, you had done it unto me.”

–Matthew 25:37-40, Helen Barrett Montgomery, the Centenary Translation of the New Testament (1924)

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And lo, there are last which shall be first, and there are first which shall be last.

–Luke 13:30, Helen Barrett Montgomery, the Centenary Translation of the New Testament (1924)

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The ethics and morals of Jesus of Nazareth shape my ethics and morals.  I am a professing Christian, after all.  

The increase in political extremism defined by hatred, xenophobia, nativism, and conspiracy theories concerns me deeply.  This is a global problem.  As one hears in this video clip, the “quest for significance” is one of the “pillars of radicalization.”  

We are dealing with idolatry.  Sin, in Augustinian terms, is disordered love.  God deserves the most love.  Many people, activities, ideas, et cetera, deserve lesser amounts of love.  Others deserve no love.  To love that which one should not love or to love someone or something more than one ought to do is to deny some love to God.  One bears the image of God.  One is, therefore, worthy of much love.  In fact, Judaism and Christianity teach that one has a moral obligation to love others as one loves oneself, assuming that one loves oneself as one should (Leviticus 19:18; Tobit 4:15; Sirach/Ecclesiasticus 31:15; Matthew 7:12; Luke 6:31).  After all, the other human beings also bear the image of God.  Judaism and Christianity also teach people to love God fully, and link love of God and love of other people (Deuteronomy 6:4-9; Matthew 22:36-40).  Therefore, true significance comes from loving God fully and loving God, as God is present in human beings, especially the “least of these.”

Two stories from 1 Maccabees pertain to my theme.  

In 1 Maccabees 5:55-64, two Hasmonean military commanders named Zechariah and Azariah sought to make a name for themselves.  They succeeded; they caused military defeat and won ignominy to define their names.  However, in 1 Maccabees 6:42-47, Eleazar Avaran acted selflessly, in defense of his oppressed people and the Law of Moses.  He died and won an honored name from his people.  Those who sought honor earned disgrace.  He who sacrificed himself gained honor.

I could quote or mention a plethora of Biblical verses and passages about the folly of seeking false significance.  The Bible has so many of them because of the constancy of human nature.  I could quote or mention more verses and passages, but to do so would be triply redundant.

Simply, true human significance comes from God, compared to whom we are all insignificant.  That significance comes from bearing the image of God.  The sooner more of us accept that truth, the better off the rest of us will be.  The social, societal, economic, and political costs of the quest for false significance to extremely high.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 24, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MATTHIAS THE APOSTLE, MARTYR

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