Archive for the ‘Acts of the Apostles’ Category

Compassion and the Sabbath, Part III   1 comment

Above:   Christ Healing, by Rembrandt van Rijn

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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Numbers 12:1-15

Psalm 53

Acts 12:6-19

Luke 14:2-6

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The standard English-language translation of the opening line of Psalms 14 and 53 is that a fool thinks that there is no God.   However, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985) has the benighted man thinking that God does not care.   This gets to the point of practical atheism, not the modern, widespread reality of theoretical atheism, rare in the ancient Middle East.  Indeed, God cares jealously in the Bible.  God objects strenuously whenever someone challenges Moses.  God also sends an angel to break St. Simon Peter out of prison.

The portion from Luke 14 exists within a larger narrative context–the eschatological banquet, symbolic of the Kingdom of God.  Jesus is at a banquet at the home of a leading Pharisee on the Sabbath.   In the reading assigned for today our Lord and Savior heals a man afflicted with dropsy, or severe retention of fluid.  The fact that he does this on the Sabbath becomes controversial immediately.  Jesus rebuts that even they rescue a child or an ox from a well on the Sabbath.  They cannot argue against him.

Father Raymond E. Brown, in his magisterial Introduction to the New Testament (1997), wrote the following:

Actually at Qumran there was a prohibition of pulling a newborn animal our of a pit on the Sabbath (CD 11:13-14).

–Page 248

Every day is a proper day to act out of compassion, according to Jesus, although not the community at Qumran.

In the great eschatological banquet the blind, the lame, the poor, and the crippled are welcome–even preferred guests.   One ought to invite them because it is the right thing to do.  One should commit good deeds out of compassion and piety, not the desire for reciprocal treatment.  Grace is not transactional.

The temptation to relate to God in transactional terms is a powerful one.  It is, among other things, a form of works-based righteousness, a major theological error.  Keeping the Covenant, at its best, is a matter of faithful response to God.  (“If you love me, keep my commandments.”–John 14:15)  However useful having a list of instructions can be, that list can easily become for one a checklist to manipulate, until one violates major tenets while honoring minor facets.  In the Jewish tradition one finds longstanding recognition of a summary of the Law of Moses:  Love God fully and one’s neighbor as oneself.

So healing a man on the Sabbath should not be controversial, should it?  (John 7:22-24)

But what about Sabbath laws?  There is a death penalty for working on the Sabbath (Numbers 15:32-36), except when there is not (Leviticus 12:3).  If the eighth day of a boy’s life falls on the Sabbath, the circumcision of the child must, according to the Law of Moses, occur on the Sabbath.  But do not dare to collect sticks on the Sabbath!   Removing part of a male on the Sabbath is permissible, so why not making someone whole?

Every day is a good day to act compassionately, according to Jesus.  God cares about the needs of people each day.  So should we.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 17, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF EDITH BOYLE MACALISTER, ENGLISH NOVELIST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT EMILY DE VIALAR, FOUNDER OF THE SISTERS OF SAINT JOSEPH OF THE APPARITION

THE FEAST OF JANE CROSS BELL SIMPSON, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS TERESA AND MAFALDA OF PORTUGAL, PRINCESSES, QUEENS, AND NUNS; AND SANCHIA OF PORTUGAL, PRINCESS AND NUN

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2017/06/17/devotion-for-proper-9-ackerman/

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Wasted Potential   1 comment

Above:   Gamaliel

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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Genesis 32:3-7a; 33:1-4

Psalm 44:23-26

Acts 5:33-42

John 8:12-29

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Awake, O Lord!  Why are you sleeping?

Arise, do not reject us forever.

Why have you hidden your face

and forgotten our affliction and oppression?

We sink down into the dust;

our body cleaves to the ground.

Rise up, and help us,

and save us, for the sake of your steadfast love.

–Psalm 44:23-26, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Psalm 44 is a national lament, but one might read the text and identify with it.  Such is the timeless quality of the Book of Psalms.

God gets to judge.  Jesus says in John 8 that he does not judge yet others do.  We read of Jacob and Esau reconciling in Genesis 33.  If we continue reading, however, we learn that the peace did not survive them.  We read in Acts 5 that Gamaliel was slow to judge.  I conclude that, had more early Christians and contemporary Jews been more like Gamaliel, the subsequent course of Jewish-Christian relations would have been better.

The wasted potential of what Jacob, Esau, and Gamaliel sought to do haunts me.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 2, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT SIGISMUND OF BURGUNDY, KING; SAINT CLOTILDA, FRANKISH QUEEN; AND SAINT CLODOALD, FRANKISH PRINCE AND ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT ATHANASIUS OF ALEXANDRIA, ROMAN CATHOLIC THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF JAMES LEWIS MILLIGAN, HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARCULF OF NANTEUIL, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2017/05/02/devotion-for-the-second-sunday-after-the-epiphany-ackerman/

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Troublemakers   1 comment

Judah and Tamar--School of Rembrandt van Rijn

Above:   Judah and Tamar, by the School of Rembrandt van Rijn

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

O God, our eternal redeemer, by the presence of your Spirit you renew and direct our hearts.

Keep always in our mind the end of all things and the day of judgment.

Inspire us for a holy life here, and bring us to the joy of the resurrection,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 52

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The Assigned Readings:

Deuteronomy 25:5-10 (Thursday)

Genesis 38:1-26 (Friday)

Psalm 17 (Both Days)

Acts 22:22-23:11 (Thursday)

Acts 24:10-23 (Friday)

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Let my vindication come forth from your presence,

let your eyes be fixed on justice.

–Psalm 17:2, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Genesis 38 serves several functions.  One is to mark the passage of time between Genesis 37 and 39.  Another is to make people squirm.  What should one make of a story in which Tamar, the heroine, the wronged woman denied what was due her according to levirate marriage (described in Deuteronomy 25), had to resort to posing as a pagan temple prostitute to seduce her father-in-law to get the child(ren) she deserved, according to social customs meant to protect childless widows?  Due to problems with her first husband’s brothers the duty fell to Judah, her father-in-law.

I remember that, in 1996, at Asbury United Methodist Church, north of Baxley in Appling County, Georgia, an adult Sunday School class read the Book of Genesis at the rate of a chapter per week.  One Sunday that summer the time came to ponder Chapter 38.  The leader of the class skipped to Genesis 39, for he found the contents to be too hot a potato, so to speak.

The story of Judah and Tamar continues to make many readers of the Hebrew Bible uncomfortable.  Tamar remains a troublemaker of sorts, long after her death.  Perhaps modern readers who struggle with the tale should think less about our comfort levels and more about the lengths to which certain people need to go to secure basic needs.

St. Paul the Apostle got into legal trouble (again) in Acts 21.  The trumped-up charge boiled down to him being a troublemaker, a disturber of the peace.  As Tertullus, the attorney for chief priest Ananias and Temple elders argued before Felix, the governor:

We found this man to be a pest, a fomenter of discord among the Jews all over the world, a ringleader of the sect of the Nazarenes.  He made an attempt to profane the temple and we arrested him.

–Acts 24:5-6, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Were not those who plotted and attempted to kill St. Paul the real troublemakers?  He planned or committed no violence toward those with whom he disagreed.  The Apostle knew how to employ strong language, but he avoided resorting to violence after his conversion.

How we deal with alleged troublemakers reveals much about our character.  What, then, does this standard reveal about your character, O reader?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 3, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILL CAMPBELL, AGENT OF RECONCILIATION

THE FEAST OF SAINTS LIPHARDUS OF ORLEANS AND URBICIUS OF MEUNG, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOTS

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF UGANDA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MORAND OF CLUNY, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK AND MISSIONARY

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/06/03/devotion-for-thursday-and-friday-before-proper-27-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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For the Glory of God and the Benefit of Others   1 comment

Nehemiah Views the Ruins of Jerusalem's Walls Dore

Above:   Nehemiah Viewing the Ruins of Jerusalem’s Walls, by Gustave Dore

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Merciful Lord God, we do not presume to come before you

trusting in our own righteousness,

but in your great and abundant mercies.

Revive our faith, we pray; heal our bodies, and mend our communities,

that we may evermore dwell in your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 38

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The Assigned Readings:

Nehemiah 1:1-11

Psalm 5

Acts 3:1-10

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I wonder if the formerly lame man (the one lame from birth) in Acts 3 thought of a passage from Psalm 5 as he entered the Temple leaping and praising God:

But, so great is your faithful love,

I may come into your house,

and before your holy temple

bow down in reverence of you.

–Verse 7, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

That structure in Acts 3 was the Second Temple, erected during the time of Ezra and Nehemiah then expanded by order of King Herod the Great.

Nehemiah and the lame man received more than they sought.  Nehemiah returned to Jerusalem, served his community, and endured severe challenges to do so.  Yet he helped to stabilize his community.  Sts. Peter and John made the man lame from birth whole and gave him new dignity.  Certainly he did not expect that much.  Furthermore, his adaptation to his new reality must not have been entirely easy, but he was much better off than he had ever been.  Nehemiah would have led an easier life as a royal cupbearer than he did as a Persian satrap, but he did what God called him to do.  Fortunately, the monarch facilitated that vocation.

May each of us become what God has called us to become.  May we understand that vocation and pursue it.  May those in positions to facilitate that calling do so.  Then may we do our best and succeed, by grace.  May we do this for the glory of God and the benefit of others.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 29, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JEMIMA THOMPSON LUKE, ENGLISH CONGREGATIONALIST HYMN WRITER; AND JAMES EDMESTON, ANGLICAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF BERNHARDT SEVERIN INGEMANN, DANISH LUTHERAN AUTHOR AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EDWARD HOPPER, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN CASSIAN, DESERT FATHER

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2016/02/29/devotion-for-tuesday-after-proper-4-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Glorifying God, Not Self   1 comment

Herod Agrippa I

Above:  Herod Agrippa I

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Generous God, your Son gave his life

that we might come to peace with you.

Give us a share of your Spirit,

and in all we do empower us to bear the name of

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 48

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The Assigned Readings:

Deuteronomy 1:1-18 (Friday)

Deuteronomy 27:1-10 (Saturday)

Psalm 19:7-14 (Both Days)

Acts 12:20-25 (Friday)

Matthew 5:13-20 (Saturday)

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The law of the LORD is perfect and revives the soul;

the testimony of the LORD is sure and gives wisdom to the innocent.

The statutes of the LORD are just and rejoice the heart;

the commandment of the LORD is clear and gives light to the eyes.

The fear of the LORD is clean and endures for ever;

the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether.

More to be desired are they than gold, more than much fine gold,

sweeter far than honey,

than honey in the comb.

By them also is your servant enlightened,

and in keeping them there is great reward.

Who can tell how often he offends?

cleanse me from my secret faults.

Above all, keep me from presumptuous sins;

let them not get dominion over me;

then shall I be whole and sound,

and innocent of a great offense.

Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in your sight,

O LORD, my strength and my redeemer.

–Psalm 19:7-14, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Herod Agrippa I (lived 10 B.C.E.-44 C.E.; reigned 37-44 C.E.) was a grandson of the notorious Herod the Great (reigned 37-4 B.C.E.) and a friend of the more notorious Caligula (reigned 37-41 C.E.).  Herod Agrippa I, a king because the Roman Empire declared him so, persecuted nascent Christianity and dissatisfied his Roman masters by allying himself with Near Eastern rulers.  He sought to glorify himself, not God, and succeeded in that goal.  Then he died suddenly.  Agrippa’s Roman masters did not mourn his passing.

The Deuteronomist placed pious words into the mouth of Moses.  The contents of those words–reminders of divine faithfulness and of human responsibility to respond favorably–remain germane.  That ethic, present in Psalm 19, contains a sense of the mystery of God, a mystery we mere mortals will never solve.  President Abraham Lincoln (never baptized, by the way) grasped that mystery well, as evident in his quoting of Psalm 19 (“the judgments of the LORD are true and righteous altogether”) in his Second Inaugural Address (1865), near the end of the Civil War.

Glorifying God–part of the responsibility to respond favorably to God–entails being salt and light in the world.  Laying one’s ego aside and seeking to direct proper attention to God can prove to be difficult for many people, but it is part of what obedience to God requires.

I grew up in a series of United Methodist congregations in southern Georgia, U.S.A.  In those settings I learned many invaluable lessons.  Two of them were:

  1. Be wary of people with inadequate egos, and
  2. Be wary of people with raging egos.

Both types seek to use positions of power and/or authority in church to their advantage and get pastors moved needlessly.  Those with raging egos seek to glorify themselves as a matter of course, and those with weak egos seek to feel better about themselves.

However, a person with a healthy ego can seek to glorify God more comfortably psychologically than one with an unbalanced sense of self-worth.  One’s self-worth comes from bearing the image of God, so one’s sense of self-worth should derive from the same reality.  When that statement summarizes one’s spiritual reality one is on the right path, the road of glorifying God via one’s life.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 1, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF PAULI MURRAY, CIVIL RIGHTS ATTORNEY AND EPISCOPAL PRIEST

THE FEAST OF CATHERINE WINKWORTH, TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS

THE FEAST OF HARRIET BEECHER STOWE, ABOLITIONIST

THE FEAST OF JOHN CHANDLER, ANGLICAN PRIEST, SCHOLAR, AND TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/07/01/devotion-for-friday-and-saturday-before-proper-21-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Defensive Violence   1 comment

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

Above:  An Icon of Christ the Merciful

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

O God, from you come all holy desires,

all good counsels, and all just works.

Give to us, your servants, that peace which the world cannot give,

that our hearts may be set to obey your commandments,

and also that we, being defended from the fear of our enemies,

may live in peace and quietness,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 42

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The Assigned Readings:

Amos 5:1-9 (Monday)

Amos 9:1-4 (Tuesday)

Amos 9:11-15 (Wednesday)

Psalm 142 (All Days)

Acts 21:27-39 (Monday)

Acts 23:12-35 (Tuesday)

Luke 7:31-35 (Wednesday)

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 I cry to the LORD with my voice;

to the LORD I make loud supplication.

I pour out my complaint before you, O LORD,

and tell you all my trouble.

When my spirit languishes within me, you know my path;

in the way wherein I walk they have hidden a trap for me.

I look to my right hand and find no one who knows me;

I have no place to flee to, and no one cares for me.’

I cry out to you, O LORD,

I say, “You are my refuge,

my portion in the land of the living.”

Listen to my cry for help, for I have been brought very low;

save me from those who pursue me,

for they are too strong for me.

Bring me out of the prison, that I may give thanks to your name;

when you have dealt bountifully with me,

the righteous will gather around me.

–Psalm 142, Book of Common Worship (1993)

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The Book of Amos, after all of its predictions of destruction, takes a sudden turn at the end and concludes with a promise that God will restore the Hebrew nation.  Hope of restoration was on the minds of many whom Jesus encountered in Roman-occupied Judea.  Many others, however, benefited from that occupation, for they had made their peace with Roman authorities.  Some of these elites plotted to kill Jesus then St. Paul the Apostle, who were indeed threats to their power, although not in ways many people thought and in ways many people did not expect.  Hostility was often inconsistent in its standards:

For John the Baptist came, neither eating bread nor drinking wine, and you say, “He is possessed.”  The Son of Man came, eating and drinking, and you say, “Look at him! A glutton and a drinker, a friend of tax-collectors and sinners!”

–Luke 7:33-34, The Revised English Bible (1989)

As a sign I have reads,

FOR EVERY ACTION THERE IS AN EQUAL AND OPPOSITE CRITICISM.

The term “Kingdom of God” has more than one meaning in the Bible.  It refers to the afterlife in some passages yet to the reign of God on earth in others, for example.  The latter definition interests me more than does the former.  One function of the latter definition is to criticize human institutions and social structures as falling short of divine standards, which is the definition of sin.  Some people hear criticism and respond by trying to change them for the better.  Others ignore the criticism.  A third group reacts violently in defense of themselves and their beloved institutions and social structures.

Repentance is better than defensive violence.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 4, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE EVE OF EASTER, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF BENJAMIN HALL KENNEDY, GREEK AND LATIN SCHOLAR, BIBLE TRANSLATOR, AND ANGLICAN PRIEST

THE FEAST OF SAINT GEORGE THE YOUNGER, GREEK ORTHODOX BISHOP OF MITYLENE

THE FEAST OF MARTIN LUTHER KING, JR., CIVIL RIGHTS LEADER

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/04/04/devotion-for-monday-tuesday-and-wednesday-after-proper-10-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Oppression   1 comment

Beheading of St. John the Baptist Caravaggio

Above:  The Beheading of St. John the Baptist, by Caravaggio

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Sovereign God, raise your throne in our hearts.

Created by you, let us live in your image;

created for you, let us act for your glory;

redeemed by you, let us give you what is yours,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 50

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 14:3-11

Psalm 96:1-9 [10-13]

Matthew 14:1-12

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He [the LORD] will judge the world with righteousness

and the people with his truth.

–Psalm 96:13, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Herod Antipas (reigned 4 B.C.E.-39 C.E.) was a bad character and a client ruler (a tetrarch, not a king, by the way) within the Roman Empire.  He had marriedHerodias, his niece and daughter-in-law, an act for which St. John the Baptist had criticized him.  This incestuous union violated Leviticus 18:16 and 20:21 and did not come under the levirate marriage exemption in Deuteronomy 25:5.  John, for his trouble, lost his freedom and his life.  Salome (whose name we know from archaeology, not the Bible), at the behest of her mother, Herodias, requested the head of the holy man on a platter.

The text from Isaiah 14 is an anticipated taunt of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.

How the oppressor has ceased!

How his insolence has ceased!

–Isaiah 14:3b, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

That oppression and insolence did cease in the case of Herod Antipas.  He had deserted the daughter of King Aretas IV of the Nabateans to wed Herodias.  In 36 C.E. Aretas took his revenge by defeating Herod Antipas.  The tetrarch sought Roman imperial assistance yet gained none, for the throne had passed from Tiberius to Caligula.  Herod Antipas, encouraged by Herodias, requested that Caligula award him the title of “King” as the Emperor had done to the tetrarch’s nephew (and brother of Herodias), Herod Agrippa I (reigned 37-44 C.E.).  Yet Herod Agrippa I brought charges against Herod Antipas, who, having traveled to Rome to seek the new title in person, found himself exiled to Gaul instead.  The territories of Herod Antipas came under the authority of Herod Agrippa I who was, unfortunately, one of the persecutors of earliest Christianity (Acts 12:1-5).

Oppression has never disappeared from the face of the Earth.  Certain oppressive regimes have ended, of course, but others have continued the shameful tradition.  You, O reader, can probably name some oppressive regimes in the news.  Sometimes they fight each other, so what is one supposed to do then?  I remember that, during my time as a graduate student at Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, Georgia, I took a course about World War II.  The professor asked us one day that, if we had to choose between following Joseph Stalin or Adolf Hitler (a decision many in Eastern Europe had to make in the early 1940s), whom would we select?  I said, “Just shoot me now.”  That, I imagine is how many people in Syria must feel in 2014.

Only God can end all oppression.  Until God does so, may we stand with the oppressed and celebrate defeats of oppressors.  Some good news is better than none, after all.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 31, 2014 COMMON ERA

PROPER 17:  THE TWELFTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAINT AIDAN OF LINDISFARNE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2014/08/31/devotion-for-saturday-before-proper-24-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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