Archive for the ‘Numbers 14’ Category

The Rise and Fall of Judah’s Political Leaders   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of Ezekiel

Image in the Public Domain

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READING EZEKIEL, PART X

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Ezekiel 17:1-24

Ezekiel 19:1-14

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For this post, O reader, we focus on two allegories.

Ezekiel 17 is the allegory of the eagles, the vine, and the cedar.  For background, read 2 Kings 24-25; Jeremiah 21:14; Jeremiah 22:1-8, 20-30; Jeremiah 27-29; Jeremiah 34; Jeremiah 52; 2 Chronicles 36; 1 Esdras 1:43-58;

The allegory, by definition, uses symbols.  The allegory tells the story of King Jehoiachin of Judah allying with Egypt against the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire, losing, and going into exile in 597 B.C.E.  The allegory continues to describe King Zedekiah‘s failed rebellion, and his fate.  The code of the allegory is as follows:

  1. The great eagle = King Nebuchadnezzar II of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire (r. 605-562 B.C.E.) (v. 3).
  2. Lebanon = Jerusalem (v. 3).
  3. The topmost branch = Jehoiachin (r. 597 B.C.E.) (v. 3).
  4. The land of merchants = Babylon (v. 4).
  5. The native seed = Zedekiah (r. 597-586 B.C.E.) (v. 5).
  6. Another great eagle = Pharoah Psammetichus II (r. 595-589 B.C.E.) (v. 7).
  7. The vine = the Davidic Dynastry (vs. 7-8).

Ezekiel 17:18f and 2 Chronicles 36:13 argue that Zedekiah had violated his oath of vassalage by rebelling against King Nebuchadnezzar II, and thereby sinned against God.  These texts also argue that Zedekiah earned his punishment.  This position is consistent with the importance of oaths in the Bible (Genesis 24:7; Genesis 26:3, 28-31; Genesis 50:24; Exodus 13:5, 11; Exodus 20:7; Exodus 33:1; Leviticus 5:1-4; Leviticus 19:12; Numbers 5:17; Numbers 14:16, 30; Numbers 32:11; Deuteronomy 1:8, 35; Deuteronomy 6:10; Judges 11:11-40; 1 Kings 8:31-32; 1 Chronicles 12:19; 2 Chronicles 6:22-23; Psalm 16:4; Isaiah 62:8; Isaiah 144:8; Hosea 4:15; Amos 8:14; Matthew 5:36; et cetera).et cetera

Ezekiel 17 concludes on a note of future restoration (vs. 22-24).  One Jewish interpretation of the final three verses holds that the construction of the Second Temple, under the supervision of Zerubbabel, of the House of David, fulfilled this prophecy (Haggai 2:20-23).  That interpretation does not convince me.  The prophecy concerns the restoration of the Jewish nation.  My sense of the past tells me that one may not feasibly apply this prophecy to the events following 142 B.C.E. and 1948 B.C.E., given the absence of the Davidic Dynasty in Hasmonean Judea and modern Israel.

The emphasis on divine power and human weakness defines the end of Chapter 17.

Ezekiel 19, which uses the metaphors of the lion (the tribe of Judah; Genesis 49:9) and the vine (the nation of the Hebrews), is a lament for the fall of the Judean monarchy.  For Ezekiel, priests properly outrank kings (34:24; 45:7-8), so Kings of Judah are “princes.”  The first cub (v. 4) is King Jehoahaz of Judah (r. 609 B.C.E.).  The second cub may be either King Jehoiakim, Jehoiachin, or Zedekiah of Judah.  The identity of the second cub is vague, but the prediction of the destruction of the monarchy of Judah is clear.

Leaders come and go.  Kingdoms, empires, and nation-states rise and fall.  All that is human is transitory.  But God lasts forever.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 28, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN GERARD, ENGLISH JESUIT PRIEST; AND MARY WARD, FOUNDRESS OF THE INSTITUTE OF THE BLESSED VIRGIN MARY

THE FEAST OF CLARA LOUISE MAASS, U.S. LUTHERAN NURSE AND MARTYR, 1901

THE FEAST OF SAINTS PLUTARCH, MARCELLA, POTANOMINAENA, AND BASILIDES OF ALEXANDRIA, MARTYRS, 202

THE FEAST OF SAINT TERESA MARIA MASTERS, FOUNDRESS OF THE INSTITUTE OF THE SISTERS OF THE HOLY FACE

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM AND JOHN MUNDY, ENGLISH COMPOSERS AND MUSICIANS

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This is post #2550 of BLOGA THEOLOGICA.

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Individual Responsibility Before God   1 comment

Above:  Icon of Ezekiel

Image in the Public Domain

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READING EZEKIEL, PART III

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Ezekiel 3:18-21

Ezekiel 14:12-23

Ezekiel 18:1-32

Ezekiel 33:1-20

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For I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God, inflicting punishment for the ancestors’ wickedness on the children of those who hate me, down to the third and fourth generation; but showing love down to the thousandth generation of those who love me and keep my commandments.

–Exodus 20:5b-6; Deuteronomy 5:9b-10, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

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Maybe not, not withstanding 1 Kings 21:29; Exodus 34:7; Nehemiah 9:17; Numbers 14:18; Psalm 103:9; Joel 2:13; Jonah 4:2; Jeremiah 11:21-23; Jeremiah 15:1; Jeremiah 35:18-19.  To the list of passages arguing against intergenerational reward and punishment I add Jeremiah 31:29-30.  (The Book of Jeremiah contains layers of composition and editing.  Parts of that book contradict each other, as in the cases of intergenerational reward and punishment, and whether the deadline for repentance has passed.)

Sin, responsibility, reward, and punishment, in the Bible, are both collective and individual.  The collective varieties are consistent with mutuality.  Individual varieties exist within the context of mutuality, too.

Intergenerational influences are real.  If you, O reader, know enough about yourself and your ancestors for a few generations, perhaps you can identify intergenerational influences, both positive and negative, in your life.  I can identify some in my life.

For the purpose of this post, I bring together four readings on the same theme.  Three of them predate the Fall of Jerusalem (586 B,B.E.).  Ezekiel 33 postdates the Fall of Jerusalem.

Ezekiel 14:12-23 follows a section of threats against false prophets and diviners, and echoes Leviticus 26.  Certain individuals may be pious, but, if the population is rebellious against God, these holy people will save only themselves.  Divine punishment and reward are individual, we read.

I loved my father, now deceased.  He had his virtues and vices, like all human beings.  He was responsible for his actions.

I am responsible for my actions, not his.

This message of individual responsibility seems to have fallen primarily on deaf ears, despite repetition, within the Book of Ezekiel.

Imagine, O reader, that you were a Jew born an exile in the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  Think about how hearing these words would have resonated with you.  Imagine, perhaps, that this teaching would have given you hope that God would not judge you for what your ancestors had done wrong.  Imagine, maybe, that these words would have encouraged your spiritual journey.

Imagine, O reader, that you were a Jew born in Judea after the end of the Babylonian Exile.  Imagine how you may have welcomed the news that, as you strove to live piously, God would judge you based on yourself, not your ancestors.

I am a Christian.  As one, I read passages about individual responsibility, reward, and punishment through the prism of atonement via Jesus.  The atonement–three theories of which exist in Patristic writings–is the game-changer in my theology regarding the topic of this post.  Nevertheless, I affirm that what I do matters.  The atonement does not give me a license to act as I choose.  I am still morally accountable to God and other human beings.  Faithful response to grace is a constant moral principle in Judaism and Christianity.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 22, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALBAN, FIRST BRITISH MARTYR, CIRCA 209 OR 305

THE FEAST OF DESIDERIUS ERASMUS, DUTCH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, BIBLICAL AND CLASSICAL SCHOLAR, AND CONTROVERSIALIST; SAINT JOHN FISHER, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC CLASSICAL SCHOLAR, BISHOP OF ROCHESTER, CARDINAL, AND MARTYR, 1535; AND SAINT THOMAS MORE, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC CLASSICAL SCHOLAR, JURIST, THEOLOGIAN, CONTROVERSIALIST, AND MARTYR, 1535

THE FEAST OF GERHARD GIESHCEN, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF JAMES ARTHUR MACKINNON, CANADIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR IN THE DOMINICAN REPUBLIC, 1965

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAULINUS OF NOLA, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF NOLA

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The Beginning of the Hasmonean Rebellion   1 comment

Above:  Mattathias and the Apostate, by Gustave Doré

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART XV

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1 Maccabees 2:1-70

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How much is too much to tolerate?  When must one, in good conscience, resist authority?  The First and Second Books of the Maccabees are books about resistance to tyranny and about the political restoration of Israel (Judea).  These are not books that teach submission to all human governmental authority, no matter what.  The heroes include men who killed imperial officials, as well as Jews who ate pork–

death over a ham sandwich,

as a student of mine said years ago.

Mattathias was a Jewish priest zealous for the Law of Moses.  He and his five sons started the Hasmonean Rebellion after the desecration of the Temple in Jerusalem by King Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 167 B.C.E.  Mattathias, having refused an offer to become on the Friends of the King, launched the rebellion.  (Friend of the King was an official position.  Also, there were four ranks of Friends:  Friends (entry-level), Honored Friends, First Friends, and Preferred Friends.)  The sons of Mattathias were:

  1. John Gaddi–“fortunate,” literally;
  2. Simon Thassis–“burning,” literally;
  3. Judas Maccabeus–“designated by Yahweh” or “the hammerer,” literally;
  4. Eleazar Avaran–“awake,” literally; and
  5. Jonathan Apphus–“favorite,” literally.

The rebellion, under Mattathias, was against Hellenism.  Under Judas Maccabeus, the rebellion became a war for independence.

Mattathias died in 166 B.C.E.

The farewell speech in 2:49-70 contains references to the the following parts of the Hebrew Bible:

  1. Genesis 22 (Abraham; see Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 44:19-21, also);
  2. Genesis 39 (Joseph);
  3. Numbers 25 (Phinehas; see Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 45:23-26, also);
  4. Joshua 1 (Joshua; see Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 46:1-10, also); 
  5. Numbers 13 and 14 (Caleb; see Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 46:7-10, also);
  6. 2 Samuel 7 (David; see Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 47:2-12, also);
  7. 1 Kings 17 and 2 Kings 2 (Elijah; see Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 47:25-12, also); 
  8. Daniel 3 (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego); and
  9. Daniel 6 (Daniel).

The point is to remain faithful to God during difficult times.  I support that.  On the other hand, killing some people and forcibly circumcising others is wrong.  If I condemn Hellenists for committing violence, I must also condemn Hasmoneans for doing the same.

The text intends for us, the readers, to contrast the death of Mattathias with the death of Alexander the Great (1:5-6).  We read:

[Alexander’s] generals took over the government, each in his own province, and, when Alexander died, they all assumed royal crowns, and for many years the succession passed to their descendants.  They brought untold miseries on the world.

–1 Maccabees 1:8-9, The Revised English Bible (1989)

The agenda of 1 Maccabees includes the belief that renewal of Jewish traditions followed the death of Mattathias , however.

I have a habit of arguing with scripture, off-and-on.  I may recognize a text as being canonical yet disagree with part of it.  Arguing with God is part of my patrimony, inherited from Judaism.  Sometimes I seek to adore and thank God.  Arguing with God (as in Judaism) contrasts with submitting to God (as in Islam).  Perhaps the combination of my Protestant upbringing and my inherent rebelliousness keeps showing itself.  If so, so be it; I offer no apology in this matter.

As much as I engage in 1 and 2 Maccabees and find them interesting, even canonical–Deuterocanonical, actually–they disturb me.  Violence in the name of God appalls me, regardless of whether an army, a mob, or a lone civilian commits it.  I may recognize a given cause as being just.  I may, objectively, recognize the historical importance of certain violent acts, including those of certain violent acts, including those of rebellious slaves and of John Brown.  I may admit, objectively, that such violence may have been the only feasible option sometimes, given the circumstances oppressors had created or maintained.   Yet, deep down in my soul, I wish I could be a pacifist.

So, the sacred violence in 1 and 2 Maccabees disturbs me.  I understand the distinction between civilians and combatants.  The violence against civilians in 1 and 2 Maccabees really offends me morally.  These two books are not the only places in the Old Testament I read of violence against civilians.  It is present in much of the Hebrew Bible proper, too.  I object to such violence there, also.

Jennifer Wright Knust, a seminary professor and an an ordained minister in the American Baptist Churches USA, wrote Unprotected Texts:  The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire (2011).  She said in an interview on Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) radio that she has detected a disturbing pattern in many of her students.  Knust has said that many of her pupils think they must hold positions they would otherwise regard as morally repugnant.  They believe this, she has explained, because they interpret the Bible as supporting these positions.

As Mark Noll (a historian, a University of Notre Dame professor, and a conservative Presbyterian) has written, the U.S. Civil War was a theological crisis.  The authority of scripture was a major part of proslavery arguments that quoted the Bible, chapter and verse.  The counterargument was, therefore, allegedly heretical.  That argument rested mainly on a few verses–the Golden Rule, mainly.  And the abolitionist argument was morally superior.

I encourage you, O reader, to go all-in on the Golden Rule.  Questions of orthodoxy or heresy be damned.  Just follow the Golden Rule.  Leave the rest to God.  Do not twist the authority of scripture into an obstacle to obeying the Golden Rule.  I do not believe that God will ever condemn any of us for doing to others as would have them to do to us.

I offer one other thought from this chapter.  Read verses 29-38, O reader.  Notice that even those zealous for keeping the Law of Moses fought a battle on the Sabbath, instead of resting on the day of rest.  Know that, if they had rested, they may have lost the battle.  Know, also, that relativizing commandments within the Law of Moses was a Jewish practice.  (Remember that, so not to stereotype Judaism, as in stories in which Jesus healed on the Sabbath then faced criticism for having done so.)  Ideals clash with reality sometimes.

To return to Knust’s point, one need not believe something one would otherwise consider repugnant.  One need not do so, even if one interprets the Bible to support that repugnant belief.  The recognition of the reality on the ground takes one out of the realm of the theoretical and into the realm of the practical.  May we–you, O reader, and I–properly balance the moral demands (real or imagined) of the theoretical with those (also real or imagined) of the practical.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 9, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF DANNY THOMAS, U.S. ROMAN CATHOLIC ENTERTAINER AND HUMANITARIAN; FOUNDER OF SAINT JUDE’S CHILDREN’S RESEARCH HOSPITAL

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALTO TO ALTOMUNSTER, ROMAN CATHOLIC HERMIT

THE FEAST OF BRUCE M. METZGER, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, BIBLICAL SCHOLAR, AND BIBLICAL TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF JOHN TIETJEN, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, ECUMENIST, AND BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT PORFIRIO, MARTYR, 203

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Curses and Punishments   1 comment

Above:  Icon of Jesus Cursing the Fig Tree

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 14:1-27 or Malachi 1:1; 2:1-10

Psalm 73:12, 15-23

Hebrews 12:1-9, 22-24, 28-29

Mark 11:12-33

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What is the chief and highest end of man?

Man’s chief and highest end is to glorify God, and fully to enjoy him forever.

–The Westminster Larger Catechism, quoted in Presbyterian Church (U.S.A.), The Book of Confessions (2007), 195

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We read of the opposite behavior in today’s readings, with pious material in Psalm 73, if one consults the complete text.  Priests are supposed to lead people to God.  A fig tree is supposed to show evidence of figs in development outside of fig season.  People are supposed to trust God, especially after witnessing dramatic, mighty divine deeds and manifestations.

The two-part story of the cursed fig tree bookends the Temple Incident, as scholars of the New Testament like to call the Cleansing of the Temple.  The literary-theological effect of this arrangement of material is to comment on corruption at the Temple just a few days prior to the crucifixion of Jesus.  One does well to apply the condemnation to corruption anywhere.

Perhaps we usually think of punishment as something we do not want.  This makes sense.  In legal systems, for example, probation, fines, and incarceration are forms of punishment.  Parents sometimes punish children by grounding them.  However, the punishment of which we read in Numbers 14 (comprehension of which depends on having read Chapter 13) was to give the the fearful, faithless people what they wanted–never to enter the Promised Land.  As an old saying tells us, we ought to be careful what we wish for because we may get it.

What do we really want and what do we really need?  May God grant us what we really need.  May we be grateful for it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 27, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF BROOKE FOSS WESTCOTT, ANGLICAN SCHOLAR, BIBLE TRANSLATOR, AND BISHOP OF DURHAM; AND FENTON JOHN ANTHONY HORT, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN HENRY BATEMAN, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOHAN NORDAHL BRUN, NORWEGIAN LUTHERAN BISHOP, AUTHOR, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM REED HUNTINGTON, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND RENEWER OF THE CHURCH; AND HIS GRANDSON, WILLIAM REED HUNTINGTON, U.S. ARCHITECT AND QUAKER PEACE ACTIVIST

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2019/07/27/devotion-for-proper-27-year-b-humes/

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The Sins of the Fathers, Part II   1 comment

Above:  Effects of Acid Rain on a Forest in the Czech Republic, 2006

Photographer = Lovecz

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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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Exodus 34:1-10 or 1 Kings 22:29-43

Psalm 62:1-8, 11-12

Hebrews 5:12-6:12

Mark 9:30-37

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The key mark of discipleship is servanthood.

St. Gregory of Nyssa (335-394)

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Some themes recur in the readings for this week:

  1. God is faithful.
  2. Trust in God.
  3. Do not commit apostasy.
  4. People reap what they sow.
  5. Christ is the exemplar of the type of service that defines greatness.

Exodus 34:7 requires unpacking.  The principle that God punishes or forgives members of subsequent generations based on the sins of an ancestor exists also in 1 Kings 21:29, Nehemiah 9:17, Deuteronomy 5:9, Numbers 14:18, Psalm 103:8, Joel 2:13, and Jonah 4:2.  Yet we read the opposite view–individual moral responsibility–in Ezekiel 18 and Jeremiah 31:29-30.  The Bible contradicts itself sometimes.

The best explanation for the opinion we read in Exodus 34:7 comes from Professor Richard Elliot Friedman:  effects of one’s actions are apparent generations later.  I recognize ways in which actions of two of my paternal great-grandfathers influence me indirectly.  This is one example of something, that, from a certain point of view, looks like intergenerational punishment and reward by God.

The decisions of others influence us.  Some of them even restrict our options.  We may suffer because of the decisions of those who have preceded us; we may suffer because of their sins.  This is the way of the world.  Yet we are morally responsible for ourselves and each other, not those who have died.  No, they are responsible for their sins, just as we are responsible for ours.

May we–individually and collectively–refrain from visiting the consequences of our sins on those who will succeed us.  We owe them that much, do we not?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 25, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JAMES BAR-ZEBEDEE, APOSTLE AND MARTYR

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2019/07/25/devotion-for-proper-22-year-b-humes/

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The Authority of Jesus, Part II   Leave a comment

Above:  The Calling of Matthew, by Vittore Capaccio

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year 2, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Startle us, O God, with thy truth, and open our minds to thy Spirit,

that this day we may receive thee humbly and find hope fulfilled in Christ Jesus our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 124

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Numbers 14:11-24

Acts 4:1-12

Matthew 9:9-17

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Jesus kept some disreputable company.  He dined openly with people such as prostitutes and tax collectors, collaborators who enriched themselves as they collected taxes for the Roman Empire.  The response of the Pharisees in Matthew 9:10-14 was similar to that one might imagine respectable Christians upon witnessing a suspect religious leader doing the  same.  Do we not those who lie down with dogs rise with fleas?

Authority was one of the causes of conflict between Jesus then early Christian leaders on one hand and established religious leaders on the other hand.  Where did Jesus and his Apostles acquire their credentials?

Lesslie Newbigin (1909-1998), a great missionary, had a negative opinion of much of Christian apologetics.  He objected to portraying the Gospel as being true because it agreed with an outside standard.  The only proper authority for the truth of the Gospel of Jesus, Newbigin wrote, is Jesus.  To argue for the truth (reliability, literally) of the Gospel based on an outside authority is to depict that authority as being more authoritative than the Gospel, Newbigin insisted.

Absence of faith arises not only in the stubborn hearts of people who have witnessed mighty, dramatic deeds, but also in the minds of the conventionally devout, those piously upholding their received traditions and wisdom.  Absence of faith also arises in the minds of those attached to their power and prestige.

Read the stories again, O reader.  Then ask yourself,

Which of these characters am I like?

Then take the result to Jesus.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 17, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM WHITE, PRESIDING BISHOP OF THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH

THE FEAST OF THE CARMELIT MARTYRS OF COMPIÈGNE, 1794

THE FEAST OF BENNETT J. SIMS, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF ATLANTA

THE FEAST OF NERSES LAMPRONATS, ARMENIAN APOSTOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF TARSUS

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Posted July 17, 2019 by neatnik2009 in Acts of the Apostles 4, Matthew 9, Numbers 14

Tagged with

To Glorify and Enjoy God I   1 comment

St. John the Baptist Preaching

Above:  St. John the Baptist Preaching, by Mattia Preti

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 14:1-25

Psalm 144

John 3:22-38

Hebrews 5:11-6:20

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Happy are the people to whom such blessings falls;

happy are the people whose God is the LORD.

–Psalm 144:15, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

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Timothy Matthew Slemmons, in creating his proposed Year D, has grouped stories of rebellion against God and cautions against opposing God together in Advent.  It is a useful tactic, for, as much as one might know something, reminders prove helpful.

In Hebrews we read of the reality of apostasy (falling away from God) and the imperative of not doing so.  It is a passage with which those whose theology precludes the possibility of apostasy must contend.  I, as one raised a United Methodist and, as of a few years ago, converted to affirming Single Predestination, know much about the theology of free will in relation to salvation.  On a lighter note, I also recall an old joke about Methodists:  Not only do they believe in falling from grace, but they practice it often.  (If one cannot be religious and have a well-developed sense of humor, one has a major problem.)  Although I like Methodism in general (more so than certain regional variations of it), I cannot be intellectually honest and return to it, given Methodist theology regarding the denial of Single Predestination.

As Hebrews 6:19-20 tells us, the faithfulness of God is the anchor of our souls, and Jesus is a forerunner on our behalf.  In John 3:22-38 we read of his forerunner, St. John the Baptist, who pointed to Jesus, not to himself.  I have no doubt that

He must grow greater; I must become less.

–John 3:30, The Revised English Bible (1989),

words attributed to St. John the Baptist, are not historical.  Neither do I doubt their theological truth.  St. John the Baptist probably said something to the effect of that sentence, I argue.  I also insist that those words apply to all of us in the human race.  Jesus must grow greater; each of us must become less.  To act according to the ethos of glorifying oneself might lead to short-term gain, but it also leads to negative consequences for oneself in the long term and for others in the short, medium, and long terms.

The call of God entails the spiritual vocation of humility, or, in simple terms, of being down to earth.  The highest and chief end of man, the Westminster Catechisms teach us correctly, is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever.  To arrive at that point one must trust in and follow God, whom we ought not to forget or neglect at any time, but especially in December, in the immediate temporal proximity of the celebration of the birth of Jesus.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 22, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JACK LAYTON, CANADIAN ACTIVIST AND FEDERAL LEADER OF THE NEW DEMOCRATIC PARTY

THE FEAST OF JOHN DRYDEN, ENGLISH PURITAN THEN ANGLICAN THEN ROMAN CATHOLIC POET, PLAYWRIGHT, AND TRANSLATOR

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2016/08/22/devotion-for-the-fourth-sunday-of-advent-year-d/

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The Extravagance of God and the Irrepressible Kingdom of God   1 comment

Garlic Mustard Plant Invasion

Above:  Garlic Mustard Plant Invasion

Photographer = Steve Hillebrand, United States Fish and Wildlife Service

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Eternal God, your kingdom has broken into our troubled world

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

Help us to hear your word and obey it,

and bring your saving love to fruition in our lives,

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

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

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 28

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The Assigned Readings:

Numbers 13:17-27

Psalm 39

Luke 13:18-21

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Numbers 13:17-27 and Luke 13:18-21 speak of the extravagant generosity of God.

Canaan, the Promised Land, is the bountiful territory overflowing with milk and honey in Numbers 13.  One finds similarly wonderful descriptions of the promise of the Jewish homeland after God has ended the Babylonian Exile later in the Hebrew Scriptures.  Those were dashed hopes, as the narrative of the Old Testament indicates, but the hope for a better future free from deprivation and foreign occupation continues to inspire people living in difficult circumstances.

Unfortunately, the ubiquitous slave mentality and unreasoning fear of the Canaanites led many Israelites to oppose entering Canaan.  Many, according to Numbers 14:3, regretted ever having left Egypt, where they were slaves but at least the leftovers were nice.  God punished the generation which had left Egypt, the Book of Numbers tells us, by granting them their wish not to enter Canaan.  At least God was merciful enough to refrain from striking them dead or sending them back to Egypt.

The generosity–grace–of God–demands a faithful response.  What will we do with grace?  Will we even accept it and its accompanying responsibilities?  Human life is transient, as the author of Psalm 39 understood well, but it does offer many opportunities to function as an agent of God to others.

Cedar of Lebanon

Above:  A Cedar of Lebanon, 1898

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-matpc-06183

Luke 13:18-21 provides two brief parables illustrating the irrepressible nature of the Kingdom of God.  In the first parable (verses 18 and 19) the Kingdom of God is like a tiny mustard seed, the small beginning of a large, if not noble, mustard plant–a large shrub, really.  A mustard plant, which can grow to be as large as twelve feet tall, offers shelter to a variety of birds.  Implicit in the Lukan version of the parable is that Gentiles are welcome in the Kingdom of God.  The parable shocks by not invoking the image of a mighty, impressive cedar of Lebanon.  Such imagery would indicate a mature plant.  The imagery of a mustard plant, however, promises continued growth.  The Kingdom of God is present among us, but not fully; there is more to come.

Then again [Jesus] said,

“What can I say the kingdom of God is like?  It is like the yeast which a woman took and covered up in three measures of flour until the whole had risen.”

–Luke 13:20-21, J. B. Phillips, The New Testament in Modern English, Revised Edition (1972)

The second parable is that of yeast which a woman hides in three measures (fifty pounds) of flour.  Most contemporary translations I consulted render a certain Greek word as “mixed,” but the proper meaning is “hid.”  The Revised Standard Version (1946, 1952, and 1971), the Revised Standard Version–Catholic Edition (1965), the Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition (2002), and the New American Standard Bible (1971 and 1995) render that word properly as “hid.”  The 1958 and 1972 editions of The New Testament in Modern English (J. B. Phillips) use “covered up,” which makes the same point.  The woman in the parable seeks to conceal the yeast by hiding it in flour, but the yeast permeates the flour instead.  The parable contains the element of hyperbole, for baking 50 pounds of flour, enough to feed 150 people, at one time, is perhaps improbable.  The hyperbole points to the extravagance of God and the irrepressible nature of the Kingdom of God.

Nobody among mortals can conceal or destroy the Kingdom of God.  That lesson comforts me.  Secularization of society and religious persecution are powerless to conceal or destroy the Kingdom of God, which is like yeast pervading the whole.  The blood of the martyrs waters the church, which has, in certain times and at certain places, gone underground yet remained alive.  The lesson here is about what God does, often despite what certain people do.  God is sovereign.  We can accept or reject that reality, but we can never change it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 19, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN HERMANN SCHEIN, GERMAN LUTHERAN COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF F. BLAND TUCKER, EPISCOPAL PRIEST

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Adapted from this post:

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

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Fidelity and Spiritual Community   1 comment

Return of the Spies from the Land of Promise--Gustave Dore

Above:  Return of the Spies from the Land of Promise, by Gustave Dore

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

God of the covenant, in the mystery of the cross

you promise everlasting life to the world.

Gather all peoples into your arms, and shelter us with your mercy,

that we may rejoice in the life we share in your Son,

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:

Numbers 14:10b-24

Psalm 105:1-15 [16-41] 42

1 Corinthians 10:1-13

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Remember the marvels God has done,

the wonders and the judgments of God’s mouth,

O offspring of Abraham, God’s servant,

 children of Jacob, God’s chosen.

–Psalm 105:5-6, Book of Common Worship (1993)

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Yet the generation of Israelites who left Egypt as free people retained a slave mentality.  Members of that generation witnessed many astonishing acts of God on their behalf yet reacted fearfully when they learned that they might have to act faithfully, to do something, albeit with divine assistance.  They feared to enter Canaan, so their desire not to go there became their punishment from God.

As a cliché tells us, be careful what you wish for; you might get it.

St. Paul the Apostle, engaging in the tradition of interpreting biblical stories metaphorically, used accounts from the Torah to encourage Christians at Corinth to live faithfully, to refrain from sin as much as possible, and to cease from grumbling.  The Apostle, convinced that the end of evil times was near, wrote:

If you think you are standing firm, take care, or you may fall.  So far you have faced no trial beyond human endurance; God keeps faith and will not let you be tested beyond your powers, but when the test comes he will at the same time provide a way out and so enable you to endure.

–1 Corinthians 10:12-13, The Revised English Bible (1989)

That passage contains two major points.  First, people ought to avoid spiritual complacency.  That is always excellent counsel.  Second, “you,” as in

So far you have faced no trial beyond human endurance…,

is plural.  The pericope from 1 Corinthians 10 addresses a congregation, not an individual.  The plural nature of “you” in this passage is clear in the Nouvelle Version Segond Revisee (1978), in which the pronoun is the plural vous, not the singular tu.

The walk of faith is one a person takes as part of a spiritual community, not as a rugged individualist.  One depends on the other members of the spiritual community, to whom and for whom they one is responsible, and on God, on whom one depends entirely.  One’s strength is in God and spiritual community, not in oneself.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 17, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN CHRISTIAN TILL, U.S. MORAVIAN ORGANIST, COMPOSER, AND PIANO BUILDER; AND HIS SON, JACOB CHRISTIAN TILL, U.S. MORAVIAN PIANO BUILDER

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2015/11/17/devotion-for-tuesday-after-the-second-sunday-in-lent-year-c-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Posted November 17, 2015 by neatnik2009 in 1 Corinthians 10, Numbers 14, Psalm 105

Tagged with ,

Rest in God   1 comment

Return of the Spies from the Land of Promise Gustave Dore

Above:  Return of the Spies from the Land of Promise, by Gustave Dore

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God, increase in us your gift of faith,

that, forsaking what lies behind and reaching out to what lies ahead,

we may follow the way of your commandments

and receive the crown of everlasting joy,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 50

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The Assigned Readings:

Deuteronomy 5:1-21 (Thursday)

Deuteronomy 5:22-33 (Friday)

Psalm 90:12-17 (Both Days)

Hebrews 3:17-19 (Thursday)

Hebrews 4:1-11 (Friday)

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FYI:  Those of you who compare and contrast versification in translations of the Bible might notice that Deuteronomy 5:1-30 in Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox versions equals 5:1-33 in Protestant translations.

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So teach us to number our days

that we may apply our hearts to wisdom.

–Psalm 90:12, The Book of Common Prayer (2004)

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Trust and obedience to God undergird the readings for these two days.

Deuteronomy 5, which contains the Ten Commandments, concludes with these words:

Be careful, then, to do as the LORD your God has commanded you.  Do not turn aside to the right or to the left:  follow only the path that the LORD your God has enjoined upon you, so that you may thrive and that it may go well with you and that you may long endure in the land you are to possess.

–Verses 29-30, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

One had to arrive first, however.  In Numbers 14, after spies had returned from their mission to Canaan, fear and faithlessness spread through the population.

I the LORD have spoken:  Thus will I do to all that wicked band that has banded together against Me:  in this very wilderness they shall die to the last man.

–Numbers 14:35, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The author of the Letter to the Hebrews, who assumed that David had written Psalm 95, referred to that text:

Forty years I was provoked by that generation;

I thought, “They are a senseless people;

they would not know my ways.”

Concerning them I swore in anger,

“They shall never come to my resting-place!”

–Verses 10-11, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The Promised Land is the resting-place in Psalm 95, as is one meaning of the Greek word katapausis in the readings from Hebrews.  There are two words for “rest” in them; the other refers to sabbath rest.  Katapausis has two other meanings in the Letter to the Hebrews:

  1. The rest God took after the sixth day of creation; this definition has eschatological overtones; and
  2. The peace of God.

The latter is the ultimate meaning of katapausis in the readings from Hebrews.  Entrance into the peace of God requires trust and obedience.

But what does that mean in practical terms?  Many voices compete to answer that question.  Many of them horrify me.  Those, for example, who argue that fidelity to God requires mutilating offenders and killing heretics and unbelievers appall me.  (Some of those sources quote the Bible word-for-word while ignoring inconvenient passages.)  Those who justify their violence by placing a false stamp of divine approval on it offend me.  I do not pretend to know the mind of God, for I affirm the mystery of the divine.  Yet I state clearly that one can, by considering the example of Jesus, learn much about the requirements for being a Christian.  Loving one’s neighbors as one loves oneself (presuming, of course, that one loves oneself) is part of obeying God, I affirm.

The author of Hebrews referred to Joshua, son of Nun, in 4:8.  May we who call ourselves Christians follow our Joshua–Jesus–into the peace of God.  May we lay aside the fear which leads to disobedience to and lack of trust in God.  May we, by grace, come into that divine rest and lead others to it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 3, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HENRY THOMAS SMART, ENGLISH ORGANIST AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF ELIZABETH FERRARD, ANGLICAN DEACONESS

THE FEAST OF IMMANUEL NITSCHMANN, GERMAN-AMERICAN MORAVIAN MINISTER AND MUSICIAN; HIS BROTHER-IN-LAW, JACOB VAN VLECK, U.S. MORAVIAN MORAVIAN BISHOP, MUSICIAN, COMPOSER, AND EDUCATOR; HIS SON, WILLIAM HENRY VAN VLECK, U.S. MORAVIAN BISHOP; HIS BROTHER, CARL ANTON VAN VLECK, U.S. MORAVIAN MINISTER, MUSICIAN, COMPOSER, AND EDUCATOR; HIS DAUGHTER, LISETTE (LIZETTA) MARIA VAN VLECK MEINUNG; AND HER SISTER, AMELIA ADELAIDE VAN VLECK, U.S. MORAVIAN COMPOSER AND EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF JOHN CENNICK, BRITISH MORAVIAN EVANGELIST AND HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2015/07/03/devotion-for-thursday-and-friday-before-proper-23-year-b-elca-daily-lectionary/

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