Archive for the ‘Babylonian Exile’ Tag

Psalms 88 and 89: Unconventional Faith   Leave a comment

READING THE BOOK OF PSALMS

PART LXI

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Psalms 88 and 89

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The superscriptions of Psalms 88 and 89 name figures obscure to people in 2023.  The superscription of Psalm 88 refers to Heman the Ezrahite.  The superscription of Psalm 89 refers to Ethan the Ezrahite.  The superscriptions are dubious, as evidence indicates.  They also use the term maskil, which is musical.  Psalm 88 is a maskil of Heman, just as Psalm 89 is a maskil of Ethan.  A maskil is:

…a psalm accompanied by some special kind of music, or sung at a special (annual) festival.

The Interpreter’s Dictionary of the Bible:  An Illustrated Encyclopedia, Vol. 3, K-Q (1962), 295

Who were Heman and Ethan?

1 Chronicles 2:6 lists Heman and Ethan as the sons of Zerah, a son of Judah and Tamar (see Genesis 38:30).

An alternative theory of identifying Heman cites 1 Chronicles 25:5-6, which describes him as a seer and one of the cultic musicians during the reign of King David.  1 Chronicles 25:1-2 mentions that Heman and company

prophesied to the accompaniment of lyres, harps, and cymbals.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

We read that this Heman sired fourteen sons and three daughters, all of whom

were under the charge of their father for the singing in the House of the LORD, to the accompaniment of cymbals, harps, and lyres, for the service of the House of the LORD by order of the king.

–Verse 6, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

Whether the Heman of 1 Chronicles 25 is the Heman of Psalm 88 is uncertain.  “Ezrahite” may derive from “Zerah.”  Yet “Ezrahite can also mean “native born.”  And, if the Heman of 1 Chronicles 25 is the Heman of Psalm 88, who is the Ethan of Psalm 89?  If the Heman and Ethan of 1 Chronicles 2 are the Heman and Ethan of Psalms 88 and 89, respectively, centuries separate them from the time of King David, as well as the Babylonian Exile.

Another obscure detail comes from the superscription of Psalm 88:

…on mahalath leannoth.

A note in The Jewish Study Bible, Second Edition (2014) speculates that mahalath leannoth may be akin to mahalah, which means “illness.”  So, mahalath leannoth may indicate

a sad melody or a melody for the sick.

Or it may derive from halil, which means “flute.”

The interpretation of mahalath leannoth as a sad melody or a melody for the sick fits the text of Psalm 88.  The psalmist, mortally ill, complains to God.  This may simply be the lament or a mortally ill person or it may symbolize national catastrophe–maybe the Babylonian Exile, too.  The psalm concludes without divine rescue.  Psalm 88 indicates a sense of rejection by God:

Your fury overwhelms me;

Your terrors destroy me.

–Verse 17, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

Walter Brueggemann, in The Message of the Psalms:  A Theological Commentary (1984), describes Psalm 88 as

an embarrassment to conventional faith

and likens the psalmist’s plight to that of Job.  I prefer the divine silence in Psalm 88 to the two big speeches of God in the Book of Job and to the tacked-on happy ending of that book.  The divine silence feels honest.

Brueggemann continues:

But Israel must also deal with Yahweh in the silence, in God’s blank absence as in the saving presence.  Israel has no choice but to speak to this one, or to cease to be Israel.  In this painful, unresolved speech, Israel is simply engaged in being Israel.  To be Israel means to address God, even in God’s unresponsive absence.

–81

Psalm 89 dates to following the Fall of Jerusalem (587/586 B.C.E.) and prays for the restoration of the Davidic Dynasty.  Given the absence of the Temple in Psalm 89, we have a range–587/586 to 516 B.C.E.–the range between the destruction of the First Temple and the dedication of the Second Temple.  Psalm 89 also concludes in unresolved tension:  Where is the fulfillment of God’s covenant?

O LORD, where is Your steadfast love of old

which You swore to David in your faithfulness?

–Verse 50, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

Brueggemann’s commentary on the Book of Psalms does not cover all the entries of the Hebrew Psalter; it contains no analysis of Psalm 89, for example.  Nevertheless, I feel comfortable writing that he would classify Psalm 89 with Psalm 88 as

an embarrassment to conventional faith.

Besides, history tells us that the Davidic Dynasty never returned to power.

I favor unconventional faith that turns to the (seemingly) absent yet definitely silent God and speaks a lament.  This faith refuses to let go of God, even in the depth of despair.  When Israel makes such a lament, it is being Israel.  When a human being makes such a lament, that person acknowledges having nowhere else to turn.  The comparison to the Book of Job is apt, with one exception:  Psalm 89 acknowledges sins and punishment for them.  Nevertheless, Psalms 88 and 89 call to mind a passage from the Book of Job, in which the titular character calls upon God, who has afflicted him, to act as his kinsman-redeemer.  Job understands that he has nobody else to whom to turn for defense:

But I know that my redeemer lives,

and in the end he will stand up on the earth,

and after they flay my skin,

from my flesh I shall behold God.

–Job 19:25-26, Robert Alter

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 4, 2023 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT CORNELIUS THE CENTURION

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Psalms 85 and 86: Communal Faith   Leave a comment

READING THE BOOK OF PSALMS

PART LIX

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Psalms 85 and 86

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Psalm 85 flows from a deep spring of communal ennui from either the Babylonian Exile or the period immediately following it.  Either timeframe of origin is plausible.  The text assumes that divine forgiveness of collective sins (understood as the main cause of the Babylonian Exile in Deuteronomistic theology) is requisite for the divine restoration of the Jewish people and their ancestral homeland.

Truth must precede reconciliation.  Remorse for sins must precede amendment of life.  These statements apply in both communal and individual cases.

Psalm 86 follows a familiar formula for a personal lament, which may reflect communal, postexilic concerns.  An observant reader of the Book of Psalms may identify certain motifs readily,  These include a plea for deliverance, an expression of confidence in divine mercy, an assertion of divine sovereignty, and a sense that God is not listening.  Why else would the psalmists try to attract divine attention?

Walter Brueggemann notes the “unusual nature of uses of the second person pronouns” in Psalm 86.  The scholar concludes:

This repeated use makes an appeal that presents the situation of trouble as squarely Yahweh’s problem…. This psalm is concerned for God’s will or intentionality, and so it engages in persuasion.

The Message of the Psalms:  A Theological Commentary (1984), 62

The interpretation of Psalm 86 as reflecting communal concerns in the wake of the Babylonian Exile makes sense to me, given the content of Third Isaiah (Isaiah 24-27 and 56-66), as well as the Books of Ezra and Nehemiah.  This is hardly a unanimous scholarly opinion.  For example, Father Mitchell J. Dahood, S.J.’s notes indicate that he thought Psalm 86 was a prayer for an Israelite king.  And other exegetes interpret the text as an individual lament, but not a lament of a monarch.  The citing of Exodus 32-34 (in which God forgave a disobedient people) in Psalm 86 bolsters the communal interpretation.

Imagine the situation, O reader; try a thought experiment.  Imagine being a Jewish exile at the end of the Babylonian Exile.  Perhaps you are elderly and recall your homeland from half a century prior.  Or maybe you, born in the Chaldean Empire, have no memories of the ancestral homeland.  Imagine feeling excited about the prospect of ceasing to live in exile.  You have high hopes of what that land will be like.  Imagine the disappointment you felt upon settling in that homeland and not finding the verdant paradise prophets had predicted.  Imagine the frustration over having to struggle with politics over issues as basic as rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem as well as the Temple.  Imagine the communal ennui.

Individual faith is an appropriate focus much of the time.  Indeed, this is a prominent topic in the Bible.  So is communal faith, a topic to which my individualistic culture gives short shrift.  The faith of a people or of a congregation is a matter entire books of the Bible address.

Imagine the collective malaise in the wake of the Babylonian Exile.  Then notice that, despite concerns that God may not be listening, Psalm 86 indicates hope that God will listen then act consistent with hesed–steadfast love.

The longer I live, the less confident I become regarding alleged certainties I learned in childhood.  This is fine; an adult should have a mature faith, not an immature one.  The longer I live, the more comfortable I become with uncertainty.  Trusting in God can be difficult, even when God does not seem to be remote.  Yet this move is essential; the quest for certainty is idolatrous when God requires faith.

Now, O reader, apply these themes to communal faith.  Perhaps a congregation has been struggling faithfully for years or decades.  Maybe hardships have been a group’s reality for decades or centuries.  God may have seemed remote for a long time.  Why has God not delivered these groups?  And to whom can these groups turn for help?

Faithfulness to God–communal or individual–does not guarantee success as “the world” measures it.  Consider the case of St. Gregory Thaumaturgus (213-268) and his flock, O reader.

St. Gregory Thaumaturgus, whom Origen had converted to Christianity, was a lawyer in Neocaesarea, Pontus, Asia Minor, Roman Empire (now Turkey).  The church in Neocaesarea consisted of seventeen people when it elected him Bishop of Neocaesarea.  St. Gregory served dutifully for decades, during which he shephereded his flock through plagues, natural disasters, the Gothic invasion, and the Decian Persecution.  When St. Gregory died, his flock still numbered seventeen.

May we, as groups, live into our best possible character in God.  May we discern what God calls us to do and to be.  May we disregard prejudices which we may have learned yet which violate the Golden Rule.  And may we always trust in God, even when doing so is difficult.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 2, 2023 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE PRESENTATION OF JESUS IN THE TEMPLE

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Psalms 65, 66, and 67: Blessed Silence   Leave a comment

READING THE BOOK OF PSALMS

PART XLVIII

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Psalms 65, 66, and 67

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Psalms 65, 66, and 67 are similar to each other; they speak of the universal acknowledgment of God.  Furthermore, Psalm 67 resembles Psalm 65 and continues the theme of blessing present at the conclusion of Psalm 66.  The clustering of these psalms is logical.

Sometimes I compare translations and wonder what is happening in the Hebrew text.  Consider Psalm 65:2 (Jewish versification), O reader.  Mitchell J. Dahood’s version reads:

Praise to you in the mighty castle,

O God in Zion.

And vows shall be paid to you….

The “mighty castle” is Heaven, according to Dahood’s germane note.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures offers:

Praise befits You in Zion, O God;

vows are paid to You….

“Zion” refers to the Temple, not Heaven.

Robert Alter’s version reads:

To You silence is praise, O God, in Zion,

and to You a vow will be paid.

Dahood’s “mighty castle” has become “silence.”  Alter’s germane note cites linguistic reasons for this translation choice and argues that the verse teaches that divine greatness exceeds that which human words can express.  Ironically, the psalmist does not remain silent, as Psalm 65 attests.

Psalms 65 and 66, which feature the Temple (First or Second?) prominently, speak of the blessings and universality of God.  The greatness of God is evident in nature, we read.  People across the world stand in awe of God and signs of God’s works.  Divine glory is also evident in victory.  And God, having tested the Hebrews, has never abandoned them, we read in Psalm 66.

Exegetes disagree whether the origin of Psalm 66 was before or after the Babylonian Exile.  Either one seems probable.  I suggest a plausible scenario:  the psalm is pre-exilic yet the version we have is the edited, final form after the Babylonian Exile.  We cannot be sure which explanation is correct.

Psalm 67, picking up where Psalm 66 terminates, predicts that people across the known world will praise God or says that they do–depending on translation.  God rules equitably, we read.  Also, the blessings of God are evident in the fertile earth.

Words have their place.  They can be useful and necessary.  Psalms 65, 66, and 67 use many words for noble and pious purposes.  However, I return to Robert Alter’s translation of Psalm 65:2:

To You silence is praise, O God, in Zion,

and to You a vow will be paid.

Has anything ever moved you, O reader, to reverent silence?  I have known that spiritual state.

My culture fears silence.  I seldom enter a store or a restaurant that does not have music playing in it.  When I visit some homes, the din of the television distracts me.  My lifestyle entails much silence–no radio, television, et cetera–blaring for hours at a time.  I do consume audio and visual media, but at a reduced rate.  Distracting sounds get in the way of my thinking and listening.

Silence can be more than praise; it can enable listening to God.  Contemplative prayer is a legitimate form of prayer.  My experience tells me that the silence I need to achieve primarily inside my mind.  That is more difficult to gain and maintain than external silence.  When we can turn off all the noise–both external and internal–and intentionally be in God’s presence–we have blessed silence.

I am halfway there most of the time.

May we all, by grace, have and embrace utter silence before God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 22, 2023 COMMON ERA

THE THIRD SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF JOHN JULIAN, ANGLICAN PRIEST, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMNOLOGIST

THE FEAST OF ALEXANDER MEN, RUSSIAN ORTHODOX PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1990

THE FEAST OF BENJAMIN LAY, AMERICAN QUAKER ABOLTIONIST

THE FEAST OF LADISLAO BATTHÁNY-STRATTMANN, AUSTRO-HUNGARIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PHYSICIAN AND PHILANTHROPIST

THE FEAST OF SAINT VINCENT PALLOTTI, FOUNDER OF THE SOCIETY FOR THE CATHOLIC APOSTOLATE, THE UNION OF CATHOLIC APOSTOLATE, AND THE SISTERS OF THE CATHOLIC APOSTOLATE

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Psalms 61 and 62: Refuge and Responsibility   Leave a comment

READING THE BOOK OF PSALMS

PART XLV

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Psalms 61 and 62

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Psalms 61 and 62 are similar yet different from each other.

The first half of Psalm 61 is an individual lament addressed to God.  The text affirms divine status as a refuge “when my heart is faint.”  God is, poetically, an impregnable fortress during times when one’s life is under threat from enemies.

The second half of Psalm 61 is a prayer for the king, perceived as being closer to God than the commoners were.  Perhaps the second half of Psalm 61 interprets the foes in the first half with the enemies of the kingdom, as if the psalmist feels threatened by national foes.  Alternatively, we have a composite psalm.

Psalm 62 expresses trust in God and addresses both the community and the psalmist himself.  As in previous psalms, violence functions as a metaphor for slander.  Yet God is a refuge for the faithful and falsely accused.

So far, we are in familiar territory in the Book of Psalms.  Most comments I could make would be extremely repetitive.

Psalm 62 concludes on the affirmation that God repays people according to their deeds.  This is consistent with Ezekiel 3:16-21; 14:12-23; 18:1-32; and 33:1-20, in the context of the Babylonian Exile.  Yet intergenerational reward and punishment is the position in Exodus 20:5-6.  I make no attempt to harmonize the two positions or to ignore the discrepancy within canon.  I also agree with Ezekiel and Psalm 62, given the caveat of forgiveness of sins.

Personal integrity is a recurring theme in the Book of Psalms.  Some texts address how to maintain it.  Other psalms give voice to victims of slander and emphasize innocence.  So, in this context of individual responsibility before God, reward or punishment according to one’s deeds fits theologically.  Lest one lapse into the excesses of Western, rugged individualism, though, individual responsibility coexists with collective responsibility in the Bible.  May you, O reader, consider that, too.  To ignore or to minimize one form of responsibility before God is to commit an error.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 19, 2023 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SARGENT SHRIVER AND HIS WIFE, EUNICE KENNEDY SHRIVER, HUMANITARIANS

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALESSANDRO VALIGNANO, ITALIAN JESUIT MISSIONARY IN THE FAR EAST

THE FEAST OF CHARLES WINFRED DOUGLAS, EPISCOPAL PRIEST, LITURGIST, MUSICOLOGIST, LINGUIST, POET, HYMN TRANSLATOR, AND ARRANGER

THE FEAST OF HENRY TWELL, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

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Psalms 57, 60, 108, and 142: Dependence Upon God   Leave a comment

READING THE BOOK OF PSALMS

PART XLIII

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Psalms 57, 60, 108, and 142

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Psalms 57, 60, 108, and 142 are similar to each other.

The superscription of Psalm 57 links the text to 1 Samuel 24 and 26, when David fled into a cave while on the run from King Saul.  This superscription is dubious, for the psalm refers to more than one enemy–“man-eating lions,” poetically.  The text affirms that God is more powerful than those foes.  Therefore, the psalmist sings hymns to God while surrounded by violent enemies.

The superscription of Psalm 60 links the text to 2 Samuel 8:3-8 and 10:6-18, when David

fought with Aram-Naharaim and Aram-Zobah, and Joab returned and defeated Edom–[an army] of twelve thousand men–in the Valley of Salt.

Psalm 60, following the dubious superscription, claims that God has rejected the people because of their habitual, unrepentant transgression of the moral code in the Law of Moses.  Toward the end of the psalm, the author complains that God is not marching with the army–whether Judean or Israelite–into battles.  This context belies the tacked-on superscription.

Psalm 108 replicates portions of Psalms 57 and 60.  Sources tell me that, in antiquity, copying and pasting like this was an accepted practice.  Psalm 108 merges an individual supplication and a national lament.  Given the triumphant tone of 57 and the downcast plea in Psalm 60, Psalm 108 gives me theological whiplash.  When I read that this compositing occurred after the Babylonian Exile, I conclude that this explanation makes sense, given the communal mixed emotions of that period.  Regardless of past triumphs in God, the people of God are never far away from needing deliverance again.  And the feeling of rejection by God makes sense historically in the postexilic context, as the Hebrew Bible details that time.

The superscription of Psalm 142 links that text to David in a cave.  That is another dubious superscription.  These dubious superscriptions involving David reveal the extent to which many people had David on the brain.  I conclude that before Christians started looking for Jesus in the Hebrew Bible like Waldo in a Where’s Waldo? book and taking that quest to ridiculous extremes, many Jews pioneered that pattern by searching for scenes in David’s life that fit or nearly fit psalms, assuming that one did not read the germane psalm closely.  Psalm 142 is an individual lament of someone beset by enemies (Note the plural form.) and whose only hope for rescue is from God.  The text is sufficiently vague to fit a host of circumstances.

The unifying thematic thread is that God is the only hope for deliverance.  These are tangible circumstances, not spiritual abstractions.  The enemies may conquer the kingdom.  My enemies may kill me.  I recall that God has rescued me.  That is the gist of the circumstances.

We all depend entirely upon God.  We also rely on each other.  For example, we depend upon each other’s labor.  So, interdependence, not independence, is the rule, in societal terms.  This pattern of interdependence framed within dependence upon God is profoundly countercultural in my global Western culture.  Yes, we are weak, compared to God, especially.  Do we–collectively and individually–dare to admit that reality?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 17, 2023 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANTONY OF EGYPT, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT AND FATHER OF WESTERN MONASTICISM

THE FEAST OF SAINTS DEICOLA AND GALL, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONKS; AND SAINT OTHMAR, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT AT SAINT GALLEN

THE FEAST OF JAMES WOODROW, SOUTHERN PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, NATURALIST, AND ALLEGED HERETIC

THE FEAST OF SAINT PACHOMIUS THE GREAT, FOUNDER OF CHRISTIAN COMMUNAL MONASTICISM

THE FEAST OF RUTHERFORD BIRCHARD HAYES, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA

THE FEAST OF THOMAS A. DOOLEY, U.S. ROMAN CATHOLIC PHYSICIAN AND HUMANITARIAN

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Psalm 48: Hope and Divine Sovereignty   Leave a comment

READING THE BOOK OF PSALMS

PART XXXVI

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Psalm 48

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Psalm 48 focuses on God, who protects Jerusalem.  The text refers also to international conflicts.

Psalm 48 was a text which pilgrims to Jerusalem recited in antiquity.

The historical problem is obvious:  Powers have destroyed Jerusalem more than once.  So, according to one interpretation, divine protection of the city has failed numerous times.

A deeper reading of the text reveals a different interpretation, though.  Psalm 48 uses metaphors effectively.  Jerusalem is not just Jerusalem; it represents the reign of God in all times and places.  Jerusalem symbolizes the sovereignty of God.  No human power can thwart divine sovereignty.  That is hopeful.

Those devout Jews who prayed Psalm 48 after the termination of the Babylonian Exile understood that Jerusalem was not indestructible.  So did those who prayed this text after the Roman destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E.  Neither was the psalmist naïve.

The psalmists knew…and we still know that we live in a time and space as part of a world that is fragile and troubled, terrified, and terrifying.  Yet, in the midst of it all, we join the psalmist in proclaiming a new reality:  God rules the world!  What’s more, we claim to live by that reality above all others.  For the psalmist, the vision of Jerusalem, the city of God, reshaped time and space….

–J. Clinton McCann, Jr., in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. 4 (1996), 874

Realized eschatology holds that the Kingdom of God does not come; it is.  We mere mortals live in linear time; God does not.  So, the reality of the Kingdom of God may seem to be partial or delayed, from a human perspective.  Certain events, in linear time, make the reality of the Kingdom of God more evident than it had seemed.

Realized eschatology may be sound theology, but it may also provide little comfort for people in war zones and other unpleasant circumstances.  I concede that point readily.  However, I return to the matter of hope, related to the sovereignty of God.  If we lack hope, we may be unable to move forward spiritually.  If we lack hope, we may be unable to continue living.  If we lack hope, we may have no standard by which to establish an ideal.  If we lack hope, we may surrender to the darkness.

May we, in God, maintain hope.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 10, 2023 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN THE GOOD, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF MILAN

THE FEAST OF ALLEN WILLIAM CHATFIELD, ANGLICAN PRIEST, HYMN WRITER, AND TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF LOUISE CECILIA FLEMING, AFRICAN-AMERICAN BAPTIST MISSIONARY AND PHYSICIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIA DOLORES RODRIGUEZ SOPEÑA Y ORTEGA, FOUNDER OF THE CENTERS OF INSTRUCTION, THE ASSOCIATION OF THE SOLIDALITY OF THE VIRGIN MARY, THE LADIES OF THE CATECHETICAL INSTITUTE, THE ASSOCIATION OF THE APOSTOLIC LAYMEN/THE SOPEÑA LAY MOVEMENT, THE WORKS OF THE DOCTRINES/THE CENTER FOR THE WORKERS, AND THE SOCIAL AND CULTURAL WORK SOPEÑA/THE SOPEÑA CATECHETICAL INSTITUTE 

THE FEAST OF W. SIBLEY TOWNER, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM GAY BALLANTINE, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, EDUCATOR, SCHOLAR, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

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Hope III   1 comment

Above:  Good Shepherd

Image in the Public Domain

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According to the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) Lectionary (1973), as contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Lutheran Worship (1982)

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Ezekiel 34:11-16, 23-24 (LBWLW) or Isaiah 65:17-25 (LW)

Psalm 95:1-7a (LBW) or Psalm 130 (LW)

1 Corinthians 15:20-28 (LBWLW) or 2 Peter 3:3-4, 8-10a, 13 (LW)

Matthew 25:31-46 (LBWLW) or Mathew 25:1-13 (LW)

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Almighty and everlasting God,

whose will it is to restore all things to your beloved Son,

whom you anointed priest forever and king of all creation;

Grant that all the people of the earth,

now divided by the power of sin,

may be united under the glorious and gentle rule

of your Son, our Lord Jesus Christ,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 30

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Lord God, heavenly Father, send forth your Son, we pray,

that he may lead home his bride, the Church,

that we with all the redeemed may enter into your eternal kingdom;

through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 94

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I wrote about Matthew 25:31-46 in the previous post in this series and about Matthew 25:1-13 here.

We–you, O reader, and I–have arrived at the end of Year A of the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship Lectionary (1973).

This journey concludes on divine judgment and mercy, ever in balance and beyond human comprehension.  Much of this divine judgment and mercy exists in the context of impending apocalypse, in certain readings.  Maintaining hope can prove challenging to maintain during difficult times, but that is another motif.  Apocalypse offers hope for God’s order on Earth.

  1. We read of YHWH as the Good Shepherd (in contrast to bad shepherds–Kings of Israel and Judah) in Ezekiel 34, during the Babylonian Exile.
  2. Third Isaiah (in Isaiah 65) offered comfort to people who had expected to leave the Babylonian Exile and to return to a verdant paradise.  Instead, they returned to their ancestral homeland, which was neither verdant nor a paradise.
  3. Psalm 130 exists in the shadow of death–the depths of Sheol.
  4. Even the crucifixion of Jesus became a means of bestowing hope (1 Corinthians 15).

So, may we all cling to hope in God.  The lectionary omits the parts of Psalm 95 that recall the faithlessness in the desert after the Exodus.  No, we read the beginning of Psalm 95; we read an invitation to trust in the faithfulness of God and to worship sovereign YHWH.  We read that we are the sheep of YHWH’s pasture (see Ezekiel 34, too).

We are sheep prone to stray prone to stray.  We have a Good Shepherd, fortunately.

If You keep account of sins, O LORD,

Lord, who will survive?

Yours is the power to forgive

so that You may be held in awe.

–Psalm 130:3-4, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

Hope always exists in God.  So, are we mere mortals willing to embrace that hope?

As I type these words, I know the struggle to maintain hope.  For the last few years, current events have mostly driven me to despair.  Know, O reader, that when I write about trusting and hoping in God, I write to myself as much as I write to you.  I am no spiritual giant; I do not have it all figured out.  Not even spiritual giants have it all figured out; they know this.  They also grasp that no mere mortal can ever figure everything out anyway.

God has figured everything out.  That must suffice.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 24, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BARTHOLOMEW THE APOSTLE, MARTYR

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Adapted from this post

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Like a Child in Its Mother’s Arms   1 comment

Above:  Madonna and Child, by Filippo Lippi

Image in the Public Domain

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According to the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) Lectionary (1973), as contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Lutheran Worship (1982)

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Malachi 2:1-2, 4-10 (LBWLW) or Job 14:1-6 (LW)

Psalm 131 (LBW) or Psalm 90:1-12 (LW)

1 Thessalonians 3:11-13 (LW) or 1 Thessalonians 2:8-13 (LBWLW)

Matthew 23:1-12 (LBWLW) or Mathew 24:15-28 (LW)

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Lord God, so rule and govern our hearts and minds

by your Holy Spirit that,

always keeping in mind the end of all things and the day of judgment,

we may be stirred up to holiness here

and may live with you forever in the world to come,

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 29

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O Lord, absolve your people from their offenses

that from the bonds of sins,

which by reason of our weakness we have brought upon us,

we may be delivered by your bountiful goodness;

through Jesus Christ, your Son, our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 91

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Malachi 2:3 is not an assigned verse.  I suppose that hearing it read aloud in church would raise some awkward issues and prompt gasps of shock.  Set in the context of priests offering sacrifices wrongly after the end of the Babylonian Exile, Malachi 2:3 reads:

I will put your seed under a ban, and I will strew dung upon your faces, the dung of your festal sacrifices, and you shall be carried out to its [heap].

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures 

God seems to take proper worship seriously in Malachi 2.

For all the John 3:16 signs at sporting events, I cannot recall one Malachi 2:3 sign.  Perhaps a wiseacre should correct that oversight.

Eschatological overtones in the New Testament combine with musings about the human condition and about trust in God in the Hebrew Bible.  Psalm 131 speaks of individual and collective trust in God, described in maternal terms.  Matters individual and collective are inseparable, as John Donne (1572-1631) wrote:

No man is an island,
Entire of itself.
Each is a piece of the continent,
A part of the main.
If a clod be washed away by the sea,
Europe is the less.
As well as if a promontory were.
As well as if a manor of thine own
Or of thine friend’s were.
Each man’s death diminishes me,
For I am involved in mankind.
Therefore, send not to know
For whom the bell tolls,
It tolls for thee.

Therefore, in faith community, encouraging one another is part of

a life worthy of God.

–1 Thessalonians 2:12, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

Lives worthy of God, by grace, build up people.  Lives worthy of God seek and find the common good.  Lives worthy of God play out both individually and collectively.  Lives worthy of God remain deeply flawed–sinful.  That is the human condition.  Yet these lives do not wallow in that sin.  No, these lives

…keep tranquil and quiet

like a child in its mother’s arms,

as content as a child that has been weaned.

–Psalm 131:2, The Jerusalem Bible (1966).

Consider that image, O reader.  Live accordingly.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 24, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BARTHOLOMEW THE APOSTLE, MARTYR

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Adapted from this post

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Tenants, Not Landlords, Part II   1 comment

Above:  A Vineyard

Image in the Public Domain

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According to the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) Lectionary (1973), as contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Lutheran Worship (1982)

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Isaiah 5:1-7

Psalm 80:7-14 (LBW) or Psalm 118:19-24 (LW)

Philippians 3:12-21

Matthew 21:33-43

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Our Lord Jesus, you have endured

the doubts and foolish questions of every generation. 

Forgive us for trying to be judge over you,

and grant us the confident faith to acknowledge you as Lord.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 28

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O God, whose almighty power is made known chiefly

in showing mercy and pity,

grant us the fullness of your grace

that we may be partakers of your heavenly treasures;

through our Lord Jesus Christ, your Son,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 84

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The Bible moves past preaching and immediately starts meddling.  Good!  It ought to do this.

The vineyard is an image of the people of God in the Bible.  In Isaiah 5, the image of vineyard full of wild (literally, noxious) grapes condemns the population doomed to suffer exile and occupation.  Psalm 80 likens the people of Israel to a vine and prays for the restoration of Israel in the midst of exile.  The Parable of the Tenants condemns fruitless religious authority figures–a timeless warning.

That parable also quotes Psalm 119 when the Matthean text refers to the cornerstone the builders had rejected.  The cornerstone is a messianic theme, as in Isaiah 8:14; 28:16; and Zechariah 3:9; 4:7.  For other applications of the cornerstone to Jesus, read Acts 4:11; Romans 9:33; 1 Peter 2:4f; Ephesians 2:20; and 1 Corinthians 3:11.

Years ago, I had a discouraging conversation with a female student at the college where I taught.  She told me before class one day that she did not care about what happened to and on the Earth, for her citizenship was in Heaven.  I vainly attempted to persuade her to care.  Her attitude contradicted the Law of Moses, the witness of the Hebrew prophets, the teachings of Jesus, and the epistles–Judaism and Christianity, in other words.

The Golden Rule requires us–collectively and individually–to care for and about each other and the planet.  Judaism and Christianity teach that people are stewards–not owners–of the planet.  (God is the owner.)  The state of ecology indicates that we are terrible stewards, overall.  The lack of mutuality during the COVID-19 pandemic proves that many people do not give a damn about others and the common good.

God remains God.  God still cares.  God cannot exist without caring.  That should comfort many people and terrify many others.  Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 18, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ARTEMISIA BOWDEN, AFRICAN-AMERICAN EDUCATOR AND CIVIL RIGHTS ACTIVIST

THE FEAST OF ERDMANN NEUMEISTER, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF FRANCIS JOHN MCCONNELL, U.S. METHODIST BISHOP AND SOCIAL REFORMER

THE FEAST OF JONATHAN FRIEDRICH BAHNMAIER, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF PETTER DASS, NORWEGIAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post

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The Faithfulness and Generosity of God, Part VII   1 comment

Above:  The Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, by Rembrandt Van Rijn

Image in the Public Domain

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According to the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) Lectionary (1973), as contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Lutheran Worship (1982)

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Isaiah 55:6-9

Psalm 27:1-13 (LBW) or Psalm 27:1-9 (LW)

Philippians 1:1-5 (6-11), 19-27

Matthew 20:1-16

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Lord God, you call us to work in your vineyard

and leave no one standing idle. 

Set us to our tasks in the work of your kingdom,

and help us to order our lives by your wisdom;

through your Son, Jesus Christ.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 28

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Keep, we pray you, O Lord, your Church with your perpetual mercy;

and because without you we cannot but fall,

keep us ever by your help from all things hurtful

and lead us to all things profitable for our salvation;

for you live and reign with the Father and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 81-82

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Grace does not discriminate based on when one accepts it; all who accept grace receive the same rewards and the same duties to God and other human beings.  The call to repentance from immediately before the end of the Babylonian Exile (Isaiah 55) remains current.  Repentance is an appropriate response to grace.  St. Paul the Apostle’s call for the Philippian congregation always to

behave in a manner that is worthy of the gospel of Christ

(1:27)

remains current for congregations, all levels of the institutional church, and individuals.

Resentment is a motif in some of the parables of Jesus.  Think O reader, of the Prodigal Son’s older brother, for example.  Recall that he honored his father and fulfilled his duty.  So, why was that disrespecful wastrel getting an extravagant party upon returning home?  One may easily identify with the grumbling of laborers who thought they should receive more than a day’s wages because people who started working later in the day also received the promised payment of a denarius.

Are you envious because I am generous?  

–Matthew 15:15b, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

That is God’s question to grumbling, dutiful people today, too.  All people depend completely on grace.  Those who grumble and harbor resentment over divine generosity need to repent of doing so.  To refuse to repent of this is to behave in a manner unworthy of the gospel of Christ.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 16, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN DIEFENBAKER AND LESTER PEARSON, PRIME MINISTERS OF CANADA; AND TOMMY DOUGLAS, FEDERAL LEADER OF THE NEW DEMOCRATIC PARTY

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALIPIUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF TAGASTE, AND FRIEND OF SAINT AUGUSTINE OF HIPPO

THE FEAST OF JOHN COURTNEY MURRAY, U.S. ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF JOHN JONES OF TALYSARN, WELSH CALVINISTIC METHODIST MINISTER AND HYMN TUNE COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF MATTHIAS CLAUDIUS, GERMAN LUTHERAN WRITER

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Adapted from this post

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