Archive for the ‘Economic Justice’ Tag

“Come, Lord Jesus.”   Leave a comment

Above:  Alpha and Omega

Image in the Public Domain

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READING REVELATION, PART XVI

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Revelation 22:6-21

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How soon is soon?  We read that, in a text from the 90s C.E., that Christ will return “soon.”  We may safely assume that John of Patmos understood “soon” be within the lifetimes of many members of the original audience.

The passage of time has handed down a verdict on that expectation, as well as many other expectations regarding the timing of the Second Coming of Jesus.

If we assume Amillennialism to be true (see Revelation 20), we accept that the “millennium” has been in progress for thousands of years.  Given that numbers are symbolic in Revelation (except in the case of the seven churches in the first three chapters), why not interpret “millennium” is a non-literal way?

Details of the Second Coming reside with God.  I am content to leave them there.  In the meantime, I have faithful living in which to engage.  Trying to understand how to live faithfully in concrete terms, can prove challenging sometimes.  I suspect that God cares about how I live faithfully, within circumstances, than about how I understand any detail of an ancient apocalyptic text.

I do focus on broad strokes, though.  Serve only God, who is sovereign.  Reject the bad value systems (exploitation, militarism, slavery, et cetera) of “Roman Empires.”  Stick close to Jesus.  Resist evil.  Trust in the faithfulness of God.

God will handle the rest.

Thank you, O reader, for joining me on this journey through Revelation.  May something you read along the way have benefited you spiritually.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 21, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF GEORGE MCGOVERN, U.S. SENATOR AND STATESMAN; AND HIS WIFE, ELEANOR MCGOVERN, HUMANITARIAN

THE FEAST OF DAVID MORITZ MICHAEL, GERMAN-AMERICAN MUSICIAN AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF EMILY GARDINER NEAL, EPISCOPAL DEACON, RELIGIOUS WRITER, AND LEADER OF THE HEALING MOVEMENT IN THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH

THE FEAST OF SAINT LAURA OF SAINT CATHERINE OF SIENA, FOUNDER OF THE WORKS OF THE INDIANS AND THE CONGREGATION OF MISSIONARY SISTERS OF IMMACULATE MARY AND OF SAINT CATHERINE OF SIENA

THE FEAST OF WALTER SISULU AND ALBERINA SISULU, ANTI-APARTHEID ACTIVISTS AND POLITICAL PRISONERS IN SOUTH AFRICA

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The Pouring of the Seven Bowls   Leave a comment

Above:  The Whore of Babylon

Image in the Public Domain

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READING REVELATION, PART XIII

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Revelation 16:1-19:21

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In this installment, replete with allusions to the plagues on Egypt, God destroys the empire.  As I have mentioned, Revelation is a text that originally constituted high treason.

“Babylon,” is Rome, of course.  Let us ponder the state of the literal Babylon in the middle 90s C.E., O reader.  Reference works tell me that Babylon, ancient by then, had been a great city and the capital of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  These books also inform me that Babylon had become a mere village, pillaged for building materials.  Human greatness may last a long time, in some cases, but it fades, inevitably.

Some Biblical authors–including John of Patmos–used fornication and adultery as metaphors for idolatry.  The Roman Empire was corrupt.  The society was decadent.  The empire’s foundations included slavery, exploitation, and violence.  The Roman Empire was, symbolically:

Babylon the Great, the Mother of all prostitutes and all filthy practices on the earth.

–Revelation 17:5, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

Those who identified with, traded with, and accepted the value system of “Babylon the Great” mourn the empire’s fall in Revelation 18.  Yet, in chapter 19, there is rejoicing in Heaven.  God’s creative destruction is nearly complete.

What are the “Roman Empires” around us?  To what extent do we accept their value systems?  If any one of these “Roman Empires” were to fall, would we–you–I–mourn its passing?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 18, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT LUKE THE EVANGELIST, PHYSICIAN

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The Woman, the Red Dragon, and the Two Beasts   Leave a comment

Above:  The Death of the Dragon, by Evelyn de Morgan

Image in the Public Domain

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READING REVELATION, PART XII

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Revelation 12:1-15:8

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THE SHADOW OF KING ANTIOCHUS IV EPIPHANES

Seleucid King Antiochus IV Epiphanes (reigned 175-164/163 B.C.E.) was notorious.  He persecuted Jews and became the chief boogeyman of First, Second, and Fourth Maccabees.  The Daniel apocalypse (chapters 7-12), composed in the first century B.C.E., referred to him.  Revelation added more references to le roi terrible.  For example, the three and a half years (forty-two months) before the fall of “Babylon” (Rome) called back to the time King Antiochus IV Epiphanes desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem and persecuted Jews.

Revelation 12 and 13 unfold during those symbolic forty-two months.  The vivid accounts, replete with symbolism drawn from regional mythology, the Hebrew Bible, 2 Esdras/4 Ezra, 1 and 2 Enoch, and 2 Baruch, among other sources.  For example, the following sources are germane to Revelation 12-15:

  1. 1 Enoch 40:7; 54:6
  2. 2 Enoch 7; 18; 29:5
  3. The Ascension of Isaiah 7:9; 10:29
  4. 2 Esdras/4 Ezra 6:49-42; 12:22-25
  5. The Sybilline Oracles 4:119-127, 137-139; and
  6. 2 Baruch 29:4.

THE EVOLVING THEOLOGY OF SATAN IN JUDAISM

Revelation 12:7-9 reflects a relatively late development in the theology of Satan.  Careful study of the evolution of Jewish and Christian theology reveals that, until the Persian period, “the Satan”–“the Adversary”–worked for God, usually as a loyalty tester.  Satan as a free agent is an idea imported from Zoroastrianism, in which Ahriman is the chief evil force, and the opposite number of Ahura-Mazda.  One may conclude that Jewish and Christian theology finally arrived at the correct theology of Satan.  Regardless of what one decides regarding this theological matter, the historical record remains objectively accurate and not subject to dispute.

HIGH TREASON

If the Roman censors had understood Revelation, they would have correctly identified chapters 12-15 as treasonous.  The woman (12:1-6), resembling the goddess Isis, is the Church.  The great, red dragon, with dominion in the known world, is Satan.  The dragon pursues the woman, but she survives.  The Archangel Michael defeats the dragon in Heaven and casts him down to the Earth.  That is bad news for the Earth.  Horns represented power.  Ten horns represented complete power.  So, in Revelation 13, the beast rising out of the sea had complete power.  The horns were Emperors of Rome.

Can you say “treason,” O reader?

One emperor–Nero (d. 68)–received special attention in 13:3.  He had supposedly not died–not really.  He would supposedly return to life and lead an army out of Parthia and ravage the Roman Empire.  Nero was the original figure of the Antichrist.

Revelation 13 labels the Roman Empire a force of evil.  When civil authority becomes an expression of evil, the only proper Christian response, in Revelation, is to disobey it and to obey God.

666

The number “666” is symbolic.  Seven is the number of perfection.  Six, therefore, is less than perfect; it represents evil.  “666” represents ultimate evil.  “666” is, as Donald Richardson said:

godless political power allied with godless religion.

–Quoted in Ernest Lee Stoffel, The Dragon Bound:  The Revelation Speaks to Our Time (1981), 75

Stoffel offered:

There is also a warning here for Christians and for any who would speak in the name of God.  Any church or religion that allows itself to overlook injustice may have the number of the beast.  This speaks to me as an individual Christian.  In order to prosper I might be tempted to condone or overlook injustice, and so be wearing the “number” myself.

–76

We read in Revelation 14 that all who followed God in Christ will find redemption and that all who worshiped the Roman Empire and its value system will find damnation.  Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance.  Those damnable values include exploitation and militarism.  These have no place in the Kingdom of God.

Revelation 15 includes praise of God.  The chapter concludes by setting up the next few chapters with seven bowls of judgment.

What are our contemporary Roman Empires?  To what extend to we buy into their erroneous value systems?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 17, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 24:  THE TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF CHARLES GOUNOD, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF BIRGITTE KATERINE BOYE, DANISH LUTHERAN POET, PLAYWRIGHT, HYMN TRANSLATOR, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOHN BOWRING, ENGLISH UNITARIAN HYMN WRITER, SOCIAL REFORMER, AND PHILANTHROPIST

THE FEAST OF RICHARD MCSORLEY, U.S. ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, PROFESSOR, AND PEACE ACTIVIST

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Introduction to the Apocalypse of John   Leave a comment

Above:  Revelation Title (French)

Scanned by Kenneth Randolph Taylor from a copy of the Louis Segond revised translation (1910) of the Bible

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READING REVELATION, PART I

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Revelation 1:1-20

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Rev[elation] is widely popular for the wrong reasons, for a great number of people read it as a guide to how the world will end, assuming that the author was given by Christ detailed knowledge of the future he communicated in coded symbols.

Father Raymond E. Brown, An Introduction to the New Testament (1997), 773

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…Revelation does not speak about our time, it does speak to it.

–M. Eugene Boring, Revelation (1989), 62

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THE APOCALYPTIC GENRE

Reading a book within its genre matters.

Consider the apocalypse in Daniel 7-12, for example, O reader.  The author wrote in the first century B.C.E.  He mostly wrote history as prophecy.  But when the author started writing about the future (relative to him), he got details wrong.  This was par for the course, given the genre.

Apocalyptic literature, written in images and symbols, is politically subversive of tyranny.  The genre offers hope during difficult times, encourages the faithful to remain faithful, and contrasts the world order with the divine order.  Apocalyptic literature uses the future as away to address the present.

I lay my theological cards on the table at the beginning of this project, O reader.

  1. I am a left-of-center Episcopalian.
  2. I am a student of history.
  3. I am an intellectual.
  4. I know the historical record of failed predictions of Christ’s Second Coming and failed identifications of the Antichrist.
  5. I tell you, O reader, that the rapture is a fiction from the mind of John Nelson Darby (1800-1882).
  6. I know that Darby’s Dispensationalism, popularized further in C. I. Scofield‘s study Bible, the “manual of fundamentalism,” remains a widespread interpretive system.
  7. I affirm that Christ will eventually return, but only once.  The rapture requires two Second Comings.
  8. I have no interest in prophecy conferences, but care deeply about loving like Jesus daily.

Apocalyptic literature has much to say about our present.  This content remains politically subversive.  That is fine.  I approve of subverting injustice, tyranny, slavery, economic exploitation, and needless violence.  They are antithetical to the Kingdom of God.

Apocalyptic literature is also optimistic.  In the darkness, the genre proclaims hope that God and good will triumph in the end.  Apocalyptic literature, therefore, stiffens the spines of discouraged, faithful people.  Good news of the deliverance of oppressed people doubles as judgment of the oppressors.  The genre invites us to ask ourselves:

Whose side am I on?

In summary, apocalyptic literature immediately moves past preaching and gets to meddling.

THE APOCALYPSE OF JOHN AND RESISTANCE TO TYRANNY

Certain passages of the Old and New Testaments, in their contexts, support submission to earthly authority.  The Apocalypse of John has none of that.  Revelation tells us that the Roman Empire was evil, antithetical to the Kingdom of God.  This is the message that made the text treasonous long ago and still inspires many people to resist tyranny.  One may read, for example, of Christian opponents of Apartheid (in South Africa) drawing inspiration from the Apocalypse of John, even as the national government prosecuted and persecuted them.  Today, in dictatorships, certain Christians are reading Revelation as they emerge in their struggles for justice.

REVELATION IN THE BIBLE AND LECTIONARIES

Revelation is a liturgical hot potato.  The major lectionaries include little of it.  The Eastern Orthodox lectionary excludes the Apocalypse of John.  The Orthodox Study Bible (2008) explains:

While seen as canonical and inspired by God, the Revelation is the only New Testament book not publicly read in the services of the Orthodox Church.  This is partly because the book was only gradually accepted as canonical in many parts of Christendom.  In addition, in the second and third centuries Revelation was widely twisted and sensationally misinterpreted, and the erroneous teachings brought troublesome confusion to Christians–a trend that continues to this day.

Genesis and Revelation constitute fitting bookends of the Christian Bible.  Genesis opens with mythology–the creation of an earthly paradise, followed by the end of that paradise–to be precise (Genesis 1-3).  Revelation concludes with a vision of God, having finally defeated evil once and for all, restoring that earthly paradise and establishing the fully-realized Kingdom of God (Revelation 21-22).

THE ORIGIN OF THE APOCALYPSE OF JOHN

Revelation came from 92 to 96 C.E., at the end of the reign of the Emperor Domitian.  Emperor-worship and the worship of the goddess Roma (Rome personified) were parts of conventional Roman patriotism and civic life.  The Christian refusal to participate in these cults made Christians seem unpatriotic at best and treasonous at worst.  Persecution was generally sporadic and regional at the time, but it was a constant threat.  “John of Patmos” (whoever he was) wrote to seven churches in commercial cities in western Asia Minor.

The elaborate symbolism–including numerology–in apocalyptic literature prevented the uninitiated–in this case, Roman censors–from understanding the texts.

SYMBOLISM AND MEANING IN REVELATION 1

The only instance in which to interpret any number in the Apocalypse of John literally pertains to the seven churches in western Asia Minor.

Revelation 1 plunges us into the symbolic aspect of apocalyptic literature immediately.  Stars (at the end of the chapter) represent angels and lamp-stands represent churches.  Earlier in the chapter, Jesus has white hair, indicating holiness.  His eyes, like a burning flame, pierce to the heart of all things.  Christ’s “feet like burnished bronze” are stable and steadfast.  His voice, “like the sound of the ocean,” is the convergence of the truth of God in the Hebrew Bible.  Jesus holds the Church–then a vulnerable group of house congregations–in his hand.  From Christ’s mouth emerges a two-edged sword (speech).  His face shines like the sun.  Christ is victorious, resurrected, ascended, and priestly.

The Roman Empire may have seemed to have had all the power and glory.  It did not.  The Roman Empire had executed Jesus.  Yet he had risen; his tomb was empty.  The power of the Roman Empire was nothing compared to the power of God in Christ.

That was treasonous, for, according to Roman coinage, the emperor was the “Son of God.”

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 6, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF GEORGE EDWARD LYNCH COTTON, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF CALCUTTA

THE FEAST OF HEINRICH ALBERT, GERMAN LUTHERAN COMPOSER AND POET

THE FEAST OF HERBERT G. MAY, U.S. BIBLICAL SCHOLAR AND TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF JOHN ERNEST BODE, ANGLICAN PRIEST, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM TYNDALE, ENGLISH REFORMER, BIBLE TRANSLATOR, AND MARTYR, 1536; AND MILES COVERDALE, ENGLISH REFORMER, BIBLE TRANSLATOR, AND BISHOP OF EXETER

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Deeds and Creeds VII   Leave a comment

READING THE GENERAL EPISTLES, PART III

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James 2:1-26

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Do not rob the poor because they are poor,

nor crush the needy at the gate;

For the LORD will defend their cause,

and will plunder those who plunder them.

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

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

That’s where the money is.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 21, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MATTHEW THE EVANGELIST, APOSTLE AND MARTYR

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Good Religion and Bad Religion, Part II   Leave a comment

READING THE GENERAL EPISTLES, PART II

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James 1:1-27

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This is pure religion, and undefiled before our God and Father, to look after orphans and widows in their affliction, and ever to keep oneself unspotted from the world.

–James 1:27, Helen Barrett Montgomery, Centenary Translation of the New Testament (1924)

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That verse concludes the first chapter and sets up the second chapter.  Textual context is crucial.  I will work my way through the first chapter.

  1. Verse 1 names the author as “James,” presumably St. James of Jerusalem (d. 62 C.E.).  This is a pseudonymonous ascription, a common practice in Biblical times.
  2. There is wordplay in the original Greek text in verses 1 and 2.  Verse 1 reads, in part, “Greetings,” literally, “Be joyful,” or “Rejoice.”  Verse 2 reads, in part, “Regard it as a complete joy.”
  3. Verse 1 identifies the audience as Jewish diaspora Christians.
  4. Rejoicing in “various trials” (verses 2-12) requires grace, which suffices.
  5. The theme of attitudes toward wealth and status debuts in verse 9.  It recurs later in the first chapter and the book.
  6. During trials, remain anchored in God (verse 6) for stability.
  7. God does not tempt us (verses 13-18).  Times of trial, therefore, are not temptations God has sent.
  8. Unrighteous anger (as opposed to righteous anger) is dangerous to oneself and others.  It also belies true religion.  The Law of Love works against unrighteous anger.  Grace liberates us to be our best possible selves in God (verses 19-25).
  9. The use of speech and writing manifests both positive and negative tendencies.  Taming one’s words, whether spoken or written, is essential (verse 26).  Ergo, true religion is to care for the vulnerable and to reject secular standards of success and status, grounded in power and wealth.

More about language and the control of it will ensue in a subsequent chapter.

Impious deeds must not belie pious words.  In Jewish terms, God is like what one has done and does.  Likewise, we mere mortals are like what we have done to the extent that we continue to commit those deeds.

I, as a student of history, understand that I cannot always determine the motivation of a group or an individual.  I can, however, point to what a group or an individual did, said, did not say, and did not do.  That information frequently leads to a moral evaluation, and renders the lack of information about motivation irrelevant.

Political-social context is crucial.  Commentaries inform me that the Epistle of James targeted religious prophets of doom–political agitators who imagined they could hasten God’s righteous judgment.  One may understand why such people were perilous when the Church was young and small, albeit growing.  One may grasp that such agitators attracted unwelcome imperial attention.  The Epistle of James favors constructive, counter-cultural morality (as in the Beatitudes), not agitation that threatened to bring the imperium down upon the Church.

I, as a student of history, know that religious communities who have practiced James 1:27 have frequently incurred the wrath of governments and the scorn of societies, however.  I think immediately of the Quakers, the Amish, the Mennonites, and the Hutterites, for example.  Governments often react badly when they go to war, and when pacifistic dissenters refuse to cooperate.

James 1:27 also cautions against becoming enmeshed in unholy intrigues.  This theme unfolds in subsequent chapters, too.

How do you, O reader, think of “the world”?  Do you identify it as Satan’s domain?  Or do you think of it as your neighborhood, for which you are partially responsible?  God–in both the Old and New Testaments–mandates that the people of God transform the world, not give up on it and seek to flee from it.  The people of God have divine marching orders to be a light to the nations and to function as salt.  Confronting evil is part of that mandate.  Telling the truth is essential.  Consult the record of the prophets and Jesus, O reader.

Offering a positive alternative is also crucial.

Mutuality informed the Law of Moses, the examples of the Hebrew prophets, the lived and uttered teachings of Jesus of Nazareth, and the culturally-specific writings of the New Testament.  These sages knew what many moderns never learned or have forgotten–that whatever one does to others, one does to oneself.  They grasped that human beings are responsible to and for each other, under God.  These sages understood the importance of orthopraxy, grounded in an inseparable from orthodoxy.

Reading these ancient texts in historical, cultural, and political contexts tells us what they originally meant.  Then we can properly apply these texts to our contemporary situations.

I write these words during the COVID-19 pandemic.  I witness the economic disparities the pandemic has made worse.  I see needless suffering.  I notice that many people have fallen though the cracks in the social safety net.  I witness cynical, opportunistic, fearful, and selfish people refusing to do what is necessary and proper to take care of each other, especially those too young to get vaccinated.  I also notice much shameful behavior (such as I have described in this paragraph) coming from self-identified Christians.

Lord Jesus, save me from your followers!

Timeless principles may seem vague.  This is why the Bible includes many culturally-specific examples of them.  In that spirit, I offer a new, updated version of James 1:27, just for these times:

Pure, undefiled religion, in the eyes of God our Father, during this pandemic, is this:  getting vaccinated when eligible (unless one has a legitimate medical reason not to do so), wearing masks, practicing social distancing, coming to the help of the elderly, the young, and those with compromised immune systems.  It is living in accordance with the Golden Rule and the Lukan Beatitudes.

How is that for a sound and a radical standard?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 20, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HENRI NOUWEN, DUTCH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND SPIRITUAL WRITER

THE FEAST OF ELIZABETH KENNY, AUSTRALIAN NURSE AND MEDICAL PIONEER

THE FEAST OF JOHN COLERIDGE PATTESON, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF MELANESIA, AND HIS COMPANIONS, MARTYRS, 1871

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIE THERESE OF SAINT JOSEPH, FOUNDER OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE CARMELITE SISTERS OF THE DIVINE HEART OF JESUS

THE FEAST OF NELSON TROUT, FIRST AFRICAN-AMERICAN LUTHERAN BISHOP

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Religious Decline and Hope of Recovery   Leave a comment

Above:  Malachi

Image in the Public Domain

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READING MALACHI, PART II

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Malachi 1:2-3:12

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As I wrote in Reading Malachi, Part I, the dating of the Book of Malachi is vague–perhaps prior to 445 B.C.E., when the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah began (Ezra 7-10; Nehemiah 1-13; 1 Esdras 8-9)–or perhaps not.   Clear, however, are the sense of spiritual crisis and the religious decline in the Book of Malachi.

Consider 1:2-5, O reader.  We read divine assurance of love for the people.  We may assume safely that the population (much of it, anyway) needed this assurance.  The proof of divine love for Jews in Judea in Malachi 1:2-5 is their continued existence in their ancestral homeland.  The contrast with their ancient foe and cousin people, the Edomites, is stark.

I have read and blogged about divine judgment on the people of Edom in Amos 1:11-12; Isaiah 21:11-12; Jeremiah 49:7-22; Ezekiel 25:12-14; Ezekiel 35:1-15; Obadiah; and Isaiah 34:5-17.

The designated portion of the Book of Malachi continues with the condemnations of priests and the population.  We read of priests offering defiled food as sacrifices.  We read that God objected strongly to such disrespect, and preferred no ritual sacrifices to the offerings of blemished animals.  (See Exodus 12:5; Exodus 29:1; Leviticus 1:3, 10; Leviticus 3:1; Leviticus 22:22).  We read that God was really angry:

And now, O priests, this charge is for you:  Unless you obey and unless you lay it to heart, and do dishonor to My name–said the LORD of blessings into curses.  (Indeed, I have turned them into curses, because you do not lay it to heart.)  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].

–Malachi 2:1-3, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Furthermore, we read that (much of) the population of Israel has failed to keep the covenant, too.  We read that God objected to Jewish men divorcing Jewish wives to marry foreign women.  One may recall that this was also an issue in Ezra 10.  As prior to the Babylonian Exile, idolatry is in play.  Deuteronomy 7:25-26; Deuteronomy 12:31 permit divorce, but Malachi 2:16 begins:

For I detest divorce….

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Context is crucial; statements never arise in a vaccum.

Malachi 3:5 specifies offenses:

But [first] I will step forward to contend against you, and I will act as a relentless accuser against those who have no fear of Me:  Who practice sorcery, who commit adultery, who swear falsely, who cheat laborers of their hire, and who subvert [the cause] of the widow, orphan, and stranger, said the LORD of Hosts.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Faithless members of the Chosen People remain “children of Jacob,” we read.  And God (as in Zechariah 1:3) expects them to express remorse for their sins and to repent:

Turn back to Me, and I will turn back to you–said the LORD of Hosts.

–Malachi 3:7b, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The text continues by explaining another way (other than not committing the previously listed sins) the people could return to God:  to support the Levites (Leviticus 27:30; Numbers 18:21-31; Nehemiah 13:10-13).  The text challenges the people to respond faithfully and generously to the extravagant and generosity of God.

Malachi 3:11 mentions locusts in the present tense.  This clue does not reveal as much as one may guess.  Does Malachi 3:11 date the Book of Malachi approximately contemporary with the Book of Joel, whenever that was?  The case for this is tenuous and circumstantial.  One may recall that swarms of locusts were a frequent threat in the region.  Malachi 3:11 may tell us one reason many people were not paying their tithes, though.

The formula in Malachi 3:10-12 exists within a context, of course.  Taking it out of context distorts its meaning.  Recall Malachi 2:17, O reader.  We read there that people have been wearying God by saying:

“All who do evil are good in the sight of the LORD, and in them He delights,” or else, “Where is the God of justice?”

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The formula in Malachi 3:10-12 rebuts that wearying statements and that wearying question.

Trusting in God liberates.  It liberates populations and individuals.  It liberates them to become their best possible selves in God, who is extravagantly generous.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 18, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 11:  THE EIGHTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF BARTHOLOME DE LAS CASAS, “APOSTLE TO THE INDIANS”

THE FEAST OF ARTHUR PENRHYN STANLEY, ANGLICAN DEAN OF WESTMINSTER, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF EDWARD WILLIAM LEINBACH, U.S. MORAVIAN MUSICAN AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF ELIZABETH FERRARD, FIRST DEACONESS IN THE CHURCH OF ENGLAND

THE FEAST OF JESSAMYN WEST, U.S. QUAKER WRITER

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The Promise of the New Jerusalem   Leave a comment

Above:  Tiges (Isaiah 61:11)

Image in the Public Domain

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READING THIRD ISAIAH, PART IV

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Isaiah 60:1-62:12

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Isaiah 60-62 is a lengthy poem of encouragement to Jerusalem (Zion), personified as a bereaved woman.  Jewish exiles are returning to Jerusalem, we read.

Certain themes are notable, some for their presence and others for their absence:

  1. There is no Davidic monarch in Third Isaiah.  In this respect, Third Isaiah disagrees with Haggai, First Zechariah, and First Isaiah.
  2. In the future, according to Isaiah 60:1-62:12, the Jewish nation will have royal and priestly status, and God will rule directly.
  3. A must society embodies the divine covenant and receives God’s blessing.
  4. Judah, in Isaiah 60:1-22, is superior to its neighbors.  The theme of reversal of fortune exists here.  So do national concerns, overriding universalism of any variety.  We read of Gentiles transporting Jewish exiles to Judah, rebuilding the walls of Jerusalem, and bringing silver and gold.  This image contrasts with First Isaiah (2:1-4), in which Gentiles stream to Jerusalem to learn God’s ways.
  5. Isaiah 61:1-9 applies the jubilee year (Leviticus 25:10), by which farmers forced into indentured servitude could regain their land, to the nation.  The time to start over had come.
  6. The predicted splendor of Jerusalem contrasted with the actual state of the city prior to 445 B.C.E. and the reforms of Ezra and Nehemiah (Ezra 7-10; Nehemiah 1-13; 1 Esdras 8:1-9:55).  Isaiah 60:1-62:12 offered hope for a better future.

Hope is essential.  These beautiful three chapters, replete with familiar passages, come from a particular context.  If one takes these chapters and passages out of context, one misses much of their meaning.  The central message is timeless, not bound by context, though.  That meaning is that God is faithful.  God has promised to act.  God will act.  Keep the faith.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 16, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE RIGHTEOUS GENTILES

THE FEAST OF CATHERINE LOUISA MARTHENS, FIRST LUTHERAN DEACONESS CONSECRATED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 1850

THE FEAST OF GEORGE ALFRED TAYLOR RYGH, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HENRY WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY IN NEW ZEALAND; HIS WIFE, MARIANNE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR IN NEW ZEALAND; HER SISTER-IN-LAW, JANE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR IN NEW ZEALAND; AND HER HUSBAND AND HENRY’S BROTHER, WILLIAM WILLAMS, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF WAIAPU

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARY MAGDALEN POSTEL, FOUNDER OF THE POOR DAUGHTERS OF MERCY

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Divine Warnings to the Restored Community   Leave a comment

Above:  Illustration of a Spider Web (Isaiah 59:5)

Image in the Public Domain

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READING THIRD ISAIAH, PART III

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Isaiah 56:1-59:21

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Third Isaiah, First Zechariah, and Haggai had to explain why previous prophecies of heaven on earth after the end of the Babylonian Exile had not come to pass.  (I have already covered Haggai-First Zechariah.)  Third Isaiah spoke of sinful and rebellious people within Israel opposing God’s righteous rule.  According to Third Isaiah, the end of the Babylonian Exile was not the inauguration of heaven on earth.  No, it was a foretaste of heaven on earth.

Isaiah 56;1-59:21 comes from a time when many Jewish exiles remained in Babylonia (then part of the Persian Empire) and the situation in Judah was difficult.  The economy was bad and the drought was severe.  The material in Isaiah 56:1-59:21 emphasizes keeping the divine covenant in the context of community.  This covenant requires justice.  This covenant excludes corruption, idolatry, faithlessness, and superficial piety.  This covenant includes all who keep it–even foreigners and eunuchs (see Ezra 9; Ezra 6:21; Deuteronomy 23:2; Leviticus 21:16-23).  This covenant, therefore, moves beyond some of the exclusionary parts of the Law of Moses and welcomes the conversion of Gentiles.  This covenant entails keeping the Sabbath, by which one emulates God.

The Sabbath, in this context, had a particular meaning.  Keeping it indicated commitment to the ancestral faith, the faith to which the society was supposed to be returning.  Keeping the Sabbath was part of a just society, as well as a mark of freedom.  People were free to be their best in God.  Many did not want to pursue that goal.

Without going too far down the rabbit hole of necessary compromises regarding Sabbath-keeping in Judaism in antiquity and the present day, I point out that some people have to perform certain work on the day designated in their tradition as the Sabbath.  I also affirm that keeping Sabbath, whichever day a tradition or an adherent to it does so, is necessary, proper, and beneficial.  Keeping Sabbath is not being productive.  Being productive should not be the greatest value or one of the greatest values in a society.  It is, actually, a form of idolatry when raised to that high a priority.  My worth as a human being comes from bearing the image of God, not in how productive I am (or can be) and how much I purchase (or can afford to buy).

God judges unrepentant sinners and helps the righteous and penitent, we read.  God balances judgment and mercy.  God could not ignore what the society of Judah was doing to itself, we read.  When Judahites oppressed each other, God could not pretend this was not occurring, we read.  Divine judgment and mercy are inseparable.  They are like sides of a coin.

Sadly, the warnings in Isaiah 56:1-59:59:21 remain relevant in 2021.   What we mere mortals do–collectively and individually–matters.  God is watching us.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 16, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE RIGHTEOUS GENTILES

THE FEAST OF CATHERINE LOUISA MARTHENS, FIRST LUTHERAN DEACONESS CONSECRATED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 1850

THE FEAST OF GEORGE ALFRED TAYLOR RYGH, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HENRY WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY IN NEW ZEALAND; HIS WIFE, MARIANNE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR IN NEW ZEALAND; HER SISTER-IN-LAW, JANE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR IN NEW ZEALAND; AND HER HUSBAND AND HENRY’S BROTHER, WILLIAM WILLAMS, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF WAIAPU

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARY MAGDALEN POSTEL, FOUNDER OF THE POOR DAUGHTERS OF MERCY

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The End of Days   Leave a comment

Above:  Ahriman (from Zoroastrianism)

Image in the Public Domain

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READING THIRD ISAIAH, PART II

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Isaiah 24:1-27:13

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Babylon is not mentioned even once.  Rather, the eschatological focus of these chapters has raised their sights to the ultimate purpose of God in portraying the cosmological judgment of the world and its final glorious restoration.  Moreover, the redemption of Israel is depicted as emerging from the ashes of the polluted and decaying world.  Not just a remnant is redeemed , but the chapter recounts the salvation of all peoples who share in the celebration of God’s new order when death is banished forever (25:8).

–Brevard S. Childs, Isaiah (2001), 173

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INTRODUCTION

Isaiah 24-27 constitutes the Isaiah Apocalypse.  They also constitute an early and not full-blown example of Biblical apocalyptic literature.  Some books I read inform me that the Jewish apocalyptic form emerged in the wake of the fall of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire–in the late sixth century (early 500s) B.C.E., to be precise.  These books also teach that full-blown Jewish apocalypses emerged only in the second century (100s) B.C.E., as in the case of Daniel 7-12.

Isaiah 24, in vivid language, depicts the divine destruction of the natural order and the social order.  I recommend the translation by Robert Alter, in particular.  Regardless of the translation, we read that people have violated the moral mandates embedded in the Law of Moses:

And the earth is tainted beneath its dwellers,

for they transgressed teachings, flouted law, broke the eternal covenant.

Therefore has a curse consumed the earth,

and all its dwellers are mired in guilt.

Therefore earth’s dwellers turn pale,

and all but a few humans remain.

–Isaiah 24:5-6, in Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible:  A Translation with Commentary, Volume 2, Prophets (2019)

The timeframe is sometime in the future, relative to both Third Isaiah and 2021.  in this vision, high socio-economic status provides no protection against God’s creative destruction.

Within the Book of Isaiah, in its final form, chapters 24-27 follow oracles against the nations (chapters 13-23) and precede more oracles against nations (chapters 28-33).  This relative placement is purposeful.

SWALLOWING UP DEATH FOREVER

Returning to the Isaiah Apocalypse, the establishment of the fully-realized Kingdom of God entails the defeat of the enemies of God’s people, the celebration of an eschatological banquet, and the swallowing up of death forever (See 1 Corinthians 15:54; Revelation 7:7-17).  The divine swallowing up of death echoes the swallowing up of Mot (the Canaanite god of death) in mythology.

Isaiah 25:8 and 26:19 refer to divine victory over death.  Given the temporal origin of the Isaiah Apocalypse, is this a metaphor for the divine vindication of the downtrodden, likened to the dead?  Such language, in Book of Daniel (100s B.C.E.) and the Revelation of John (late 100s C.E.), refers to the afterlife.  The operative question regarding Isaiah 25:8 and 26:19, however, is if the author knew about and affirmed the resurrection of the dead.  We know that Ezekiel 37 (the vision of the dry bones) is a metaphor for the restoration of Israel after the Babylonian Exile.  But what about Isaiah 25:8 and 26:19?  Even the Jewish commentaries I consult do not arrive at a conclusion.

I understand why.  The Isaiah Apocalypses comes from a time when Jewish theology was changing, under the influence of Zoroastrianism.  Satan was moving away from being God’s employee–loyalty tester (Job 1-2) and otherwise faithful angel (Numbers 22:22-40)–and becoming a free agent and the chief rebel.   The theology of Ahriman, the main figure of evil in Zoroastrianism, was influencing this change in Jewish theology.  Jewish ideas of the afterlife were also changing under Zoroastrian influence.  Sheol was passing away.  Reward and punishment in the afterlife were becoming part of Jewish theology.  By the second century (100s) B.C.E., belief in individual resurrection of the dead was unambiguous (Daniel 12:2-3, 12).

I do not know what Third Isaiah believed regarding the resurrection of the dead.  I suppose that he could have affirmed that doctrine.  The historical context and the symbolic language of the apocalypse combine to confuse the matter.  So be it; I, as an Episcopalian, am comfortable with a degree of ambiguity.

DIVINE JUDGMENT ON ENEMIES OF THE COVENANT PEOPLE

Isaiah 25:9-12 singles out Moab, in contrast to the usual practice of not naming enemies in chapters 24-27.  One may recall material condemning Moab in Amos 2:1-3; Isaiah 15:1-16:13; Jeremiah 48:1-47; Ezekiel 25:8-11.

In the divine order, the formerly oppressed rejoice in their victory over those who had oppressed them.  Oppression has no place in the divine order.

Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance in Isaiah 24-27.  Divine deliverance of the oppressors is frequently catastrophic for the oppressors.  And the contrast between the fates of the enemies of God (27:11) and the Jews worshiping in Jerusalem (27:13) is stark.  As Brevard S. Childs offers:

In sum, the modern theology of religious universalism, characterized by unlimited inclusivity, is far removed from the biblical proclamation of God’s salvation (cf. Seitz, 192),

Isaiah (2001), 186

GOD’S VINEYARD

Neither do apostasy and idolatry have any place in the divine order.  And all the Jewish exiles will return to their ancestral homeland.  Also, the message of God will fill the earth:

In days to come Jacob shall take root,

Israel shall bud and flower,

and the face of the world shall fill with bounty.

–Isaiah 27:6, Robert Alter (2019)

The face of the world will be God’s productive vineyard, figuratively.  The people and kingdom of God, figuratively, are a vineyard in the Old and New Testament.  (See Isaiah 5:1-7; Matthew 20:1-16; Matthew 21:33-46; Mark 12:1-12; Luke 20:9-19).

CONCLUSION

Despite ambiguities in the texts, I am unambiguous on two germane points:

  1. Apocalyptic literature offers good news:  God will win in the end.  Therefore, faithful people should remain faithful.
  2. Apocalyptic literature calls the powers and leaders to account.  It tells them that they fall short of divine standards when they oppress populations and maintain social injustice.  It damns structures and institutions of social inequality.  It condemns societies that accept the unjust status quo.

Regardless of–or because of–certain ambiguities in the Isaiah Apocalypse, chapters 24-27 speak to the world in 2021.  Some vagueness in prophecy prevents it from becoming dated and disproven, after all.  And structural inequality remains rife and politically defended, unfortunately.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 16, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE RIGHTEOUS GENTILES

THE FEAST OF CATHERINE LOUISA MARTHENS, FIRST LUTHERAN DEACONESS CONSECRATED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 1850

THE FEAST OF GEORGE ALFRED TAYLOR RYGH, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HENRY WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY IN NEW ZEALAND; HIS WIFE, MARIANNE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR IN NEW ZEALAND; HER SISTER-IN-LAW, JANE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR IN NEW ZEALAND; AND HER HUSBAND AND HENRY’S BROTHER, WILLIAM WILLAMS, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF WAIAPU

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARY MAGDALEN POSTEL, FOUNDER OF THE POOR DAUGHTERS OF MERCY

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