Archive for the ‘Individualism’ Tag

The Rededication and Purification of the Temple: The First Hanukkah   1 comment

Above:  A Menorah

Image in the Public Domain





1 Maccabees 4:36-61

2 Maccabees 10:1-9


God, the pagans have invaded your heritage,

they have defiled your holy temple,

they have laid Jerusalem in ruins,

they have left the corpses of your servants as food for the birds of the air,

the bodies of your faithful for the wild beasts.

Around Jerusalem they have shed blood like water,

leaving no one to bury them.

We are the scorn of our neighbours,

the butt and laughing-stock of those around us.

How long will you be angry, Yahweh?  For ever?

Is your jealousy  to go on smouldering like a fire?

Pour out your anger on the nations who do not acknowledge you,

and on the kingdoms that do not call on your name;

for they have devoured Jacob and devastated his home.

Do not count against us the guilt of forever generations,

in your tenderness come quickly to meet us,

for we are utterly weakened;

help us, God our Saviour,

for the glory of your name;

Yahweh, wipe away our sins,

rescue us for the sake of your name.

Why should the nations ask,

“Where is their God?”

Let us see the nations suffer vengeance

for shedding your servants’ blood.

May the groans of the captive reach you,

by your great strength save those who are condemned to death!

Repay our neighbours sevenfold

for the insults they have levelled at you, Lord.

And we, your people, the flock that you pasture,

will thank you for ever,

will recite your praises from age to age.

–Psalm 79, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)


Psalm 79 is a text from the Babylonian Exile.  One can easily imagine Judas Maccabeus and company reciting it or parts of it, at least mentally, at the first Hanukkah, on Kislev 25 (December 14), 164 B.C.E.  Many of the themes fit.  

My cultural patrimony includes the Scientific Revolution and the ensuing Enlightenment.  I, therefore, have the intellectual category “laws of nature.”  My default understanding of a miracle is a violation of or an exception to at least one law of nature.  That definition does not apply to the Bible, though.  Its authors, who lived and died long prior to the Scientific Revolution and the Enlightenment, lacked the intellectual category “laws of nature.”  We moderns need to be careful not to misread the Bible anachronistically.

In Biblical times, people did have a category I call, for lack of a better label, “We don’t see that every day.”  They recognized the extraordinary.  The traditional Hanukkah miracle (absent from 1 and 2 Maccabees yet mentioned in the Babylonian Talmud) of the oil lasting as long as it did was extraordinary.  The miracles in 1 and 2 Maccabees were that proper Temple worship resumed and that the Temple was suitable for such worship again.

King Antiochus IV Epiphanes had profaned the Temple about three years prior, in 1 Maccabees 1:54f and 2 Maccabees 5:1-27.  King Antiochus IV had died about the time of the first Hanukkah–either before (2 Maccabees 9:1-29) or after (1 Maccabees 6:17).  As Father Daniel J. Harrington, S. J.. wrote in The New Collegeville Bible Commentary:  Old Testament (2015), news of the king’s death may have reached Jerusalem after the rededication and purification of the Temple.

The Jewish war for independence had not ended.  King Antiochus V Eupator, just seven years old, was the new Seleucid monarch, with Lysias as the regent.  And Judas Maccabeus was no fool.  He ordered Mount Zion and Beth-zur fortified.

The Hasmonean Rebellion began as a fight against the Seleucid imperial policy of forced Hellenization.  The rebellion became a war for national independence.  The Hasmonean Rebellion was always a struggle to maintain Jewish communal life, which was under a great and terrible threat.

Communal life is a relatively low priority in a culture that preaches rugged individualism.  Yet communal life is one of the moral pillars of the Law of Moses, which the Hasmoneans guarded and obeyed.  And communal life was a pillar of the moral teachings of Hebrew prophets.  Furthermore, communal life was a moral pillar of the teachings of Jesus and the epistles of St. Paul the Apostle.

Robert Doran, writing in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Volume IV (1996), asks,

But how are we to keep a sense of community when we are not under attack?


He proposes taking the answer from 1 Corinthians 13:4-5.  The answer is love:

Love is always patient and kind; love is never jealous; love is not boastful or conceited, it is never rude and never seeks its own advantage, it does not take offence or store up grievances.

The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

In other words, in ecclesiastical-theological terms, Donatism is not an option.  One of my favorite cartoons (probably under copyright protection) depicts a group of people holding really big pencils and drawing lines on the floor.  That single-cell cartoon also depicts Jesus standing among those line-drawers.  He is holding his really big pencil upside-down and erasing lines, though.

Love, in the context of communal life, eschews Donatism and self-aggrandizement.  Love, in the context of communal life, seeks only what is good for the community.  Love, in the context of communal life, embraces mutuality.  We are all responsible to and for each other other.  We all depend upon each other.  We all depend upon each other.  And we all depend entirely on God.  Whatever one does to harm anyone else also damages that one.  Whatever one does to or for anyone else, one does to or for oneself.

If my culture were to recognize these truths and act on them, that would be a miracle.  It would not constitute a violation of or an exception to any law of nature.  It would, however, be extraordinary.





Serving God and Each Other   1 comment


Above:  Church of the Common Ground, Woodruff Park, Atlanta, Georgia, June 30, 2013

Image Source = Bill Monk, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta



The Collect:

Stir up your power, Lord Christ, and come!

With your abundant grace and might,

free us from the sin that hinders our faith,

that eagerly we may receive your promises,

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

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 19


The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 17:15-22 (Monday)

Genesis 21:1-21 (Tuesday)

1 Samuel 2:1-10 (both days)

Galatians 4:8-20 (Monday)

Galatians 4:21-5:1 (Tuesday)


Some Related Posts:

Genesis 17:

Genesis 21:

1 Samuel 2:

Galatians 4:


The LORD kills and brings to life;

he brings down to Sheol and raises up.

The LORD makes poor and makes rich;

he brings low; he also exalts.

He raises the poor from the dust;

he lifts the needy from the heap,

to make them sit with princes

and inherit a seat of honor.

–1 Samuel 2:6-8a, The New Revised Standard Version


Hannah’s Song from 1 Samuel 2, a partial basis for the Magnificat, is fitting to read during Advent and with these lections.  The birth of Isaac was a miracle, as was the birth of Samuel.  And we read an allegory of Isaac and Ishmael in Galatians.  The essence of the allegory is this:  In grace there is freedom, not slavery–freedom to serve God.

Among the underlying principles of the Law of Moses was that everything belongs to God.  Therefore we are tenants on this planet and slaves of God, a kindly (at least some of the time) master.  God, in the Bible (both Testaments) does have quite a temper.  God, in both Testaments, exercises both judgment and mercy.  And, in the Law of Moses, there was mercy in exchange for obedience to the Law, which spoke of mutual responsibilities of people to each other.  If all were slaves of God, none was better than anyone else.  And nobody had the right to exploit anyone else.

There was, of course, the long list of stonable offenses (many of which I have committed), from working on the Sabbath day to showing disrespect to parents.  If one were subject to such laws, who would live into or past adolescence?  Obviously, executing someone does not indicate mercy toward him or her.  I mention these matters to avoid even the appearance of committing prooftexting and to acknowledge the complexity of the texts.  But my earlier point remains accurate.

That point–responsibility to each other–runs through the Galatians lessons also.  There is a consistent biblical testimony on the topic of what we owe to each other as social beings who bear the Image of God.  The well-being of the community is crucial to this theology, for none of us is, as John Donne said, an island.  So, just as surely as we ought not to endanger the community, the community has no right to crush us for simply not conforming to every rule.  Diversity enriches the whole and individualism and communitarianism can co-exist peacefully and respectfully.  Besides, if everybody were alike, much that is essential would not get done.  If that were not bad enough, the community and the world wold be incredibly dull.

May this Advent be a time to renew our commitments to God and each other to labor faithfully for the greater good in interesting and perhaps even quirky ways.





Adapted from this post: