Archive for the ‘Law of Moses’ Tag

Resisting Evil Without Joining Its Ranks, Part II   1 comment

Above:  Micah

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Fourth Sunday after Pentecost, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Holy God, who sent thy Son Jesus Christ to fulfill the Law:

mercifully grant that by our actions we may show forth his perfect love;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

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

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Micah 3:5-12

1 Thessalonians 2:13-20

Matthew 5:38-48

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I could replicate much of the previous post and remain on topic in this post, but I choose not to do so.  No, I refer you, O reader to that post for that duplicate material as I focus on the reading from Matthew 5.

According to The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (2003), the translation of Matthew 5:39 should read, in part,

Do not use violence to resist an evildoer,

not

Do not resist and evildoer.

Matthew 5:39, in its proper translation, is a problematic passage.  It joins the company of Pauline passages commanding submission to governments, as in Romans 13.  Yet, as some prominent Biblical scholars have asked, especially in the context of World War II, does this advice tell people that they should have obeyed Adolf Hitler and Joseph Stalin?  One may reach back to Micah 3, with its condemnation of leaders who despise justice.  Should people submit to such rulers?

Matthew 5:43-48 places 5:38-42 in some context.  Although the Law of Moses never says to hate one’s enemies, doing so seems quite natural.  The commandment of Jesus is to resist evil with righteousness, and to love even enemies.  Perhaps they will repent.

Violence is necessary and proper sometimes.  Usually it is improper, though.  May we, obeying Jesus, resist without sinning, without compromising ourselves morally.

Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God, for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good.

–Romans 12:19-21, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

As Pelagius wrote,

The enemy has overcome you when he makes you like himself.

What moral leg do we have to stand on then?  This question applies far beyond the individual level–all the way to the national level, at least.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 5, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FOURTH DAY OF ADVENT, YEAR C

THE FEAST OF SAINT CLEMENT OF ALEXANDRIA, FATHER OF CHRISTIAN SCHOLARSHIP

THE FEAST OF SAINT CYRAN, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF SAINT FRANCIS XAVIER, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY TO THE FAR EAST

THE FEAST OF NELSON MANDELA, PRESIDENT OF SOUTH AFRICA, AND RENEWER OF SOCIETY

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Good Society, Part III   2 comments

Above:  Jeroboam II

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Third Sunday after Pentecost, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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O Thou who art God and Father of all:

give us, we pray, an awareness of our common humanity

so that whether we are weak or strong, rich or poor,

we may share what we have with those who have not,

following the example of our Lord Jesus Christ.  Amen.

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

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Amos 7:10-15

1 Thessalonians 2:1-12

Matthew 5:27-37

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Amos, like St. Paul the Apostle, did not attempt to curry favor with people, especially powerful ones.  Amos ran afoul of King Jeroboam II, who had the authority to expel the prophet from the Kingdom of Israel and back to the Kingdom of Judah (Amos’s home) yet not to change the course of prophecy.

Amos and St. Paul the Apostle committed themselves completely to serving God.  The main message of Matthew 5:20-48–to commit fully, not to be too clever by half, to play games with God, and to try to get away with the least one can do–has never ceased to be relevant.  Perfection (verse 48)–actually suitability for one’s purpose, which is to follow God–has always been a realistic goal via grace.  Moral perfectionism has always been unrealistic, given human nature, but striving to be the best one can be in God has never ceased to be proper.

Amos 7 offers a sobering lesson for all who imagine vainly that good times will continue unabated.  Consider, O reader, that during the reign (788-747 B.C.E.) of Jeroboam II, the Kingdom of Israel was economically prosperous and militarily powerful.  Consider also, O reader, that the kingdom fell to the Assyrians in 722 B.C.E.  Nationalism is a poor substitute for devotion to God.  Kingdoms, empires, and countries rise and fall, but God is forever.  Potentates leave office one way or another; most of them are of little historical significance.  Many who are historically significant are negatively so.  God, however, is the ultimate force for righteousness.

The condemnation of the Kingdom of Israel went beyond idolatry; it included institutionalized economic exploitation (Amos 2:6).  The condemnation of the Kingdom of Israel has never ceased to be germane, for its sins were not unique to it.

The Law of Moses contains a strong element of social justice–of looking out for each other, of being responsible to and for each other.  Do we, in our societies, really look out for each other?  Do we acknowledge that we are responsible to and for each other?  If we do not, we are sowing the seeds of our collective destruction.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 3, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE SECOND DAY OF ADVENT, YEAR C

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARUTHAS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF MAYPHERKAT, AND MISSIONARY TO PERSIA

THE FEAST OF AMILIE JULIANE, COUNTESS OF SCHWARZBRG-RUDOLSTADT, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT BERNARD OF PARMA, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF JOHN OWEN SMITH, UNITED METHODIST BISHOP IN GEORGIA

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Exploitation III   Leave a comment

Above:  Moses, by Edward Peck Sperry, 1897

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-ppmsca-31841

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For the Second Sunday in Lent, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Lord Jesus Christ, our only King, who came in the form of a servant:

control our wills and restrain our selfish ambitions,

that we may seek thy glory above all things and fulfill our lives in thee.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 121

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Exodus 34:1-9

1 Thessalonians 4:1-8

Matthew 7:24-29

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When I was a boy, I had a collection of Arch Books.  Each volume, a thin paperback book, told one Bible story in words and pictures.  This was a wonderful way for a child to learn Bible stories.  The Arch Book for the parable from Matthew 7:24-27 has lodged itself in my memory.

Jesus likened himself to a rock.  Moses was atop a mountain in Exodus 19 when he received far more than ten commandments from God.  (The commandments fill Exodus 20-24.)  Moses was atop a mountain again, to receive more commandments and stone tablet versions (Exodus 25-31).  While Moses was away, impatient Israelites broke the covenant.  Moses, in anger, broke the first stone tablets (Exodus 32).  Then Moses interceded on behalf of the people (Exodus 32-33).  God restored the covenant in Exodus 34.

We are supposed to read Exodus 34 in the context of the rest of the Torah narrative and of the Hebrew Bible more broadly.  We know of the unfortunate habit of murmuring and of relatively short memories of God’s mighty acts yet long memories of Egyptian leftovers.

I am not a psychologist, but psychology intrigues me.  Therefore, I listen and read closely in the field.  What we remember and what we forget–and why–indicates much about our character and about human nature, for good and for ill.  Often our minds work against the better angels of our nature; much of remembering and forgetting is a matter of the unconscious mind.  As rational as many of us try to be and like to think of ourselves as being, we tend to be irrational, panicky creatures who forget that, when we harm others, we hurt ourselves, too.  We also forget the promises we made recently all too often.

How we behave toward God and how we act toward others are related to each other.  Do we recognize God in others?  If so, that informs how we treat them.  Although I do not see the image of God in Mimi, my feline neighbor whom I feed outside my back door, I recognize her as a creature of God, an animal possessed of great dignity and worthy of respect.  Returning to human relations, the Law of Moses teaches, in terms of timeless principles and culturally specific examples, that we have divine orders to take care of each other, and never to exploit one another.  That commandment applies to societies, institutions, and governments, not just individuals.

Societies, institutions, governments, and individuals who forget or never learn that lesson and act accordingly are like a man who was so foolish that he build his house on sand, not on rock.  The rain will fall, the floods will come, the winds will blow, and the house will fall.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 12, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOSAPHAT, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF POLOTSK, AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF SAINT FRANCES XAVIER CABRINI, FOUNDRESS OF THE MISSIONARY SISTERS OF THE SACRED HEART

THE FEAST OF RAY PALMER, U.S. CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM ARTHUR DUNKERLEY, BRITISH NOVELIST, AND HYMN WRITER

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Faithfulness and Egos   Leave a comment

Above:  Moses Striking the Rock, by Pieter de Grebber

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Sixth Sunday after the Epiphany, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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Almighty God, who hast created man in thine own image:

grant us grace fearlessly to contend against evil, and to make no peace with oppression;

and, that we may reverently use our freedom,

help us to employ it in the maintenance of justice among men and nations, to the glory of thy holy name;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 120

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Deuteronomy 34:1-8

Ephesians 4:10-16

Matthew 17:1-8

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The assigned readings for this day give us two mountains–in Deuteronomy 34 and Matthew 17.

The sin of Moses in Numbers 20:9-13 was the lack of trust in God.  He disobeyed orders, striking the rock–twice, actually–instead of speaking to it–to release the water contained therein.  He took glory intended for the Name of God.  Also, as one Jewish commentary on the Book of Numbers has taught me regarding this passage, wrath and leadership ought not to go together.  Moses and Aaron, having become resigned by the continued faithlessness of their people, lost faith in the continuity of the divine faithfulness to those people.  Therefore, Moses did not cross over into the Promised Land; he did see it, though.

Ephesians 4:10-16 reminds us that spiritual gifts exist for the glory of God and the building up of faith communities, not the sake of the ego and the reputation of those who receive those gifts.  We are stewards of our spiritual gifts.

The account of the Transfiguration of Jesus in Matthew 17, set en route to die in Jerusalem, reminds us of the full glory of Jesus shortly prior to his Passion.  We read of the presence of Moses (representing the Law) and Elijah (representing the prophets), figures who, although great, were not as great as Jesus.  One should note the story of the assumption of Elijah (2 Kings 2:1-18) as well as Deuteronomy 34:6, which tells us that God buried Moses.  An especially observant reader of ancient Jewish traditions knows of the alleged assumption of Moses.

Losing faith in divine promises is relatively easy, for God frequently acts in ways that defy our expectations.  The problem is human, not divine.  Faithlessness is not always malicious, but it does indicate weakness.  Yet, as Martin Luther insisted, we can trust in the faithfulness of God, even when we lose faith.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 1, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF ALL SAINTS

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Judgment, Mercy, and Anger   Leave a comment

Above:  Ocean

Image in the Public Domain

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For the First Sunday after the Epiphany, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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O Lord God, who hast promised to hear the prayers of thy people when they call upon thee:

guide us, we pray, that we may know what things we ought to do,

and receive the power to do them; through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 119

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Micah 7:18-20

Ephesians 3:1-12

Matthew 2:1-12

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Micah 7:19 contains a wonderful word picture–God hurling the sins of the remnant of the Kingdom of Judah into the sea.  That verbal image belies a familiar stereotype about the Bible.  One can hear easily that the Old Testament is about judgment, doom, and gloom, but that God is suddenly merciful in the New Testament.  Perhaps one thinks of a certain routine by the comedian Lewis Black, in which he repeated that stereotype and said that God changed after having a son.  It is a funny joke, but a rank heresy.  It also indicates a superficial reading of the Old and New Testaments; there is a balance of judgment and mercy in both.  In Micah 7, for example, collective forgiveness follows collective punishment for sins.

The readings from Ephesians 3 and Matthew 2 indicate the expansion of the definition of “Chosen People,” whose sins God figuratively throws into the depths of the sea.  However, if one continues to read Matthew 2, one reads of the lack of mercy of Herod the Great.

A principle present in the Old and New Testaments, as in Matthew 7:1-5, is that God applies to us the standards we apply to others.  In the Law of Moses the penalty for perjury, to convict an innocent person, is to suffer the penalty one would have had the falsely accused person endure.  This is an inverse cousin of the Golden Rule.

Anger is understandable.  Sometimes it is even morally justifiable.  Often, however, it is self-destructive.  Do we define ourselves by how often we forgive and love another or by how often we hate one another and nurse grudges?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 27, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HARRY WEBB FARRINGTON, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT AEDESIUS, PRIEST AND MISSIONARY; AND SAINT FRUMENTIUS, FIRST BISHOP OF AXUM AND ABUNA OF THE ETHIOPIAN ORTHODOX TEWAHEDO CHURCH

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Eschatological Ethics V: Compartmentalization   2 comments

Above:  Watergate Hotel, Washington, D.C.

Photographer = Carol M. Highsmith

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-highsm-16601

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For the Second Sunday after Christmas, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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O God, whose blessed Son Jesus Christ became man that we might become the partakers of the sons of God:

grant, we beseech thee, that being made partakers of the divine nature of thy Son

we may be conformed to his likeness;

who lives and reigns with thee and the Holy Spirit, now and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 118

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Micah 4:1-4

1 Peter 2:1-10

Luke 3:4-17

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Eschatological expectations permeate the assigned readings for this Sunday.

In this post I choose to avoid repeating certain germane statements, which I have made in recent posts, and focus instead on the link between private morality and public morality.  One may think of certain figures who committed criminal acts related to the Watergate Scandal, and how, despite their avoidance of certain personal peccadilloes, their public morality was wanting.  I also think of certain political figures of various partisan affiliations who obviously led to morally compartmentalized lives, as well as of some who do.  As I acknowledge that outlawing everything that is immoral is not a feasible option, and that sometimes outlawing certain morally reprehensible practices is not the most effective way to combat them, but actually leads to moral blowback, I seek to find a balanced position, for I know that theocracy is destructive to both church and state, perhaps more so to the former.  I, as a historian, know of politicians with glaring, persistent immorality in their private lives who nevertheless were forces for good in their country and the world.  I also know of politicians whose glaring, persistent immorality in their personal lives compromised their ability to be good leaders.   Furthermore, I know of politicians who had impeccable private lives and were terrible leaders.  I prefer politicians with impeccable private lives who are also effective leaders for positive ends.

Life in a free society entails much mutual forbearance and toleration, within necessary legal limits.  I have no legal or moral right, for example, to drive on the wrong side of the road; public safety is an overriding public good.  Much of what makes a society good bubbles up from the bottom and reaches to the top.  The Biblical principle, evident in the Law of Moses, that we human beings are interdependent and responsible to and for each other is a good place to start.  May we be good to each other, seeking the best for each other.  May we seek to follow the Golden Rule.  Sound morality in private life should influence a politician’s commitment to help the “least of these,” foreign and domestic.  Often abstractness is the greatest enemy of the good.  I propose that pondering details of circumstances then applying the Golden Rule to them is a better way to proceed.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 24, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF HENRY CARY SHUTTLEWORTH, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

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Eschatological Ethics I: Living in Exile at Home   Leave a comment

Above:  The Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem

Image in the Public Domain

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For the First Sunday of Advent, Year 1, according to the U.S. Presbyterian lectionary of 1966-1970

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O God, whose throne is set eternal in the heavens:

make ready for thy gracious rule the kingdoms of this world, and come with haste, and save us;

that violence and crying may be no more, and righteousness and peace may less thy children;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with thee and the Holy Spirit, ever one God.  Amen.

The Book of Common Worship–Provisional Services (1966), 117

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Zechariah 10:6-12

Romans 13:8-10

Matthew 21:1-13

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Reading of our Lord and Savior’s Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem at the beginning of Advent may seem odd to some, but not to many members of the Moravian Church.  That denomination has a tradition of using the same liturgy for Palm Sunday and the First Sunday of Advent.  The theme of the arrival of the Messiah unites the two occasions.

The theme of being in exile at home unites Zechariah 10:6-12 and Matthew 21:1-13.  In this matter I acknowledge the influence of N. T. Wright, author of Jesus and the Victory of God (1996) on my thinking.

Zechariah is a book in two separate sections:  First Zechariah (Chapters 1-8) and Second Zechariah (Chapters 9-14).  First Zechariah is historically related to and concurrent with Haggai (both chapters of it), and dates, in its current state, from no later than 515 B.C.E.  Second Zechariah, from the late Persian period, dates, in its current state, from the middle 400s B.C.E.

The Persian Empire of that period was hardly an onerous taskmaster of Jews living within its borders.  There were ups and downs, of course, but Persians were, overall, much better to live under than the Assyrians and the Chaldeans/Neo-Babylonians.  Nevertheless, in the context of the militarization of the western satrapies during the Greco-Persian wars and the slow economic recovery in the Jewish homeland, many Jews dwelling in their homeland must have felt as if they were in a sort of exile.  Where was the promised Davidic monarch prophets had predicted?

And where was the promised Davidic monarch in the first century C.E., when the Roman Empire ruled the Jewish homeland and a Roman fortress was next door to the Second Temple?  Roman occupation must have felt like a sort of exile to many Jews living in their homeland.

And where was the promised Kingdom of God/Heaven in 85 C.E. and later, after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Roman Empire in 70 C.E.?  The Kingdom of God was simultaneously of the present and the future–a partially realized reign and realm of God on Earth, but the Kingdom of Heaven was the promised fully realized reign and realm of God on Earth.  (I refer you, O reader, to Jonathan Pennington‘s dismantling of the Dalman consensus, or the ubiquitous argument that, in the Gospel of Matthew, “Kingdom of Heaven” is a reverential circumlocution.)

For that matter, where is the promised Kingdom of Heaven today?  We of 2018 live in exile while at home.  Only God can usher in the Kingdom of Heaven.

We can, however, live ethically, both collectively and individually.  Love, after all, is the fulfillment of the Law.  May we, therefore, strive to live (both collectively and individually) according to the Golden Rule, and not make a mockery of that commandment by citing doctrine and dogma to excuse violations of it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 22, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF FREDERICK PRATT GREEN, BRITISH METHODIST MINISTER, POET, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF BARTHOLOMEW ZOUBERBUHLER, ANGLICAN PRIEST

THE FEAST OF EMILY HUNTINGTON MILLER, U.S. METHODIST AUTHOR AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF KATHARINA VON SCHLEGAL, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

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