Archive for the ‘Leviticus 20’ Tag

Judah’s History of Sin: The Not-Safe-For-Work Version   1 comment

Above:  Icon of Ezekiel

Image in the Public Domain

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READING EZEKIEL, PART IX

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Ezekiel 16:1-63

Ezekiel 20:1-44

Ezekiel 23:1-49

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This project of reading the Book of Ezekiel is part of a larger project of reading the Hebrew prophetic books, roughly in chronological order.  I know already, based on this larger project alone, that the Hebrew prophetic books are repetitive.  For example, idolatry is, metaphorically, sexual–prostitution and/or adultery.  This metaphorical prostitution is, functionally, pagan temple prostitution, common in the ancient Near East into New Testament times (from Genesis 38:15 to 1 Corinthians 6:15f).  Also, much of the language of this sexual metaphor is Not Safe for Work (NSFW) and replete with shaming.

The Bible is not G-rated.

Ezekiel 16 is not G-rated.  It uses the marital metaphor, also present in Isaiah 8:5-8; Isaiah 49-54; Isaiah 66:7-14; Jeremiah 2-3; Hosea 1-3; Zephaniah 3:14-20.

Robert Alter provides perhaps the most memorable synopsis of Ezekiel 16:

Among the themes of Ezekiel’s prophecies, the most striking expression of neurosis is his troubled relation to the female body.  Real and symbolic bodies become entangled with each other.  In biblical poetry, a nation, and Israel in particular, is quite often represented as a woman.  God’s covenant with Israel–see Jeremiah 1–is imagined as a marriage, and so the bride Israel’s dalliance with pagan gods is figured as adultery or whoring.  This is a common trope in biblical literature, but the way Ezekiel articulates it is both startling and unsettling.

The most vivid instance of this psychological twist in Ezekiel is the extended allegory of whoring Israel in chapter 16.  The allegory here follows the birth of the nation in Canaan–represented with stark physicality in the image of the infant girl naked and wallowing in the blood of afterbirth, then looked after by a solicitous God–to her sexual maturity and her betrayal of God through idolatry.  The focus throughout is on Israel as a female sexual body.  Thus, the prophet notes (as does no other biblical writer) the ripening of the breasts and the sprouting of pubic hair.  The mature personification of the nation is a beautiful woman, her beauty enhanced by the splendid attire God gives her (this is probably a reference to national grandeur and to the Temple).  Yet, insatiably lascivious, she uses her charms to entice strangers to her bed:  “you spilled out your whoring” (given the verb used and the unusual form of the noun, this could be a reference to vaginal secretions) “upon every passerby.”  Israel as a woman is even accused of harboring a special fondness for large phalluses:  “you played the whore with the Egyptians, your big-membered neighbors.”  She is, the prophet says, a whore who asks for no payment for her services.  “You befouled your beauty,” he inveighs, “and spread your legs for every passerby.”  All this concern with female promiscuity is correlative with Ezekiel’s general preoccupation with purity and impurity.

It is of course possible to link each of these sexual details with the allegory of an idolatrous nation betraying its faith.  But such explicitness and such vehemence about sex are unique in the Bible.  The compelling inference is that this was a prophet morbidly fixated on the female body and seething with fervid misogyny.  What happens in the prophecy in chapter 16 is that the metaphor of the lubricious woman takes over the foreground, virtually displacing the allegorical referent.  Ezekiel clearly was not a stable person.

The Hebrew Bible:  A Translation with Commentary, Volume 2, Prophets (2019), 1051

Corinne L. Carvalho comments:

In Israel, spouses were not equal partners; women were legally and socially subservient to their husbands.  Betrothal and marriage were contractual arrangements by which a woman became the exclusive “property” of her husband, even before the actual marriage.  In practical terms, this meant that her husband was her sole sexual partner from the moment of betrothal.  Since men could have more than one wife, adultery occurred only when it involved a married woman; it was a crime, punishable by death, against the sole property rights of a wronged husband (Lev 18:20; 20:10; Deut 22:22).

Ezekiel 16 plays on these elements of marriage.  God is the one who owns Jerusalem, and Jerusalem owes him her exclusive allegiance and fidelity.  Anything less gives him the legal right to punish her.  Ezekiel 16 uses hyperbole and inflammatory rhetoric to achieve a shocking literary effect.  Here, the author utilizes a common metaphor, the city as God’s wife, in ways that border on pornography.  (Modern translations tone down the sexually explicit language of the Hebrew texts.)  It is an image to provoke a response.

–in Daniel Durken, ed., The New Collegeville Bible Commentary:  Old Testament (2015), 1431

Ezekiel 16 concludes on a sexually graphic metaphor of future restoration (verses 59-63).  After all, to “know” is frequently a euphemism for sexual intimacy.

And I Myself will establish the covenant with you, and you will know that I am the LORD.

–Ezekiel 16:62, Robert Alter, 2019

Consider the following verse, O reader:

Thus you shall remember and feel shame, and you shall be too abashed to open your mouth again, when I have forgiven you, for all that you did–declares the Lord GOD.

–Ezekiel 16:63, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

I feel too abashed after reading Ezekiel 16.

My library contains a variety of editions and versions of the Bible.  The Children’s Living Bible (1972) is one of these.  The artwork depicts a smiling Jesus holding lost-and-found sheep, smiling at children wearing attire from 1972, and generally smiling.  The volume also includes Ezekiel 16.  I imagine a child reading Ezekiel 16 and asking a horrified parent about the contents of that chapter.  I also imagine that parent’s horror that the tyke was reading a volume that included the term, “son of a bitch” (1 Samuel 20:30).  Just wait for Ezekiel 23!

Ezekiel 20 continues the themes of idolatry and apostasy.  The text dwells on the sabbath.  This suggests that the sabbath had become important, as a substitute for the Temple, during the Babylonian Exile.  The sabbath is foundational in the covenant.  The sabbath is also a sign of a free person in the context of liberation from slavery in Egypt.  And to keep the sabbath is to emulate God, the creator and original keeper of the sabbath.

God, as depicted in Ezekiel 20, is not worthy of emulation, respect, love, and awe:

  1. God, according to 20:9, 14, 22, and 44, acts selfishly, to preserve the divine reputation.
  2. God gave the people “laws that were not good and rules by which they could not live (20:25) then promised to destroy the people as punishment for obeying the bad laws and disobeying the impossible rules (20:26).

Chapter 20 exists in the shadow of Ezekiel 18–about individual moral accountability to God.  The verdict on the people of Judah, in the yet-future context of the Fall of Jerusalem (586 B.C.E.) is damning.

Ezekiel 20 concludes on a note of future restoration, but not for the sake of the covenant people:

Then, O House of Israel, you shall know that I am the LORD, when I deal with you that I am the LORD, when I deal with you for My name’s sake–not in accordance with your evil ways and corrupt acts–declares the Lord GOD.

–Ezekiel 20:44, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

I wonder how many agnostics and atheists grew up devout, with this understanding of God, or one close to it.  That theology may explain their current spiritual status as they properly reject that understanding of God yet go too far and remain out of balance.

Ezekiel 23 returns to the imagery of idolatry as harlotry.  It also returns to the category of Not Safe for Work.  (What was it with Ezekiel and sex?)  Break out the plain brown wrappers again, O reader!  The text speaks of the Babylonian Exile as punishment for persistent, collective, and unrepentant idolatry.

Some G-rated details (There are some.) require explanation:

  1. Samaria, the capital of the (northern) Kingdom of Israel, is, metaphorically, Oholeh, “her tent.”  One may recall that, in the theology of the Hebrew Bible, the Presence of God dwelt in a text then in the Temple.  We read of the fall of the Kingdom of Israel and of the causes of that collapse.
  2. Jerusalem, the capital of the (southern) Kingdom of Judah, is, metaphorically, Oholibah, “my tent is in her.”
  3. Ezekiel 23 condemns the kingdoms’ foreign alliances.  This is an old Hebrew prophetic theme, albeit one other prophets presented in less graphic terms.

I try to maintain a spiritual and theological equilibrium.  The God of Ezekiel 16, 20, and 23 is a self-absorbed, abusive, and misogynistic monster.  This is not my God-concept.  Neither is the God of my faith anything like a cosmic teddy bear or a warm fuzzy.  No, the God of my faith holds judgment and mercy in balance.  I do not pretend to know where that balance is or where it should be.  The God of my faith also loves all people and models selflessness.  Neither is the God of my faith a misogynist or any kind of -phobe or bad -ist.  The model for the God of my faith is Jesus of Nazareth, God Incarnate.  I read stories of Jesus having harsh words for those who deserved them and compassion for the desperate.  I understand Jesus as being stable, unlike Ezekiel, apparently.

Ezekiel clearly was not a stable person.

–Robert Alter, The Hebrew Bible:  A Translation with Commentary (2019), 1051

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 27, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 8:  THE FIFTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF CORNELIUS HILL, ONEIDA CHIEF AND EPISCOPAL PRIEST

THE FEAST OF SAINT ARIALDUS OF MILAN, ITALIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC DEACON AND MARTYR, 1066

THE FEAST OF HUGH THOMSON KERR, SR., U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND LITURGIST; AND HIS SON, HUGH THOMSON KERR, JR., U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, SCHOLAR, AND THEOLOGIAN

THE FEAST OF JAMES MOFFATT, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, SCHOLAR, AND BIBLE TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT JOHN THE GEORGIAN, ABBOT; AND SAINTS EUTHYMIUS OF ATHOS AND GEORGE OF THE BLACK MOUNTAIN, ABBOTS AND TRANSLATORS

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Divine Judgment Against Israel and Judah   Leave a comment

Above:  Clarke County Jail, Athens-Clarke County, Georgia

Image Source = Google Earth

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READING AMOS, PART III

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Amos 2:4-16

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Introduction

The Books of Amos, Hosea, Micah, and First Isaiah (Chapters 1-23, 28-33), in their final forms, bear the evidence of editing and updating as late as after the Babylonian Exile.  Isaiah 36-39, frequently classified as part of First Isaiah, is verbatim from 2 Kings 18:13-20:19, except for Isaiah 38:9-20 (King Hezekiah’s prayer of thanksgiving).  One may reasonably argue that Amos 2:4-5 (the condemnation of Judah) is not original to the first draft of the Book of Amos, given that the prophet had a mandate to prophesy against the (northern) Kingdom of Israel.

The words of Amos, a sheepherder from Tekoa, who prophesied concerning Israel….”

–Amos 1:1, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Nevertheless, we read the final draft of the Book of Amos, last updated to speak to exiles in Persian-occupied Judea.  Therefore, the final draft is the one we ponder and apply to today.

In Amos 1:3-2:3, God, through the prophet (and subsequent writers), had condemned Gentile neighbor nations of Israel and Judah for crimes that were anti-human or against nature.  The covenant did not apply to these nations, but certain standards did.  And God held these nations accountable.  The covenant did apply to Israel and Judah, though.

The motif from Amos 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 13; 2:1 repeats in 2:4, 6:

For three crimes of _____, and now four–

I will not take it back-….

The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

Divine patience has its limits.  Divine judgment and mercy exist in balance.

Judah (2:4-5)

The (southern) Kingdom of Judah had “spurned the instruction of the LORD, and did not keep his statutes….”

That kingdom fell to the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire in 586 B.C.E.

Israel (2:6-16)

The identity of Israel in Amos 2:6-16, in its final form, is ambiguous.  Israel seems to be the Northern Kingdom at first, given the prophet’s mandate.  Yet, in 2:10f, Israel refers to the Jewish people.  2:6-16, probably in this form since after the Babylonian Exile, applies the text to the Jews of that time.

The condemnations are timeless.  They include economic injustice, exploitation of human beings, slavery, judicial corruption, and other offenses against the common good.  Some details are specific to time and place.  For example, consider 2:7b:

Son and father sleep with the same girl,

profaning my holy name.

The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

She may be a cultic prostitute, as in Hosea 4:14, in violation of Deuteronomy 23:17.  Or she may be a bond-servant whose rights father and son trample by making her their concubine, in violation of Exodus 21:8.  Sexual promiscuity (in violation of Deuteronomy 27:20; Leviticus 18:8, 15, 17; and Leviticus 20:10f) is another matter in this verset.  This promiscuity violates an oath made in the name of YHWH.  One may recognize applications of Amos 2:7b in various contexts today.

Upon garments taken in pledge

they recline beside my altar.

Wine at treasury expense

they drink in their temple.

–Amos 2:8, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

A debtor used a garment as collateral for a loan.  Exodus 22:26-27 protected the rights of debtors:

If you take your neighbour’s cloak in pawn, return it to him by sunset, because it is his only covering.  It is the cloak in which he wraps his body; in what else can he sleep?  If he appeals to me, I shall listen, for I am full of compassion.

The Revised English Bible (1989)

The wine in Amos 2:8b was wine gained from fines debtors paid to creditors.  Exodus 21:22 and Deuteronomy 22:19 permitted imposing fines as a form of reparation for injury.  The rich were exploiting the poor and manipulating the rules at cultic festivals of YHWH.  They were making a mockery of sacred rituals.  Hosea, a contemporary of Amos, addressed such behavior in Hosea 6:4-6.

But they, to a man, have transgressed the covenant.

–Hosea 6:7, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The (northern) Kingdom of Israel fell to the Assyrian Empire in 722 B.C.E.

Conclusion

The condemnations in Amos 2:6-8 remain relevant, unfortunately.

  1. Human trafficking is a major problem.  I live in Athens, Georgia, to the northeast of Atlanta, a hub of the slave trade, of a sort.
  2. In the United States of America, the federal minimum wage is not a living wage.
  3. Judicial corruption continues to exist.  Often, wealthy defendants fare better than impoverished ones.  “How much justice can you afford?” is frequently an honest and germane question.  Many innocent people bow to prosecutors’ pressure and plead guilty to lesser offenses to avoid certain conviction and a stiffer sentence for a greater legal charge.
  4. Bail, frequently not necessary, is a burden on impoverished defendants.
  5. The exploitation of human beings, as a matter of corporate and government policies, remains endemic.
  6. Sexual promiscuity, to which human nature is prone, remains ubiquitous.
  7. Women are frequently vulnerable to powerful men.
  8. Idolatry is another persistent problem.
  9. Injustice is individual, collective, and systemic.

If he appeals to me, I shall listen, for I am full of compassion.

–Exodus 22:27b, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Divine judgment and mercy exist in balance.  Divine mercy for the oppressed may take the form of judgment for the oppressors.  So be it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 21, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN DE CHARGÉ AND HIS COMPANIONS, MARTYRS OF TIBHIRINE, ALGERIA, 1996

THE FEAST OF EUGENE DE MAZENOD, BISHOP OF MARSEILLES, AND FOUNDER OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE MISSIONARIES, OBLATES OF MARY IMMACULATE

THE FEAST OF FRANZ JÄGGERSTÄTTER, AUSTRIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR AND MARTYR, 1943

THE FEAST OF JOSEPH ADDISON AND ALEXANDER POPE, ENGLISH POETS

THE FEAST OF SAINT MANUEL GÓMEZ GONZÁLEZ, SPANISH-BRAZILIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1924; AND SAINT ADILO DARONCH, BRAZILIAN ROMAN CATHOLIC ALTAR BOY AND MARTYR, 1924

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Divine Judgment Against Foreign Nations, Part I   8 comments

Above:  Map of the Assyrian Empire and Its Neighbors

Image Scanned from an Old Bible

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READING AMOS, PART II

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Amos 1:3-2:3

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Introduction

As I read the Book of Amos, I ask myself how much of the final version is original to the text from the prophet.  I know that the final version of the Book of Amos dates to the 400s B.C.E., three centuries after the time of the prophet.  Nevertheless, that question, germane for some matters of interpretation, is irrelevant for other matters of interpretation.  The message(s) of the Book of Amos for people, cultures, societies, and institutions in 2021 C.E. are what they are, regardless of which layer of composition to which a particular passage belongs.

Amos 1:3-2:16 consists of prophetic oracles of judgment against nations.  I choose to write about the oracles against Judah and Israel in the next post.  In this post, I focus on divine judgment against Aram, Philistia, Tyre, Edom, Ammon, and Moab.

Notice, O reader, a motif:

For three crimes of _____, and now four–

I will not take it back–….

–Amos 1:3, 6, 9, 11, 13; 2:1, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

This motif indicates the end of divine patience after the third crime.  Divine patience is not infinite.  Divine judgment and mercy exist in balance.

Amos 1:3-2:3 condemns neighboring nations for behavior that is anti-human or against nature.  These Gentiles, not being under the Law of Moses, had no covenant with God to keep.  They were still accountable according to certain standards, though.

Aram (1:3-5)

Aram was where Syria is today.  Aram was the main rival of the Assyrian Empire during the time of the prophets Amos, Hosea, Micah, and (First) Isaiah.  Aram was also a frequent foe of the (northern) Kingdom of Israel.

Aram had “threshed Gilead with sledges of iron,” a reference to a military campaign (2 Kings 13:3-7).  King Hazael came to power circa 842 B.C.E. and reigned until circa 806 B.C.E. (2 Kings 8:7-15).  He founded a dynasty.  Hazael’s immediate successor was his son, King Ben-hadad II (2 Kings 13:3).  Hadad was a storm god, and “Ben” meant “son of.”

“Aven” meant “evil,” so the Valley of Aven was the “Valley of Evil.”  Beth-eden was an Aramaic city-state between the Euphrates and Balikh Rivers.  According to Amos 1:5, God would depose the King of Beth-eden and exile the Arameans.  During the Syro-Ephraimite War (734-732 B.C.E.; 2 Kings 15:27-31; 2 Kings 16:1-19; 2 Chronicles 28:1-26; Isaiah 7:1-8:23), King Pekah of Israel (r. 735-732 B.C.E.) and King Rezin of Aram (r. 750-732 B.C.E.), having formed an anti-Assyrian alliance, fought the (southern) Kingdom of Judah and besieged Jerusalem because King Ahaz (r. 743/735-727/715 B.C.E.) refused to join that coalition.  King Ahaz of Judah turned not to God, but to the Assyrian Empire.  That empire conquered part of Aram and reduced Israel to vassalage in 732 B.C.E.  The Assyrian Empire ended Aram’s existence as an independent kingdom in 720 B.C.E.  That empire relocated Arameans throughout the Assyrian Empire, including in Samaria (2 Kings 17:24, 30).

Philistia (1:6-8

Philistia was on the Mediterranean coast and east of the (southern) Kingdom of Judah.  Philistia was where the Gaza Strip is today.  Philistines were the people otherwise known as Phoenicians.

Philistia had “exiled an entire population,” probably from Israel or Judah.  This raid, perhaps during the reign (817-800 B.C.E.; 2 Kings 13:1-25) of King Jehoahaz of Israel, violated Exodus 21:16, not that the covenant applied to the Philistines.

Tyre (1:9-10)

Tyre, on the Mediterranean coast, was the chief Phoenician city in the middle 700s B.C.E.  It was a wealthy commercial capital of a trading network.

Tyre had violated a treaty with an unnamed partner and handed an entire population over to slave markets in Edom.

Edom (1:11-12)

Edom was south of the Dead Sea, in what is now the southern regions of Israel and Jordan.  Edom was the nation, by tradition, descended from Esau, a.k.a. Edom (Genesis 25:25-28:9; 32:3-33:16; 35:1-43; 36:1-43).  Jacob/Israel had made their peace (Genesis 33), but their descendants had continued the conflict.

Edom, the nation, had pursued his “brother” (Israel) with the sword.  Edom, the nation, was metaphorically the brother of the Israelite people (Numbers 20:14; Deuteronomy 2:4; Deuteronomy 23:7; Obadiah 10, 12).  King David had added Edom to the (united) Kingdom of Israel (2 Samuel 8:13f; 1 Kings 11:15-17).  Edom, part of the (southern) Kingdom of Judah after the division of the (united) Kingdom of Israel, threw off Judean control during the reign (851-853 B.C.E.) of King Jehoram (Joram) (2 Kings 8:16-24; 2 Chronicles 21:4-20). Yet Judah reconquered Edom during the reign (798-769 B.C.E.) of King Amaziah of Judah (2 Kings 14:1-22; 2 Chronicles 25:1-28) and the reign (785-733 B.C.E.) of King Azariah/Uzziah of Judah (2 Kings 15:1-7; 2 Chronicles 26:1-23), contemporary with the time of the prophets Hosea, Amos, and Micah.  Edomites persisted in their anger; they raged in wrath without end.

Ammon (1:13-15)

Ammon was to the west of the River Jordan and north of the Dead Sea, in modern-day Jordan.  Ammon had been part of the (united) Kingdom of Israel under Kings David and Solomon.  The Ammonites had broken away circa 928 B.C.E., when the (united) Kingdom of Israel split into the (northern) Kingdom of Israel and the (southern) Kingdom of Judah.

Ammon had “ripped open pregnant women in Gilead, in order to extend their territory” (Amos 1:13).  Ammon had fought a border war with Israel, probably during the 800s B.C.E.  In the course of that conflict, Ammonite soldiers had ripped open pregnant women, a tactic not unheard of, sadly.

Ammon became a vassal state (742-630 B.C.E.) of the Assyrian Empire then a province thereof.  With the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian conquest of the Assyrian Empire, Ammon became a rebellious province of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  The rebellion failed, and mass deportations ensued.

Moab (2:1-3)

Moab was west of the Dead Sea, in modern-day Jordan.  Moab had been a vassal state of the (united) Kingdom of Israel under Kings David and Solomon then under the kings of the (northern) Kingdom of Israel.  King Mesha of Moab had successfully rebelled against vassalage during the reign (851-842 B.C.E) of King Jehoram (Joram) of Israel (1 Kings 3:1-27) and the reign (870-846 B.C.E.) of King Jehoshaphat of Judah (1 Kings 22:1-51; 2 Kings 3:1-27; 2 Chronicles 17:1-20:37).  Moab was also the homeland of Ruth.

Moab had “burned to ashes the bones of Edom’s king.”  This was an extreme disrespect usually reserved criminals (Genesis 38:24; Leviticus 20:14; Leviticus 21:9), not that Moabites were subject to the Law of Moses.  This act, which had no effect on either the (northern) Kingdom of Israel or the (southern) Kingdom of Judah, was still a crime against God.

Moab came under Assyrian domination (c. 735 B.C.E.), became an Assyrian province (711 B.C.E.), and finally ceased to be a state (circa 600 B.C.E.).  (For more about the decline and fall of Moab, read Isaiah 15-16 and Jeremiah 48.)

Conclusion

A spiritual mentor of mine liked to read some portion of the Bible then ask:

What is really going on here?

God, who is sovereign over all the nations, does not tolerate injustice.  The Book of Amos beats the drum repeatedly.  God cares deeply about how people, cultures, societies, and institutions treat people.

In this post, I have focused on neighbors of the (northern) Kingdom of Israel and the (southern) Kingdom of Judah.  Many of the prophet’s original audience probably delighted to hear these proclamations of divine judgment against these foreign nations.

Then Amos stopped preaching and started meddling, so to speak.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 20, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALCUIN OF YORK, ABBOT OF TOURS

THE FEAST OF SAINTS COLUMBA OF RIETI AND OSANNA ANDREASI, DOMINICAN MYSTICS

THE FEAST OF JOHN ELIOT, “THE APOSTLE TO THE INDIANS”

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIÁ ANGÉLICA LATHROP, FOUNDRESS OF THE DOMINICAN SISTERS OF HAWTHORNE

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In Vain   2 comments

Above:  Christ and the Adulteress, by Rocco Marconi

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Acts 19:1-20

Psalm 97

3 John

John 8:1-11

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The name of Jesus has power, but only when people who believe in him use it.  Consider, O reader, the hilarious scene in Acts 19:11-20 and the serious issue (division of a congregation by one man) in the Third Letter of John.  God is the king and the earth should exult, as Psalm 97 reminds us.  However, some people still use religion self-servingly.

John 7:53-8:11 is a floating pericope.  Some ancient copies of the Gospel of Luke place it in different locations.  The final version of the Gospel of Luke lacks it.  And one can jump from John 7:52 to 8:12 without missing a beat.  This floating pericope is a compelling story–originally part of the Gospel of Luke–that has settled down as John 7:53-8:11.

Those who sought to entrap Jesus (yet again) used an adulteress as their pawn.  They seemed unconcerned about the whereabouts of the man with whom she had sinned.  Where was he?  His absence was conspicuous.

These Pharisees had distorted the Law of Moses to attempt to entrap Jesus.  They had focused on the death penalty (Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22) for one sinner and not the other one.  These Pharisees had also ignored the real issue at work in the Law of Moses vis-à-vis adultery:  the protection and stability of a man’s property.  Whatever Jesus wrote, he compelled the accusers to leave.  He reversed the trap.

Then Jesus forgave the woman.

The Law of God is not a blunt weapon to manipulate for one’s purposes.  Neither is the name of Jesus.

This point leads me back to Exodus 20:7:

You shall not misuse the name of Yahweh your God, for Yahweh will not leave unpunished anyone who misuses his name.

The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

Robert D. Miller, II, of The Catholic University of America, offers a germane analysis of this commandment in his Understanding the Old Testament course (2019) for The Great Courses.  He explains:

This is a warning that there is no possibility of involving the name of God without something happening.

–Course Guidebook, 39

That something may involve ricochet.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 12, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BENEDICT BISCOP, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT OF WEARMOUTH

THE FEAST OF SAINT AELRED OF HEXHAM, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT OF RIEVAULX

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANTHONY MARY PUCCI, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

THE FEAST OF HENRY ALFORD, ANGLICAN PRIEST, BIBLICAL SCHOLAR, LITERARY TRANSLATOR, HYMN WRITER, HYMN TRANSLATOR, AND BIBLE TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARGUERITE BOURGEOYS, FOUNDRESS OF THE SISTERS OF NOTRE DAME

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2021/01/12/devotion-for-the-seventh-sunday-of-easter-year-d-humes/

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Daniel and Susanna   Leave a comment

Above:  Susanna and the Elders

Image in the Public Domain

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READING DANIEL

PART XI

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Daniel 13:1-64

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Daniel and Susanna, according to study Bibles I consulted, hails from either the second or the first centuries B.C.E.  A standard description of Daniel 13 is that it is the oldest surviving detective story.  I prefer to think of it as the oldest surviving Perry Mason story.

The cast of named characters is:

  1. Joakim, husband of Susanna;
  2. Susanna, daughter of Hilkiah and wife of Joakim;
  3. Hilkiah, father of Susanna; and
  4. Daniel.

The story does not name the two wicked elders.

This is a story about the miscarriage of justice.  We read that the beautiful and pious Susanna, wife of the wealthy and pious Joakim, refused the sexual advances of the lecherous and homicidal elders, who had hidden in her garden.  The story describes the two elders as predators.  We also read of their perjury and of Susanna’s false conviction, followed by her sentence of death (Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:21-22).

This is also a story about justice.  We read of Susanna’s prayer (verses 42-43) and of God’s reply:  sending Daniel to rescue her.  We read of Daniel’s Perry Mason routine, by which he exposed the two elders’ lies with an arborial question:  

Now, if you really saw this woman, then tell us, under what tree did you see them together?”

–Verse 54, The Revised English Bible with the Apocrypha (1989)

We also read of the elders’ execution, in accordance with the Law of Moses (Deuteronomy 19:16-21).  In the Law of Moses, the punishment for committing perjury to convict someone falsely is to suffer the fate one intended for the accused.

The suffering of the innocent and the pious is a major theme in the Book of Daniel.  We also read of God delivering such victims in Daniel 2 and 3.  Yet Daniel 10-12 wrestles with the realities of martyrdoms.

God delivers the innocent and the pious some of the time.  This tension is evident in the Book of Psalms.  Some of those texts sound like Elihu, as well as Job’s alleged friends:  Suffering results from sins, and God delivers the righteous.  Yet other Psalms come from the perspective of the suffering righteous.  The former position fills Proverbs, the Wisdom of Solomon, and Ecclesiasticus/Sirach/the Wisdom of Ben Sira, too.  Ecclesiastes functions as a counter-argument to that excessive optimism.

Why does God deliver some of the righteous and not all of them?  I have no pat answer for such a challenging question.  In Revelation 6:9-11, even the martyrs in Heaven are not always happy.

We who struggle with this vexing question belong to an ancient tradition.  We are the current generation in a long train.  We have reasons to rejoice, at least; God delivers some of the innocent and the pious.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

NOVEMBER 23, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN KENNETH PFOHL, SR., U.S. MORAVIAN BISHOP; HIS WIFE, HARRIET ELIZABETH “BESSIE” WHITTINGTON PFOHL, U.S. MORAVIAN MUSICIAN; AND THEIR SON, JAMES CHRISTIAN PFOHL, SR., U.S. MORAVIAN MUSICIAN

THE FEAST OF CASPAR FRIEDRICH NACHTENHOFER, GERMAN LUTHERAN MINISTER, LITURGIST, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT CLEMENT I, BISHOP OF ROME

THE FEAST OF SAINT COLUMBAN, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK, ABBOT, AND MISSIONARY

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Judgment, Mercy, Hope, and Repentance   1 comment

Above:  Christ and the Woman Taken in Adultery, by Guercino

Image in the Public Domain

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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Jeremiah 32:36-44

Psalm 119:73-80

2 Corinthians 1:3-11

John 7:53-8:11

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Judgment and mercy exist in balance in the Bible.  In Jeremiah 32:36-44, for example, we read that the Babylonian Exile will come yet will also end.  The author of Psalm 119 understands that God, whom he trusts, has humbled him.  In 2 Corinthians 1 the emphasis is on mercy, via Christ.

Judgment and mercy also coexist in John 7:53-8:11, a frequently misunderstood and subtle passage with some ambiguity.  It has been part of the Johannine Gospel since the 200s and is actually of Synoptic origin–probably from the Gospel of Luke.  It flows naturally in some manuscripts from Luke 21:37-38 and into Luke 22.  John 7:53-8:11 us a free-floating pericope; I treat it as such.  Indeed, one can skip over it, reading 7:52 then 8:12, and not miss a beat.

Certain religious leaders set a trap for Jesus.  This was quite a pastime in the canonical Gospels.  These particular officials, in setting this trap, violated the Law of Moses.  First, the man and woman involved in adultery were subject to the death penalty (Leviticus 20:10; Deuteronomy 22:22).  Where was the man?  Second, there were supposed to be witnesses (Deuteronomy 17:6 and 19:15).  The Roman authorities had deprived the Jewish authorities of the right to execute under the Law of Moses (John 18:31), so there was probably a political element to the trap–Rome or Torah?  (Those who set the trap were Roman collaborators.)  Jesus, being intelligent and perceptive, recognized the trap for what it was.  He reversed the trap.  What did he write with his finger?  Some Patristic exegetes suggested Jeremiah 17:13:

LORD, on whom Israel’s hope is fixed,

all who reject you will be put to shame,

those who forsake you will be inscribed in the dust,

for they have rejected the source of living water, the LORD.

The Revised English Bible (1989)

But we cannot be sure.

Also, the witnesses were to be the first to stone the adulteress (Deuteronomy 17:7):

Let anyone among you who is without sin be the first to throw a stone at her.

–John 8:7b, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

The woman’s accuser, of course, left the scene.  Jesus, instead of condemning her, instructed her to repent.

Then, if we accept the Lukan placement of the pericope, the chief priests and scribes plotted the death of Jess that fateful Passover week.

(Aside:  I have heard a Roman Catholic joke based on the pericope.  After John 8:11 Jesus and the woman were standing together.  Then a stone came, seemingly from nowhere.  Jesus exclaimed, “O, mother!”)

In God exists judgment and mercy.  Mercy includes opportunities to repent–to turn one’s back on sin.  God likes repentance, I keep reading in the Bible.  There is hope in repentance.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 19, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CHARLES COFFIN, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF CHARITIE LEES SMITH BANCROFT DE CHENEZ, HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM PIERSON MERRILL, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, SOCIAL REFORMER, AND HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2017/06/19/devotion-for-proper-19-ackerman/

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Repentance and Restoration, Part I   1 comment

the-denial-of-saint-peter-caravaggio

Above:  The Denial of Saint Peter, by Caravaggio

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ,  who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Deuteronomy 30:1-14

Psalm 115 or 113

John 7:53-8:11 or Luke 22:1-38 (39-46)

Romans 2:12-29

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Maundy Thursday is an especially appropriate day to repent.  We all need to turn our backs to our sins daily, of course, but the commemoration of the final events leading to the crucifixion of our Lord and Savior should remind us all to take a spiritual inventory and turn over some new leaves.  Deuteronomy 30, following directly from Chapter 29, tells us that, after idolatry and other sins, as well as their consequences, will come the opportunity for repentance and restoration.  The psalms extol God, for whom no idol is a good substitute.  Idols come in a wide variety of shapes and sizes.  Some are tangible, but many are not.  That which is an idol for one person is not an idol for another individual.  All idolatry must cease.  Repentance and restoration can still occur.

The pericope from John 7:53-8:11 really belongs in the Gospel According to Luke.  One can, in fact, read John 7:52 and skip to 8:12 without missing a beat.  The story, whenever it occurred in the life of Jesus, teaches vital lessons.  The religious authority figures, we learn, sought to entrap our Lord and Savior.  In so doing, we discover, they violated the law, for they provided no witnesses and did not care about the location of the man (Leviticus 20:10 and Deuteronomy 22:22).  As we read, Jesus reversed the trap, outwitted his opponents, and sent the woman away forgiven.  I conclude that certain words from Romans 2 would have fit well in our Lord and Savior’s mouth, given the circumstances:

You teach others, then; do you not teach yourself?

–Verse 21a, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Falling into sin is easy; one can simply stumble into it out of fear or ignorance.  St. Simon Peter acted out of fear when he denied knowing Jesus.  Fear was understandable, although that fact did not reduce the sin.  Yet, as we read in John 21, Christ gave St. Simon Peter the opportunity to profess his love for him as many times as he had denied knowing him.  The Apostle accepted the opportunity, although he was not aware of what Jesus was doing at the time.

May we strive, by grace, to sin as rarely as possible.  And, when we do sin (many times daily), may we express our penitence and repent.  Christ, simultaneously priest and victim as well as master and servant, beckons us to follow him.  We will stumble and fall often; he knows that.  Get up yet again and resume following me, he says.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 10, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN NITSCHMANN, SR., MORAVIAN MISSIONARY AND BISHOP; DAVID NITSCHMANN, JR., THE SYNDIC, MORAVIAN MISSIONARY BISHOP; AND DAVID NITSCHMANN, THE MARTYR, MORAVIAN MISSIONARY AND MARTYR

THE FEAST OF CECIL FRANCES ALEXANDER, POET AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF CHRISTIAN LUDWIG BRAU, NORWEGIAN MORAVIAN TEACHER AND POET

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JOHN LEONARDI, FOUNDER OF THE CLERKS REGULAR OF THE MOTHER OF GOD OF LUCCA; AND JOSEPH CALASANCTIUS, FOUNDER OF THE CLERKS REGULAR OF RELIGIOUS SCHOOLS

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2016/10/10/devotion-for-maundy-thursday-year-d/

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Oppression   1 comment

Beheading of St. John the Baptist Caravaggio

Above:  The Beheading of St. John the Baptist, by Caravaggio

Image in the Public Domain

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The Collect:

Sovereign God, raise your throne in our hearts.

Created by you, let us live in your image;

created for you, let us act for your glory;

redeemed by you, let us give you what is yours,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 50

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 14:3-11

Psalm 96:1-9 [10-13]

Matthew 14:1-12

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He [the LORD] will judge the world with righteousness

and the people with his truth.

–Psalm 96:13, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Herod Antipas (reigned 4 B.C.E.-39 C.E.) was a bad character and a client ruler (a tetrarch, not a king, by the way) within the Roman Empire.  He had marriedHerodias, his niece and daughter-in-law, an act for which St. John the Baptist had criticized him.  This incestuous union violated Leviticus 18:16 and 20:21 and did not come under the levirate marriage exemption in Deuteronomy 25:5.  John, for his trouble, lost his freedom and his life.  Salome (whose name we know from archaeology, not the Bible), at the behest of her mother, Herodias, requested the head of the holy man on a platter.

The text from Isaiah 14 is an anticipated taunt of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.

How the oppressor has ceased!

How his insolence has ceased!

–Isaiah 14:3b, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

That oppression and insolence did cease in the case of Herod Antipas.  He had deserted the daughter of King Aretas IV of the Nabateans to wed Herodias.  In 36 C.E. Aretas took his revenge by defeating Herod Antipas.  The tetrarch sought Roman imperial assistance yet gained none, for the throne had passed from Tiberius to Caligula.  Herod Antipas, encouraged by Herodias, requested that Caligula award him the title of “King” as the Emperor had done to the tetrarch’s nephew (and brother of Herodias), Herod Agrippa I (reigned 37-44 C.E.).  Yet Herod Agrippa I brought charges against Herod Antipas, who, having traveled to Rome to seek the new title in person, found himself exiled to Gaul instead.  The territories of Herod Antipas came under the authority of Herod Agrippa I who was, unfortunately, one of the persecutors of earliest Christianity (Acts 12:1-5).

Oppression has never disappeared from the face of the Earth.  Certain oppressive regimes have ended, of course, but others have continued the shameful tradition.  You, O reader, can probably name some oppressive regimes in the news.  Sometimes they fight each other, so what is one supposed to do then?  I remember that, during my time as a graduate student at Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, Georgia, I took a course about World War II.  The professor asked us one day that, if we had to choose between following Joseph Stalin or Adolf Hitler (a decision many in Eastern Europe had to make in the early 1940s), whom would we select?  I said, “Just shoot me now.”  That, I imagine is how many people in Syria must feel in 2014.

Only God can end all oppression.  Until God does so, may we stand with the oppressed and celebrate defeats of oppressors.  Some good news is better than none, after all.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 31, 2014 COMMON ERA

PROPER 17:  THE TWELFTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAINT AIDAN OF LINDISFARNE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2014/08/31/devotion-for-saturday-before-proper-24-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Leviticus and Luke, Part V: Like a Broken Record   1 comment

phonograph

Above:  A Long-Playing Record

Image Source = Tomasz Sienicki

(http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:Gramofon_1_ubt.jpeg)

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Blessed Lord, who caused all holy scriptures to be written for our learning:

Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them,

that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting life,

which you have given us in our Savior Jesus Christ;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979), page 236

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The Assigned Readings:

Leviticus 20:1-16, 22-27 (29th Day of Easter)

Leviticus 21:1-24 (30th Day of Easter)

Leviticus 23:1-22 (31st Day of Easter)

Psalm 93 (Morning–29th Day of Easter)

Psalm 97 (Morning–30th Day of Easter)

Psalm 98 (Morning–31st Day of Easter)

Psalms 136 and 117 (Evening–29th Day of Easter)

Psalms 124 and 115 (Evening–30th Day of Easter)

Psalms 66 and 116 (Evening–31st Day of Easter)

Luke 11:37-54 (29th Day of Easter)

Luke 12:1-12 (30th Day of Easter)

Luke 12:13-34 (31st Day of Easter)

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Some Related Posts:

Leviticus 21-23:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/05/02/devotion-for-the-fourth-day-of-lent-lcms-daily-lectionary/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/11/07/proper-25-year-b/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/01/13/week-of-proper-12-friday-year-1/

Luke 11-12:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/04/week-of-proper-23-tuesday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/04/week-of-proper-23-wednesday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/05/week-of-proper-23-thursday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/06/week-of-proper-23-friday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/07/week-of-proper-23-saturday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/08/week-of-proper-24-monday-year-1/

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/05/09/week-of-proper-24-tuesday-year-1/

Prayer of Praise and Adoration:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/03/03/prayer-of-praise-and-adoration-for-the-fifth-sunday-of-easter/

Prayer of Dedication:

http://gatheredprayers.wordpress.com/2011/03/03/prayer-of-dedication-for-the-fifth-sunday-of-easter/

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 I admit it; I sound like a broken record:  Loving people and seeking justice for them matters far more than does keeping an obscure element of the Law of Moses.  Speaking of that law code, shall we consider some provisions of it?  We read some sexual laws and an order to execute one for the offense of idolatry.  Then there is this law:

If anyone insults his father or his mother, he shall be put to death; he has insulted his father and his mother–his blood guilt is upon him.

–Leviticus 20:9, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures

To insult is also to curse, the sort of activity the Prodigal Son committed in Luke 15.  Yet the father, the God figure in the parable, forgave the son.

We read in Leviticus 21:16 forward that physically handicapped or deformed Levites were forbidden to serve as priests.  It seems that such men were not supposed to serve God in that way because their physical imperfections reflected the divine form inadequately.  I am glad of progressive attitudes regarding physical differences in modern times; may these ideas flourish.

Then we read about what makes a sacrifice acceptable.  I do not care, for none of that has mattered since the first century CE.

Jesus criticized people who were meticulous about legalistic details while they ignored the imperative of social justice.  He advocated humility before God, trust in God, and active concern for the conditions and circumstances of others.  I think that he cared about blind and disabled Levites, who got to eat well yet were still second-class spiritual citizens.

Speaking of Levites, contact with a corpse made one unclean (Leviticus 22).  That concern played a role in the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Luke 10:29-37).  And who was the hero in that story?

People matter more than arcane laws.  Here ends the lesson, again.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 15, 2012 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT LANDELINUS OF VAUX, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT; SAINT AUBERT OF CAMBRAI, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP; SAINT URSMAR OF LOBBES, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT AND MISSIONARY BISHOP; AND SAINTS DOMITIAN, HADELIN, AND DODO OF LOBBES, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONKS

THE FEAST OF EVELYN UNDERHILL, ANGLICAN MYSTIC

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Adapted from this post:

http://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2012/06/15/devotion-for-the-twenty-ninth-thirtieth-and-thirty-first-days-of-easter-lcms-daily-lectionary/

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