Archive for the ‘Pharisees’ Tag

Devious Hearts and the Unpardonable Sin   1 comment

Appalachian Trail

Above:  The Appalachian Trail

Photographer = Carol M. Highsmith

Image Source = Library of Congress

(http://www.loc.gov/pictures/item/2011631216/)

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-highsm-13022

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The Collect:

O God, we thank you for your Son,

who chose the path of suffering for the sake of the world.

Humble us by his example,

point us to the path of obedience,

and give us strength to follow your commands,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 46

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 17:5-18

Psalm 17

Matthew 12:22-32

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Keep me as the apple of your eye;

hide me under the shadow of your wings,

From the wicked who assault me,

from my enemies who surround me to take away my life….

Arise, Lord; confront them and cast them down;

deliver me from the wicked by your sword.

–Psalm 17:8-9, 13, Common Worship (2000)

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That Psalmist and the prophet Jeremiah shared the sentiment.

Let my persecutors be shamed,

And let not me be shamed;

Let them be dismayed,

And let not me be dismayed.

Bring on them the day of disaster,

And shatter them with double destruction.

–Jeremiah 17:18, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

That reminds me of some of my prayers at severe periods of my life.  I am glad to report truthfully that I never arrived at the spiritual place of Psalm 137:

O daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,

happy the one who repays you

for all you have done to us;

Who takes your little ones,

and dashes them against the rock.

–Verses 8 and 9, Common Worship (2000)

To be fair, some people were trying to kill Jeremiah.  And, regarding Psalm 137, vengeance is an emotion common to oppressed people.  Revenge is a seductive spiritual toxin.

Today we have readings about enemies and rejection.  YHWH, speaking in Jeremiah 17:11 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures), says:

Most devious is the heart;

It is perverse–who can fathom it?

I the LORD probe the heat,

Search the mind–

To repay every man according to his ways,

With the proper fruit of his deeds.

This brings me to the lesson from Matthew.  In the Hellenistic world the widespread assumption regarding the causation of a variety of disorders and diseases was demonic possession.  Thus, most (if not all) of the demoniacs in the New Testament actually had conditions with down-to-earth causes–biological or just too much stress.  Brain science, which tells us much in 2014, did not exist two thousand years ago.  In fact, modern science is only about five hundred years old.  Nobody should, therefore, expect the Bible to function as a scientific text or a psychological or medical diagnostic manual.  Anyone who does is pursuing a fool’s errand.

Jesus, in his cultural context, conducted what people called exorcisms of “evil spirits” which had caused everything from epilepsy to multiple personalities.  In his cultural context this demonstrated power over evil itself.  Jesus, in his cultural context, faced opposition from people as being of divine origin.  Therefore they preferred to say (if not believe wholeheartedly) that he cast out demons by the power of Satan–a statement ridiculous inside its cultural context.  Their sin–blasphemy against the Holy Spirit–was being unable to tell the difference between good and evil when good stood in front of them and performed great and mighty acts.  Theirs was a voluntary spiritual blindness.

Why did they do it?  Perhaps they were so attached to their social status and religious traditions that admitting that which was manifest in their presence was the genuine article proved threatening.  At stake were matters of identity and livelihood, after all, and Jesus, by his mere presence, called those into question.  His words and deeds constituted even more of a threat.  So these Pharisaic opponents in the reading from Matthew decided to pursue an illogical and spiritually dangerous course.

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit–a sin which requires much effort to commit–is the unpardonable sin because it is deliberate spiritual blindness.  For most of us all our sins flow from either ignorance or weakness.  We either do not know that what we do or do not do is wrong (perhaps due to cultural programming) or, like St. Paul the Apostle, we know what is right yet discover that we are too weak to do it.  In these cases we are either blind spiritually because of what others have taught us or we have clear vision of the moral variety.  But to see clearly in the moral sense, recognize intellectually that good is present, and choose to call it evil because that is the convenient course of action is worse.  One might even lie to oneself and persuade oneself that good is evil.  And how is one supposed to follow God then?

Following God can prove difficult under the best of circumstances.  It is possible by grace, however.  May each of us be willing to cooperate with God in the path God has established.  When God points to an area of spiritual blindness, may we accept the correction.  Such a walk with God will entail times of discomfort, but that is part of the growth process.  Our identity ought to be in God.  Our chief end, the Westminster Catechisms tell us correctly, is to enjoy and glorify God forever.  The specifics of pursuing that goal properly will vary from person to person.  May we support each other in our journeys.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 20, 2014 COMMON ERA

PROPER 11:  THE SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL HANSON COX, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND ABOLITIONIST; AND HIS SON, ARTHUR CLEVELAND COXE, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF WESTERN NEW YORK, HYMN WRITER, AND TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANSEGIUS OF FONTANELLE, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF ELIZABETH CADY STANTON, AMELIA BLOOMER, SOJOURNER TRUTH, AND HARRIET ROSS TUBMAN, WITNESSES TO CIVIL RIGHTS FOR AFRICAN AMERICANS AND WOMEN

THE FEAST OF SAINTS FLAVIAN II OF ANTIOCH AND ELIAS OF JERUSALEM, ROMAN CATHOLIC PATRIARCHS

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Adapted from This Post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2014/07/20/devotion-for-wednesday-after-proper-17-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Restoration V: Exile and Restoration   1 comment

Foundation of the Tower of Antonia

Above:  Foundation of the Tower of Antonia, Jerusalem, Palestine, 1921

Image Creators = Jamal Brothers

Image Source = Library of Congress

(http://www.loc.gov/item/mamcol.045/#about-this-item)

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The Collect:

O God, with all your faithful followers in every age, we praise you, the rock of our life.

Be our strong foundation and form us into the body of your Son,

that we may gladly minister to all the world,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 45

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The Assigned Readings:

Ezekiel 36:33-38

Psalm 138

Matthew 16:5-12

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All the kings of the earth shall praise you, O Lord,

for they have heard the words of your mouth.

They shall sing of the ways of the Lord,

that great is the glory of the Lord.

–Psalm 138:4-5, Book of Common Prayer (2004)

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That was part of the vision of the Book of Ezekiel.  The theology of that text held that exile was divine punishment for persistent national sins and that God would act mightily to restore the fortunes of Israel for the glory of the divine name and the benefit of the people.  Surely such an impressive act would convince many skeptical people that God (YHWH) was not only real but great.  It was a hopeful vision, but life in post-exilic Judea fell far short of those expectations.  At the time of Christ the Roman Empire ruled in military might and with economic exploitation, with the collaboration of Jerusalem Temple officials in Jerusalem.  The exilic experience persisted, with the ironic twist that the exiles were home.

We human beings have a tendency to use logic to confirm our opinions.  Thus we tend to seek prooftexts, cherry-pick evidence, and seek not to become “confused by the facts.”  This reality helps to explain much political discord, especially when disputing partisans cannot agree even on the definition of objective reality.

Sadducees and Pharisees disagreed on many substantive issues, but members of both camps were in league with the Roman Empire and challenged Jesus.  Of course their stations in life and their theological opinions reinforced each other in a repeating feedback loop, but I suspect that many Sadducees and Pharisees were sincere in their doctrine.  They followed the Law of Moses as they understood it and recalled lessons from Hebrew tradition about the relationship between national sin and fortunes.  And certainly they understood our Lord and Savior as a threat in the overlapping realms of economics, politics, and religion.

I know which side I support, for I am a Christian, a partisan of Christ.  Both the Pharisees and Sadducees sought to perpetuate forms of piety dependent on wealth.  Peasants could not find enough time to keep all the Pharisaic rules and regulations, for they had to work for so many hours.  And Sadducees, who rejected the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, channeled considerable efforts into maintaining aristocratic status and estates for the next generation to inherit.  That brought them into disagreement with Jesus.

Exile can assume many forms.  People can be in exile at home or abroad, physically or spiritually.  Exiles might not even know that they are in exile and therefore in need of restoration.  Informing such exiles of their actual status might prompt not return, restoration, and gratitude but hostility and even violence.

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you will preserve me;

you will stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies;

your right hand will save me.

The Lord shall make good his purpose for me;

your loving-kindness, O Lord, endures for ever;

forsake not the work of your hands.

–Psalm 138:7-8, Book of Common Prayer (2004)

The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VI (1956), page 266, offers a germane analysis:

God does not impose his gracious purpose on us, but waits until we ourselves desire it of him.  We sometimes hear it argued that if God is really eager to bless us, he will give up now what we need and not wait till we ask him.  But is that so?  Surely God is never concerned merely to give us things, but only in and through what he gives us to train to be his children, true men and women.  He can adequately bless us only when we ourselves are ready and eager for his blessing.  Thus some of us discover for the first time what if it really means to relish our food–because we come to it hungry.  It is as simple as that.

So, how eager are you, O reader, to receive the grace God has for you and the responsibilities which come with it?  Grace is free to us; we cannot purchase it.  But it is not cheap, for it costs us much.  Many have even died in faithful response.  They have died as free people–not exiles–in Christ.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 16, 2014 COMMON ERA

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

THE FEAST OF JOHN MOORE WALKER, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF ATLANTA

THE FEAST OF THE RIGHTEOUS GENTILES

THE FEAST OF WALTER CRONKITE, JOURNALIST

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This post owes much to the scholarship of Richard Horsley.  Perhaps the most compact book in his oeuvre is Jesus and Empire:  The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder (Minneapolis, MN:  Fortress Press, 2003).

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Adapted from This Post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2014/07/16/devotion-for-saturday-before-proper-16-year-a-elca-daily-lectionary/

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Ready or Not…   2 comments

Above:  Noah’s Ark, According to Edward Hicks (1780-1849)

Genesis 6:5-8; 7:1-5, 10 (Revised English Bible):

When the LORD saw how great was the wickedness of human beings of earth, and how their every thought and inclination was always wicked, he bitterly regretted that he had made mankind on earth.  He said,

I shall wipe off the face of the earth this human race which I have created–yes, man and beast, creeping things and birds.  I regret that I have ever made them.  Noah, however, won the LORD’s favour.

The LORD said to Noah,

Go into the ark, you and all your household; for you alone in this generation have I found to be righteous.  Take with you seven pairs, a male and female, of all beasts that are ritually clean, and one pair, a male and female, of all beasts that are not clean; also seven pairs, males and females, of every bird–to ensure that life continues on earth.  For in seven days’ time I am going to send rain on the earth for forty days and forty nights, and I shall wipe off the the face of the earth every creature I have made.

Noah did all that the LORD had commanded him.

At the end of seven days the water of the flood came over the earth.

Mark 8:14-21 (Revised English Bible):

Now they had forgotten to take bread with them, and had only one loaf in the boat.  He began to warn them:

Beware,

he said,

be on your guard against the leaven of the Pharisees and the leaven of Herod.

So they began to talk among themselves about having no bread.  Knowing this, Jesus said to them,

Why are you talking about having no bread?  Have you no inkling yet?  Do you still not understand?  Are your minds closed?  You have eyes:  can you not see?  You have ears:  can you not hear?  Have you forgotten?  When I broke the five loaves among the five thousand, how many basketfuls of pieces did you pick up?

They said,

Twelve.

Jesus asked them,

And how many when I broke the seven loaves among the four thousand?

They answered,

Seven.

He said to them,

Do you still not understand?

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The Collect:

Remember, O Lord, what you have wrought in us and not what we deserve; and, as you have called us to your service, make us worthy of our calling; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.  Amen.

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Do you still not understand?

–Jesus in Mark 8:21

I know the feeling.  Sometimes, when standing inside a classroom, having chosen to avoid unduly advanced vocabulary words, I find that students still do not understand.  I spoke slowly and enunciated, so I could not have run my words together.  And I spoke up, so volume could not have been an issue.  I sent the message, but some students did not receive it.

God asks the same question repeatedly in the pages of the Hebrew Bible.  Many of our forebears, it seems, either did not listen or chose to pretend that they did not understand.  Today’s reading from Genesis comes from the J account of the Noah’s Ark story.  (The cover art for this post reflects P’s version of God’s instructions–two of every kind.  My North American church culture has fixated on P and ignored J in this matter. C’est la vie.)  In this retelling of an older story, God is frustrated with how creation has turned out.  So God decides to preserve a remnant, destroy the rest, and start over.  God prepares to recreate (create again) the Animal Kingdom.  Noah understands what he must do, and he acts accordingly.  I would say that the rest is history, but this is not history.

“Recreate” is an interesting verb in English.  Depending on whether the first vowel sound is long or short, the meaning is different.  Yet both forms derive from the same Latin word, which means “to bring forth again.”  Recreation, as in games, can refresh us.  And recreation, as in creating again, restores.  Both, however, involve bringing forth again.  And sometimes recreation (long e vowel sound) can be recreation (short e vowel sound).  That is a grace.

The Apostles are in need of recreation (both kinds) in Mark 8:14-21.  Jesus has just fed about 4000 people with a few fishes and a little bread then berated some Pharisees.  These Pharisees have demanded a sign, as you might recall from yesterday’s reading.  Then Jesus, alone with the members of his inner circle speaks in a metaphor, that of leaven, which, in Jewish culture, denoted evil.  So Jesus said to avoid falling into the evil of the Pharisees and the corruption of the Herodians.  Yet, as the Markan Gospel tells the story, the Apostles are clueless; they think Jesus refers to literal bread.  So Jesus, who is already frustrated with Pharisees, adds his Apostles to the list.

Even worse, they still fail to understand after he explains what he means–without a metaphor.  The Apostles need not worry when they are with Jesus.  Consider how far some fishes and loaves of bread went; there is more where that came from.  And why don’t they understand this yet?

We mortals can, if we cooperate with God, display the transforming love of God to anyone who pays attention and who is within our sphere of influence.  First, however, we have to pay attention to whatever God is saying to us.  God is sovereign, and the divine will is destined to come to fruition.  We humans have enough power and free will to ruin Plan A (and B and C…), for example, but God will triumph, with or without us.  Ready or not, here God comes.  May we be ready.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 22, 2010 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF BARTHOLOMEW ZOUBERBUHLER, ANGLICAN PRIEST

THE FEAST OF PAUL TILLICH, LUTHERAN THEOLOGIAN

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Published originally at ADVENT, CHRISTMAS, AND EPIPHANY DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR and ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR 

Adapted from this post:

http://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2010/10/22/week-of-6-epiphany-tuesday-year-1/,

the basis for this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2010/11/12/week-of-proper-1-tuesday-year-1/

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Idolatry, Again: Elijah Versus Prophets of Baal   1 comment

Above:  Elijah’s Sacrifice Consumed by Fire

Image Source = Cadetgray

1 Kings 18:20-39 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

Ahab sent orders to all Israelites and gathered the prophets at Mount Carmel.  Elijah approached all the people and said,

How long will you keep hopping between two opinions? If the LORD is God, follow Him; and if Baal, follow him!

But the people answered him not a word.  Then Elijah said to the people,

I am the only prophet of the LORD left, while the prophets of Baal are four hundred and fifty men.  Let two young bulls be given to us.  Let them choose one bull, cut it up, and lay it on the wood, but let them not apply fire; I will prepare the other bull, and lay it on the wood, and will not apply fire.  You will then invoke your god by name, and I will invoke the LORD by name; and let us agree:  the god who responds with fire, that one is God.

And all the people answered,

Very good!

Elijah said to the prophets of Baal,

Choose one bull and prepare it first, for you are the majority; invoke your god by name, but apply no fire.

They took the bull that was given them; they prepared it, and invoked Baal by name from morning until noon, shouting,

O Baal, answer us!

But there was no sound, and none who responded; so they performed a hopping dance about the altar that had been set up.  When noon came, Elijah mocked them, saying,

Shout louder!  After all, he is a god.  But he may be in conversation, he may be detained, or he may be on a journey, or perhaps he is asleep and will wake up.

So they shouted louder, and gashed themselves with knives and spears, according to their practice, until the blood streamed over them.  When noon passed, they kept raving until the hour of presenting the meal offering.  Still there was no sound, and none who responded or heeded.

Then Elijah said to all the people,

Come closer to me;

and all the people came closer to him.  He repaired the damaged altar of the LORD.  Then Elijah took twelve stones, corresponding to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob–to whom the word of the LORD had come:

Israel shall be your name

–and with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD.  Around the altar he made a trench large enough for the two seahs of seed.  He laid out the wood, and he cut up the bull and laid it on the wood.  And he said,

Fill four jars with water and pour it over the burnt offering and the wood.

Then he said,

Do it a second time;

and they did it a second time.

Do it a third time,

he said; and they did a third time.  The water ran down around the altar, and even the trench was filled with water.

When it was time to present the meal offering, the prophet Elijah came forward and said,

O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel!  Let it be known today that You are God in Israel and that I am Your servant, and that I have done all these things at Your bidding.  Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that You, O LORD, are God; for You have turned their hearts backward.

Then fire from the LORD descended and consumed the burnt offering, the wood, the stones, and the earth; and it licked up the water that was in the trench.  When they saw this, the people flung themselves on their faces and cried out,

The LORD alone is God, The LORD alone is God!

Psalm 16:1, 6-11 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1 Protect me, O God, for I take refuge in you;

I have said to the LORD, “You are my Lord,

my good above all other.”

6 My boundaries enclose a pleasant land;

indeed, I have a goodly heritage.

I will bless the LORD who gives my counsel;

my heart teaches me, night after night.

I have set the LORD always before me;

because he is at my right hand I shall not fall.

9 My heart, therefore, is glad, and my spirit rejoices;

my body also shall rest in hope.

10 For you will not abandon me to the grave,

nor will your holy one see the Pit.

11 You will show me the path of life;

in your presence there is fullness of joy,

and in your right hand are pleasures for evermore.

Matthew 5:17-19 (An American Translation):

[Jesus continued,]

Do not suppose that I have come to do away with the Law or the Prophets.  I have not come to do away with them but to complete them.  For I tell you, as long as heaven and earth endure, not one dotting of an i or crossing of a will be dropped from the Law until it is all observed.  Anyone, therefore, who weakens one of the slightest of these commands, and teaches others to do so, will be ranked lowest in the Kingdom of Heaven; but anyone who observes them and teaches others to do so will be ranked high in the Kingdom of Heaven.

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The Collect:

O God, your never-failing providence sets in order all things both in heaven and earth:  Put away from us, we entreat you, all hurtful things, and give us those things which are profitable for us; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever.  Amen.

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I took notes for this post and drafted my comments a few days ago.  Now, as I type the final version, I have the first part of Mendelssohn’s Elijah playing.  It is appropriate timing, for the confrontation between Elijah and the prophets of Baal is about to begin.

There was a real choice between Yahweh and Baal.  This day we have part of the account of the account of the duel of a sort between Elijah, speaking for Yahweh, and 450 prophets of Baal.  Yahweh wins despite seemingly improbable odds.  A fire on a drenched altar? Who had heard of such a thing?

The prophets of Baal, for all their pleading, dancing, and bloodletting, failed.  How could they not?  Baal was imaginary.  This was an unambiguous victory for Yahweh.  Yet the idolatry continued for centuries.  Some people are just stubborn, apparently.

“The Law,” in the context of the Gospels, has layers and aspects.  There are, for starters, the letter (economically and culturally specific to circumstances, which change and therefore fail to apply after a while) of the law and there is the spirit (not tied to circumstances) thereof.  There is the Law of Moses and then there are elaborations upon it which people have added over time.  Jesus is consistent with the best of these traditions (the spirit of the law), not the persnickety details the Gospel writers quote him as contradicting.

The audience for Matthew was Jewish Christian, so this was an important point for the author of that text to make clear.  Jesus was an observant Jew, albeit neither a Pharisee nor a Sadducee.  For Jesus performing merciful deeds was legal and commendable on every day of week.  In contrast, strict Pharisees allowed only the most basic first aid on the Sabbath, delaying more advanced medical attention until the next day.  ”Do the most good you can everyday,” Jesus said with this words and deeds, “including on the Sabbath.”

There is nothing sinful about that.

The choice between goodness and the Law and the Prophets, when one interprets the latter correctly, is an illusion.  When one follows our Lord and Savior’s admonition to love God fully and one’s neighbor as one’s self, the two commandments on which all the Law and the Prophets hang, one keeps the Law.

It is that simple–and that challenging.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 6, 2011 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE TRANSFIGURATION OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST

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Published originally at ORDINARY TIME DEVOTIONS BY KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

Adapted from this post:

http://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2011/08/06/week-of-proper-5-wednesday-year-2/

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