Archive for the ‘Rabbi Hillel’ Tag

Friendship V   3 comments

Above:  Job and His Alleged Friends, a Fresco

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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Job 5:6-23 or Deuteronomy 5:6-21

Psalm 41

James 2:1-17

Mark 1:29-45

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The Law of Moses, unlike the older Code of Hammurabi, to which it bears some similarity, does not bring social class into consideration.  No, the Law of Moses is impartial regarding the socio-economic status of both the victim and the perpetrator.  In the Code of Hammurabi, for example, the same crime (theft or assault, for example) leads to a harsher penalty when the victim belongs to a higher social class.  In the Law of Moses, however, the penalty is the same, regardless of anyone’s socio-economic status.  That ethic of socio-economic impartiality carries over into James 2:1-7.

The Hillelian distillation of the Law of Moss comes from Deuteronomy 6:4-5 (the Shema).  How we love God, assuming that we do, manifests in how we treat each other.  Hypocrisy is as old as human nature.  Pious fronts belie both evil intentions and lesser disregard and carelessness.  Often those who violate the Golden Rule do so while imagining that they are honoring God.  Eliphaz the Temanite and the other so-called friends of Job (who remind me of, “with friends like these, who needs enemies?”) sound like the Book of Psalms much of the time.  That fact complicates the interpretation of much of the Book of Job.  The best answer I can offer is that what they said applied in certain circumstances, but not that one.

If we were less concerned about who is wright and about insisting that we are right, and if we were more concerned about being good friends to one another, we could fulfill the spirit of most of the assigned texts for today.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 14, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CHARLES AUGUSTUS BRIGGS, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, EPISCOPAL PRIEST, BIBLICAL SCHOLAR, AND ALLEGED HERETIC; AND HIS DAUGHTER, EMILIE GRACE BRIGGS, BIBLICAL SCHOLAR AND “HERETIC’S DAUGHTER”

THE FEAST OF SAINT METHODIUS I OF CONSTANTINOPLE, DEFENDER OF ICONS AND ECUMENICAL PATRIARCH OF CONSTANTINOPLE; AND SAINT JOSEPH THE HYMNOGRAPHER, DEFENDER OF ICONS AND “SWEET-VOICED NIGHTINGALE OF THE CHURCH”

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM HIRAM FOULKES, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2019/06/14/devotion-for-the-fourth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-b-humes/

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Old Teachings   1 comment

Above:  Christ in the Synagogue at Capernaum, a Fresco

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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Job 3:1-26 (or 1:1-19) or Deuteronomy 5:6-21

Psalm 40

James 1:17-27

Mark 1:21-28

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And they were all amazed, so that they questioned among themselves, saying “What is this?  A new teaching!  With authority he commands even the unclean spirits, and they obey him.”

–Mark 1:28, Revised Standard Version–Second Catholic Edition (2002)

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One may legitimately question whether Christ’s action in Mark 1:21-28 constituted a teaching.  Assuming that it was, was it a new teaching?

Despite traditional Christian attempts to divorce Jesus from Judaism, one would have had a difficult time finding someone more Jewish than Jesus of Nazareth.  Judaism was not monolithic two millennia ago.  (Neither is it monolithic today.)  Jesus was a man of his culture, place, and faith.  With ease he quoted Deuteronomy, the various Isaiahs, and Rabbi Hillel.  There was continuity from the Hebrew Bible (as in the Ten Commandments, repeated in Deuteronomy 5) to Jesus.

There is much continuity from the Hebrew Bible to the New Testament.  The teaching to walk, not just talk, the talk, is present in both, as in the context of the Ten Commandments and the Letter of James.  The theme of trusting in God, who cares about us (as in Psalm 40), is also present in the New Testament.  As one considers the lilies of the field, one may recall that Job had a different opinion in Job 3.  If each of us lives long enough, each of us also sometimes thinks that God does not care about us.

Occasionally, at the Oconee Campus of the University of North Georgia, where I teach, someone from a campus ministry politely asks me if I believe in God.  I ask this person what he or she means, for the answer depends on the question.  Many people used “believe in God” to mean “affirm the existence of God,” but belief, in the creedal sense, is trust.  My answer is that I always affirm the existence of God and usually trust in God.

I (usually) trust in God, incarnate in the historical figure of Jesus of Nazareth, whose teachings were mostly old, in continuity with the Hebrew Bible.  The Golden Rule and the Shema (Deuteronomy 6:4-5) are old, for example.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 13, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MILTON SMITH LITTLEFIELD, JR., U.S. PRESBYTERIAN AND CONGREGATIONALIST MINISTER, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMNAL EDITOR

THE FEAST OF SIGISMUND VON BIRKEN, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM CULLEN BRYANT, U.S. POET, JOURNALIST, AND HYMN WRITER

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2019/06/13/devotion-for-the-third-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-b-humes/

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Hesed, Part III   1 comment

Above:  The Feast of Esther, by Jan Lievens

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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Esther 7:1-10; 9:20-22 or Isaiah 61:10-62:3

Psalm 35:1-3, 9-18

1 Corinthians 13

Matthew 22:34-46

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Today’s readings from the Hebrew Bible reflect danger and divine deliverance.  In Esther and Isaiah the agents of divine deliverance are human beings.

The appeal for divine deliverance is the request for hesed, or loving kindness, steadfast love, keeping of faith.  That is a form of love that is covenantal and beyond sentimentality.  That is the human love in 1 Corinthians 13.  That is the love for God and neighbor in Matthew 22:34-40, quoting Deuteronomy 6:5 and Leviticus 19:18, and sounding much like the then-fairly recently deceased Rabbi Hillel.

Two words I often hear misused are “love” and “friend.”  I like chocolate, not love it.  In the age of social media “friend” has taken on superficial and shallow connotations.  Regardless of how many “friends” one has on any given social media website, one is fortunate if one has a few friends face-to-face–people who will proverbially go through hell for one.  I mean no disrespect to Joseph Scriven (1820-1886), author of the hymn, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus.”  Yet the passage,

Do thy friends despise, forsake thee?

Take it to the Lord in prayer!

is inaccurate.  If we define a friend as an individual who behaves as a friend, those alleged friends in the hymn are actually enemies.  If one has “friends” such as those, one joins the company of Job, afflicted by four enemies by the time the final author of that book wrote.

May we be agents of hesed to one another.  May we have hesed for God.  After all, God has hesed for all of us.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 17, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JUTTA OF DISIBODENBERG, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBESS; AND HER STUDENT, SAINT HILDEGARD OF BINGEN, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBESS AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF GERARD MOULTRIE, ANGLICAN PRIEST, HYMN WRITER, AND TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS

THE FEAST OF SAINT ZYGMUNT SZCESNY FELINSKI, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF WARSAW, TITULAR BISHOP OF TARSUS, AND FOUNDER OF RECOVERY FOR THE POOR AND THE CONGREGATION OF THE FRANCISCAN SISTERS OF THE FAMILY OF MARY

THE FEAST OF SAINT ZYGMUNT SAJNA, POLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST AND MARTYR, 1940

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Adapted from this post:

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2018/09/17/devotion-for-proper-25-year-a-humes/

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A Faithful Response, Part II   1 comment

Above:  Ash Wednesday Cross

Scanned by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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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:

Joel 2:1-2, 12-17

Psalm 51:1-17

2 Corinthians 5:20b-6:10

Matthew 6:1-21 or 6:1-6, 16-21

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Ash Wednesday is an ancient holy day.  Its origins are as old as the early Church, which created methods of disciplining sinners, as well as restoring them to the communion of the Church.  The record of Church history tells us that the penitential season of Lent, which grew to forty days in the sixth century, used to begin on a Monday, but came to start of Wednesday in the 500s.  One can also read that the reconciliation of the penitents occurred at the end of Lent–on Maundy Thursday or Good Friday, depending on where one was, in the sixth century.

Interestingly, The Church of Ireland is unique in the Anglican Communion for having an Ash Wednesday ritual that does not require the imposition of ashes.

One function of the announcement of divine judgment is to prompt repentance–literally, turning one’s back to sin.  We cannot turn our backs to all our sins, given our nature, but (1) God knows that already, and (2) we can, by grace, improve.  Judgment and mercy exist in balance.  That God knows what that balance is, is sufficient.

That we do what we should matters; so does why we do it.  In Christianity and Judaism the issue is properly the faithful response to God; the issue is not the pursuit of legalism.  Stereotypes of Judaism (especially among many Christians) and Christianity aside, these are not legalistic religions when people observe them properly.  (There are, of course, legalistic Jews and Christians, hence the stereotypes.)  The standard of faithful response is love of God and, correspondingly, of one’s fellow human beings.  We have accounts of the unconditional and self-sacrificial love of God in the Bible.  The readings from 2 Corinthians and Matthew include commentary on that principle.  To paraphrase Rabbi Hillel, we should go and learn it.

May we do this while avoiding the trap of legalism, into which so many pious people fall easily.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 22, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF FREDERICK HERMANN KNUBEL, PRESIDENT OF THE UNITED LUTHERAN CHURCH IN AMERICA

THE FEAST OF GEORG GOTTFRIED MULLER, GERMAN-AMERICAN MORAVIAN MINISTER AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS JOHN FOREST AND THOMAS ABEL, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND MARTYRS, 1538 AND 1540

THE FEAST OF SAINT JULIA OF CORSICA, MARTYR AT CORSICA, 620

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Adapted from this post:

https://lenteaster.wordpress.com/2018/05/22/devotion-for-ash-wednesday-years-a-b-c-and-d-humes/

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The Kingdom of God and the Law of Love   Leave a comment

Above:  The Last Judgment, by Michelangelo Buonarroti

Image in the Public Domain

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FOR THE FIRST SUNDAY OF KINGDOMTIDE, ACCORDING TO A LECTIONARY FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP IN THE BOOK OF WORSHIP FOR CHURCH AND HOME (1965)

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O God, by whom the meek are guided in judgment, and light rises up in darkness for the godly:

Grant us, in all doubts and uncertainties, the grace to ask for what you would have us to do,

that the spirit of wisdom may save us from all false choices,

and that in your light we may see light and in your straight path may not stumble;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 153

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1 Chronicles 29:10-18

Psalm 27

Revelation 19:1, 4, 6-8

Matthew 25:31-40

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In Jewish and Christian theology, when they are what they ought to be, one of the great overreaching commandments of God is to love God fully.  A second is to love one’s neighbor as one loves oneself.  So said Rabbi Hillel.  The rest of the Torah is commentary, he continued; go and learn it.  Many people have repeated the first part of the quote (“the rest is commentary”) but not the second (“go and learn it”).  Jesus obviously knew teachings of Hillel, as Matthew 22:34-40 demonstrates.

The term “Kingdom of God” has more than one meaning in the canonical Gospels.  On occasion it refers to Heaven, as in afterlife with God.  Sometimes the translation more accurate than “kingdom” is “reign,” without a realm.  On other occasions, however, the reference is to a realm, so “kingdom” is a fine translation from the Greek.  This is the case of “Kingdom of Heaven,” which the Gospel of Matthew uses all but four times.  As Jonathan Pennington argues convincingly, “Kingdom of Heaven” is not a reverential circumlocution–a way of not saying God, out of reverence–but rather a reference to God’s rule on the Earth.  Thus the Kingdom of Heaven and the New Jerusalem (Revelation 21 and 22) have much in common.  Furthermore, frequently the language of the Kingdom of God in the canonical Gospels indicates that the kingdom belongs simultaneously in the present and future tenses; the kingdom is here, but not in its fullness.

The commandment to love is essential.  The historical record is replete with shameful examples of professing Christians defending chattel slavery while quoting the Bible and tying themselves into logical knots while giving lip service to the law of love.  There is never a bad time to live according to the law of love, as difficult as doing so might be sometimes.  The commandment is concrete, not abstract.  It is to meet the needs of others as one is able.  The list in Matthew 25:31-46 is partial yet sufficient to make the point plainly.  A modern-day expanded list might include such tasks as mowing an elderly person’s lawn and washing, drying, and putting away a disabled person’s dishes.  When we help each other, we do it for Christ.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 6, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE EPIPHANY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST

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God, Gloriously Subversive   Leave a comment

Above:  Pentecost Dove

Scanned from a Church Bulletin by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

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FOR PENTECOST SUNDAY, ACCORDING TO A LECTIONARY FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP IN THE BOOK OF WORSHIP FOR CHURCH AND HOME (1965)

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O God, who at this time teaches the heart of your faithful people,

by sending them the light of your Holy Spirit:

Grant us by the same Spirit to have a right judgment in all things

and evermore to rejoice in his holy comfort;

through the merits of Christ Jesus our Savior, who lives and reigns with you,

in the unity of the same Spirit, one God, world without end.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), pages 127-128

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Jeremiah 31:31-34

Psalm 30

Acts 2:1-8, 12-21

John 14:15-17, 25-27

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Robert C. Wright, the Episcopal Bishop of Atlanta, and my bishop, likes to repeat the slogan,

Love like Jesus.

That teaching is consistent with the reading from John 14, in which the test of loving Jesus is obeying his commandments.  May we recall how Jesus loved and lived–sacrificially and unconditionally.  The ethics of Jesus, as we read them in the Gospels, are those of Judaism–love the LORD with all one’s heart, soul, and mind, and one’s neighbor as oneself.  That is certainly the summary of the Torah, according to Rabbi Hillel, who died when Jesus was a boy.

The Holy Spirit is a great leveler.  A recurring theme in varieties of Christianity, from the Quakers to the Arminians, is equality via the Holy Spirit.  This teaching is, according to those who favor spiritual hierarchy, heretical.  Equality via the Holy Spirit cuts through social–gender, economic, racial, ethnic, et cetera–distinctions, much to the discomfort of those invested in those categories as indications of inequality.  God writes the new covenant on hearts metaphorically without regard to social status.  God, who turns mourning into dancing, is no respecter of persons.  God is, according to human standards, subversive.

This is wonderful news to ponder on any day, but especially on Pentecost, the last day of the Easter season and the birthday of the Church.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 19, 2017 COMMON ERA

THE SEVENTEENTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF RAOUL WALLENBERG, RIGHTEOUS GENTILE

THE FEAST OF CHICO MENDES, “GANDHI OF THE AMAZON”

THE FEAST OF ROBERT CAMPBELL, SCOTTISH EPISCOPALIAN THEN ROMAN CATHOLIC SOCIAL ADVOCATE AND HYMN WRITER

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This is post #1800 of BLOGA THEOLOGICA.

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The Golden Rule and Other Timeless Principles   Leave a comment

Above:  The Parable of the Good Samaritan

Image in the Public Domain

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FOR THE EIGHTH SUNDAY AFTER EPIPHANY, ACCORDING TO A LECTIONARY FOR PUBLIC WORSHIP IN THE BOOK OF WORSHIP FOR CHURCH AND HOME (1965)

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Lord, you have taught us that all our doings without unconditional, sacrificial love are worth nothing.

Send your Holy Spirit, and pour into our hearts that most excellent gift of love,

the very bond of peace and of all virtues, without whosoever lives is counted dead before you.

Grant this for the sake of your only Son Jesus Christ.  Amen.

–Modernized from The Book of Worship for Church and Home (1965), page 86

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Leviticus 19:1-2, 15-18

Psalm 47

Ephesians 4:17-32

Luke 10:25-37

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God is the King, Psalm 47 reminds us.  Furthermore, the text states, all nations should acknowledge this reality.  Not only is this true, but so are the following statements:

  1. We depend on God for everything.
  2. We depend on each other.
  3. We are responsible for each other.
  4. We are responsible to each other.
  5. We are interdependent and dependent, not independent.
  6. We have no moral right to exploit one another.
  7. How we treat each other matters.
  8. Piety (or at least the appearance thereof) does not justify not helping each other.

Those statements, taken together, summarize the readings from Leviticus 19, Ephesians 4, and Luke 10 well.  To that list of statements I add another:  The identity of those who help us might prove so surprising as to be scandalous to many.

I notice the selective reading from Leviticus 19.  I have no desire to insult the deaf or to place a stumbling block before the blind, for example, so verse 14 does not disturb me.  Many other omitted verses also prompt me to respond with, “Of course that is a fine law.”  Some of them are timeless principles, but others are culturally specific examples of such principles.  The particulars of verses 9 and 10 might not apply at all times and in all places, but the commandment to provide for the poor remains.  I note, however, that verses 20-22 allow for slavery.  Furthermore, the wardrobe prohibition in verse 19 applies neither to priestly vestments (see Exodus 28:6 and 39:29) nor forbids mandatory fringes on Israelite clothing (see Numbers 15:37-40).  The wording of certain passages of the Law of Moses, taken out of context, makes those passages seem more cut-and-dried than they really are.

Biblical interpretation is a frequently complicated and subtle enterprise.  So as to avoid becoming lost in the proverbial forest and slipping into legalism, I side with the tradition of Rabbi Hillel:

That which is deplorable to you, do not do to your fellow; this is the whole Torah, and the rest is commentary; go and learn it.

We read in Matthew 5:17-20 that Jesus came to fulfill, not to abolish, the law.  The critique of scribes and Pharisees in the Gospel of Matthew is that they do not keep the law properly.  We also read the following in Matthew 7:12:

In everything do to others as you would have them do to you; for this is the law and the prophets.

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

That is the Golden Rule.  It means no slavery, does it not?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

SEPTEMBER 4, 2017 COMMON ERA

LABOR DAY (U.S.A.)

THE FEAST OF PAUL JONES, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF UTAH AND PEACE ACTIVIST; AND HIS COLLEAGUE, JOHN NEVIN SAYRE, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND PEACE ACTIVIST

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