Archive for the ‘Sabbath’ Tag

Divine Warnings to the Restored Community   Leave a comment

Above:  Illustration of a Spider Web (Isaiah 59:5)

Image in the Public Domain

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READING THIRD ISAIAH, PART III

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Isaiah 56:1-59:21

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Third Isaiah, First Zechariah, and Haggai had to explain why previous prophecies of heaven on earth after the end of the Babylonian Exile had not come to pass.  (I have already covered Haggai-First Zechariah.)  Third Isaiah spoke of sinful and rebellious people within Israel opposing God’s righteous rule.  According to Third Isaiah, the end of the Babylonian Exile was not the inauguration of heaven on earth.  No, it was a foretaste of heaven on earth.

Isaiah 56;1-59:21 comes from a time when many Jewish exiles remained in Babylonia (then part of the Persian Empire) and the situation in Judah was difficult.  The economy was bad and the drought was severe.  The material in Isaiah 56:1-59:21 emphasizes keeping the divine covenant in the context of community.  This covenant requires justice.  This covenant excludes corruption, idolatry, faithlessness, and superficial piety.  This covenant includes all who keep it–even foreigners and eunuchs (see Ezra 9; Ezra 6:21; Deuteronomy 23:2; Leviticus 21:16-23).  This covenant, therefore, moves beyond some of the exclusionary parts of the Law of Moses and welcomes the conversion of Gentiles.  This covenant entails keeping the Sabbath, by which one emulates God.

The Sabbath, in this context, had a particular meaning.  Keeping it indicated commitment to the ancestral faith, the faith to which the society was supposed to be returning.  Keeping the Sabbath was part of a just society, as well as a mark of freedom.  People were free to be their best in God.  Many did not want to pursue that goal.

Without going too far down the rabbit hole of necessary compromises regarding Sabbath-keeping in Judaism in antiquity and the present day, I point out that some people have to perform certain work on the day designated in their tradition as the Sabbath.  I also affirm that keeping Sabbath, whichever day a tradition or an adherent to it does so, is necessary, proper, and beneficial.  Keeping Sabbath is not being productive.  Being productive should not be the greatest value or one of the greatest values in a society.  It is, actually, a form of idolatry when raised to that high a priority.  My worth as a human being comes from bearing the image of God, not in how productive I am (or can be) and how much I purchase (or can afford to buy).

God judges unrepentant sinners and helps the righteous and penitent, we read.  God balances judgment and mercy.  God could not ignore what the society of Judah was doing to itself, we read.  When Judahites oppressed each other, God could not pretend this was not occurring, we read.  Divine judgment and mercy are inseparable.  They are like sides of a coin.

Sadly, the warnings in Isaiah 56:1-59:59:21 remain relevant in 2021.   What we mere mortals do–collectively and individually–matters.  God is watching us.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 16, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE RIGHTEOUS GENTILES

THE FEAST OF CATHERINE LOUISA MARTHENS, FIRST LUTHERAN DEACONESS CONSECRATED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA, 1850

THE FEAST OF GEORGE ALFRED TAYLOR RYGH, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HENRY WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY IN NEW ZEALAND; HIS WIFE, MARIANNE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR IN NEW ZEALAND; HER SISTER-IN-LAW, JANE WILLIAMS, ANGLICAN MISSIONARY AND EDUCATOR IN NEW ZEALAND; AND HER HUSBAND AND HENRY’S BROTHER, WILLIAM WILLAMS, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF WAIAPU

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

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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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Sin and Punishment   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of Jeremiah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JEREMIAH, PART XII

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Jeremiah 17:1-20:18

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The Hebrew prophetic books are repetitive.  When one reads the genre methodically, one realizes this.  Pardon me, therefore, O reader, for not explaining every repeated theme in Jeremiah 17:1-20:18.

Jeremiah 17:1-4 uses powerful imagery to condemn illegitimate worship at cultic sites.  Proverbs 3:3 and 7:3 refer to the tablet of the heart, on which the divine commandments are inscribed.  Yet in Jeremiah 17:1, those tablets are inscribed with the guilt of Judah instead.  Such a heart symbolizes disobedience to God in Ezekiel 2:4 and 3:7.  Eventually, God will make a new covenant, one inscribed on the hearts of the people (Jeremiah 31:31-34).  For now, however, repentance is not an option.  The sins of Judah, not the reparation blood (Leviticus 4:1-7, 13-20), are on the stones of the altar.

2 Kings 22-23 tells of the religious reformation of King Josiah (r. 640-609 B.C.E.).  One may read Jeremiah 17:1-4 and surmise that 17:1-4 predates those reforms or that his four successors presided over a rollback of those reforms.  Either option is feasible.  The second option may be more likely.

God is faithful and forever.  Even the most pious and benevolent people, those who keep the covenant, are not forever.  The Book of Jeremiah focuses on God and on those who are neither pious nor benevolent, though.

Returning to the imagery of the human heart in 17:9-10, we read that the human heart is crooked and deceitful.  The germane Hebrew word, suggestive of deceit, means “crooked.”  The human heart is the most crooked thing, we read.  This is a spiritual and moral pathology.

Jeremiah 17:11 speaks for itself.

Jeremiah’s desire for vengeance (17:18) was predictable.  I have known the same desire under less severe circumstances.  Maybe you have, also, O reader.

The Deuteronomic perspective in the Book of Jeremiah and other Hebrew prophetic books teaches that the (northern) Kingdom of Israel and the (southern) Kingdom of Judah declined and fell because of persistent, unrepentant, collective disregard for the moral mandates of the Law of Moses.  This is the perspective written into much of the Old Testament, from the perspective of the editors after the Babylonian Exile.  Jeremiah 17:19-27 singles out violations of the Sabbath (Deuteronomy 5:14)–especially commercial transactions–as being emblematic of widespread, systemic disregard for the covenant.

Sabbath-keeping has long been a feature of Judaism and Christianity.  Keeping the Sabbath–a sign of freedom in the Law of Moses–has been a way of emulating God.  On the seventh day, in mythology, God created the Sabbath (Genesis 2:1-3).  Sabbath-keeping has always been challenging, in practical terms.  Stopping all work on that day (however one defines it) has always been impossible.  Certain work has always been crucial to perform on the Sabbath, and members of the clergy have had to take their Sabbath some other time in the week.  The Hasmoneans, zealous keepers of the Law of Moses, bowed to reality and engaged in defensive combat (1 Maccabees 2:31-48; 1 Maccabees 9:23-73; 2 Maccabees 15:1-19).  If they had done otherwise, they would have lost battles and lives needlessly.

Sabbath-keeping works to the benefit of people.  Everyone needs to take time off to live.  One should work to live, not live to work.  Structural economic factors may restrict one’s options in keeping the Sabbath as one would prefer to do.  Also, the common good requires, for example, that public health and safety continue on the Sabbath.  Time off is a mark of freedom.  Slavery assumes many forms; one can be a wage slave.

The prophecy of the potter (Jeremiah 18:1-12) is familiar, and popular with lectionary committees.  I have written about it while blogging through lectionaries.  I bring your attention, O reader, to a key point:  God, the Creator, is free to handle His creation as He sees fit.  I am a piece of pottery, not the potter.

People kept plotting against Jeremiah.  Had I been Jeremiah, I would have complained to God, too.  I would have prayed to God to show no mercy on the plotters, also.  I, too, may have rued the day of my birth.  Jeremiah was only human.  God knew that before calling Jeremiah to be a prophet.

Jeremiah made no allies by following God’s instructions in Chapter 19 and symbolically smashing a jug.  That act led to a flogging and a brief incarceration.  Jeremiah suffered intensely and briefly, but Passhur the priest was going to experience “terror all around.” Judah was failing; nobody could change that.

Many people in authority like to maintain their power.  Some of them peacefully resign themselves to the realities of age, health, constitutional term limits, and election results; others do not.  Many people in authority are servant leaders; others are tyrants or would-be despots.  I suppose that nobody in authority wants to hear that the institution, nation-state, kingdom, empire, et cetera, is doomed.  Yet how one handles that news is a test of character.  Besides, power reveals a person’s character.  And, as Heraclitus said,

A man’s character is his fate.

I wonder how Passhur the priest felt in 586 B.C.E., after the Fall of Jerusalem.  I wonder if he remembered the words of Jeremiah and wept bitterly.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 10, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT JAMES OF NISIBIS, BISHOP; AND SAINT EPHREM OF EDESSA, “THE HARP OF THE HOLY SPIRIT”

THE FEAST OF FREDERICK C. GRANT, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND NEW TESTAMENT SCHOLAR; AND HIS SON, ROBERT M. GRANT, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND PATRISTICS SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF SAINTS OF GETULIUS, AMANTIUS, CAERAELIS, AND PRIMITIVUS, MARTYRS AT TIVOLI, 120; AND SAINT SYMPHROSA OF TIVOLI, MARTYR, 120

THE FEAST OF SAINT LANDERICUS OF PARIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF THOR MARTIN JOHNSON, U.S. MORAVIAN CONDUCTOR AND MUSIC DIRECTOR

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Jonathan, Successor of Judas Maccabeus   4 comments

Above:  Jonathan

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART XXV

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1 Maccabees 9:23-73

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Demetrius I Soter (Reigned 162-150 B.C.E.)

Alcimus, High Priest (In Office Before 162-159 B.C.E.)

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Jonathan, son of Mattathias and brother of Judas Maccabeus, led the Hasmonean Rebellion, starting in 160 B.C.E.

His story will occupy blog posts in this series through 1 Maccabees 13:30.

Times were perilous.  Bacchides, as governor, was victorious.  The Hasmoneans were on the run.  A severe famine affected the land.  After the abduction and murder of a brother (John Gaddi), Jonathan led a raid and avenged John Gaddi’s death.  And again (see 1 Maccabees 2:29-41), Hasmoneans had to defend themselves on a Sabbath (1 Maccabees 9:43f).  In the Seleucid/Hellenstic year 153 (159 B.C.E.), Alcimus died in agony (1 Maccabees 9:54-57).  The theme of retribution, prominent in 2 Maccabees (see 4:38, 5:8-10, 13:3-8, and 15:28-36), played out in 1 Maccabees, too.

While Jonathan and his brother Simon worked together to rebuild fortifications, Bacchides continued to fight back.  Yet the Hasmoneans were regaining momentum.  Bacchides returned his prisoners of war and left Judea.

Taking up residence in Michmash, Jonathan began to govern the people and root the apostates out of Israel.

–1 Maccabees 9:73, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Nevertheless, King Demetrius I Soter remained on the Seleucid throne, at least for a little while longer.  The Hasmonean Rebellion had not ended.

In purely human terms, Seleucid efforts against Jonathan failed because of the lack of effective Seleucid leadership.  Conversely, Jonathan succeeded against the odds because, in part, he offered effective leadership.  Also, Jonathan won enough popular support for the Hasmonean Rebellion.  Well-armed military forces have failed throughout the past to control sufficiently mobilized populations.  Populations that have made themselves ungovernable have triumphed over those–not always foreigners–who would govern them.

The anonymous author of 1 Maccabees added another point:  God was on the side of the Hasmoneans.  God may have been on their side.  Assuming that was true, that point did not nullify or contradict my points in the previous paragraph.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 15, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE NEW MARTYRS OF LIBYA, 2015

THE FEAST OF BEN SALMON, U.S. ROMAN CATHOLIC PACIFIST AND CONSCIENTIOUS OBJECTOR

THE FEAST OF FRANCIS HAROLD ROWLEY, NORTHERN BAPTIST MINISTER, HUMANITARIAN, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF MICHAEL PRAETORIUS, GERMAN LUTHERAN COMPOSER AND MUSICOLOGIST

THE FEAST OF THOMAS BRAY, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND MISSIONARY

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The Beginning of the Alliance with the Roman Republic   Leave a comment

Above:  Map of the Expansion of the Roman Republic in the Second Century B.C.E.

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART XXIII

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1 Maccabees 8:1-32

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Demetrius I Soter (Reigned 162-150 B.C.E.)

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The First Book of the Maccabees presents the leader of the Hasmonean Rebellion as being both idealistic and realistic.  Many people are both idealistic and realistic.  Many other people are one or the other.  Unrealistic idealists work against their own goals.  Realists who lack idealism need a moral compass.

One example of Hasmonean realism exists in 1 Maccabees 2:31-48.  Engaging in combat on the Sabbath violates the Law of Moses, a code the Hasmoneans insisted that Jews follow.  Nevertheless,

On that day they came to this decision:  “Let us fight against anyone who attacks us on the sabbath, so that we may not all die as our kinsmen died in the hiding places.”

–1 Maccabees 2:41, The New American Bible (1991)

Remember that, O reader, when you read a Gospel story in which critics of Jesus and/or his Apostles accuse him or them or allegedly violating the Sabbath.  Recall that relativizing the commandments within the Law of Moses and bowing to reality was already part of the practice of orthodox Judaism prior to the time of Christ.

Consider, O reader, the political situation of Judas Maccabeus and his followers in the Hasmonean Rebellion.  He fought against apostate Jews, as well as King Demetrius I Soter of the Seleucid Empire.  That empire was fracturing.  The Hasmonean Rebellion was just one revolt with which King Demetrius I Soter contended.  Judas Maccabeus and the other Hasmoneans needed allies.  The Roman Republic, furthermore, opposed Demetrius, who had, in violation of orders from the Roman Senate, escaped from Rome, captured the Seleucid throne, and had ordered the execution of Regent Lysisas and the young King Antiochus V Eupator.  The Hasmoneans and the Romans had a common enemy.

The text contains references to Roman victories against King Philip V of Macedonia (197 B.C.E.), King Perseus of Macedonia (168 B.C.E.), and King Antiochus III the Great of the Seleucid Empire (189 B.C.E.).  One also reads about Roman victories in Spain (late 200s B.C.E.), northern Italy (222 and 191 B.C.E.), and Greece (146 B.C.E.).  The reference to the Roman victory against the Achean League in 146 B.C.E. is an anachronism, given the contemporary setting of 160 B.C.E.

Also, comparing 1 Maccabees 8:16 to the opinions of contemporary and subsequent Roman historians reveals that 1 Maccabees 8:16 is an idealized presentation of the later phase of the Roman Republic.  1 Maccabees 8:1 makes clear, however, that what followed was what Judas Maccabeus had heard.

The treaty (8:23-29) provided for mutual defense and for Jews not to aid enemies of the Roman Republic.  King Demetrius I Soter formally had a new enemy (8:31).  Nevertheless, the Roman Republic did not come through for their allies until 142 B.C.E. (1 Maccabees 14:16-24)–18 years later.

Father Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., explains the geopolitical situation following the treaty of 160 B.C.E.:

There is evidence that the Romans were not very scrupulous about fulfilling their obligations in this kind of treaty.  They usually acted when it best suited their interests.  However, a small constituency like the Maccabees had little to lose from such a treaty.  Its existence might scare off the Seleucids, who would not know whether this might be one of those occasions that might bring about Roman intervention.  It also gave the Maccabees and their supporters the status of speaking on behalf of Israel and so constituting a kind of government.

The New Collegeville Bible Commentary:  Old Testament (2015), 792

I, writing in 2021 C.E., note the irony and poignancy of 1 Maccabees 8.  I know that Roman general Pompey added Judea to the Roman Republic in 63 B.C.E., after the composition of 1 Maccabees circa 104 B.C.E.  I know about the First Jewish War (66-73 C.E.) and the Second Jewish War (132-135 C.E.), too.  I know about the Roman imperial destruction of Jerusalem and the Second Temple in 70 C.E.  These facts inform my interpretation of 1 Maccabees 8.

Nevertheless, in the temporal and geopolitical contexts of 160 B.C.E., Judas Maccabeus acted shrewdly, in a combination of idealism and realism.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 14, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE LAST SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINT ABRAHAM OF CARRHAE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF CHRISTOPH CARL LUDWIG VON PFEIL, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS CYRIL AND METHODIUS, APOSTLES TO THE SLAVS

THE FEAST OF JOHANN MICHAEL ALTENBURG, GERMAN LUTHERAN PASTOR, COMPOSER, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF VICTOR OLOF PETERSEN, SWEDISH-AMERICAN LUTHERAN HYMN TRANSLATOR

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The Defeat and Death of Nicanor, with the Death of Razis   Leave a comment

Above:  Judas Maccabaeus Before the Army of Nicanor, by Gustave Doré

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART XXII

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1 Maccabees 7:26-50

2 Maccabees 14:14-15:37

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Demetrius I Soter (Reigned 162-150 B.C.E.)

Alcimus, High Priest (In Office Before 162-159 B.C.E.)

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I confess to you, O reader, that I am confused.  I do not know if the Nicanor of 1 Maccabees 3:38–a general and a Friend of King Antiochus IV Epiphanes–is the same man as the Nicanor 14:11-15:37.  Commentaries and study Bibles disagree with each other.  They agree, however, that “Nicanor” was a common name.

Anyway, the Nicanor of these readings was formerly in charge of the royal elephants.  Yet King Demetrius I Soter appointed him the governor of Judea.  Nicanor’s mission was, in the words of 1 Maccabees 7:26, to wipe out the people of Israel.  The depiction of Nicanor in 1 Maccabees 7:26-50 was consistently negative.  In 2 Maccabees, however, Nicanor developed good will for Judas Maccabeus, for a time, at least.

Furthermore, according to 2 Maccabees, Alcimus, hoping to prevent Judas Maccabeus from becoming the High Priest, meddled.  Alcimus wrote to King Demetrius I Soter.  Then King Demetrius I Soter wrote to Nicanor.  The friendship with Judas Maccabeus ended.

Nevertheless, the portrayal of Nicanor in 2 Maccabees was still negative.  The story of the death of Razis, a devout Jewish elder (2 Maccabees 14:37-46) painted Nicanor in an especially unflattering light.

2 Maccabees 14:46 affirms the physical resurrection of the dead, by the way.  Furthermore, 2 Maccabees 14:15-16 teaches that some deceased pious people, such as the prophet Jeremiah, were alive prior to the general resurrection of the dead.

Also, Nicanor had no respect for the Jewish Sabbath (2 Maccabees 15:15).  Yet Judas Maccabeus had faith in God.

From 161/160 B.C.E. to 70 C.E., on the twelfth or thirteenth day of Adar, Jews celebrated the feast of the death of Nicanor (1 Maccabees 7:49; 2 Maccabees 15:36).

Here ends my journey through 2 Maccabees.  The remainder of 1 Maccabees awaits me, though.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 14, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE LAST SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINT ABRAHAM OF CARRHAE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF CHRISTOPH CARL LUDWIG VON PFEIL, GERMAN LUTHERAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINTS CYRIL AND METHODIUS, APOSTLES TO THE SLAVS

THE FEAST OF JOHANN MICHAEL ALTENBURG, GERMAN LUTHERAN PASTOR, COMPOSER, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF VICTOR OLOF PETERSEN, SWEDISH-AMERICAN LUTHERAN HYMN TRANSLATOR

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The Beginning of the Hasmonean Rebellion   1 comment

Above:  Mattathias and the Apostate, by Gustave Doré

Image in the Public Domain

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READING 1, 2 AND 4 MACCABEES

PART XV

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1 Maccabees 2:1-70

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How much is too much to tolerate?  When must one, in good conscience, resist authority?  The First and Second Books of the Maccabees are books about resistance to tyranny and about the political restoration of Israel (Judea).  These are not books that teach submission to all human governmental authority, no matter what.  The heroes include men who killed imperial officials, as well as Jews who ate pork–

death over a ham sandwich,

as a student of mine said years ago.

Mattathias was a Jewish priest zealous for the Law of Moses.  He and his five sons started the Hasmonean Rebellion after the desecration of the Temple in Jerusalem by King Antiochus IV Epiphanes in 167 B.C.E.  Mattathias, having refused an offer to become on the Friends of the King, launched the rebellion.  (Friend of the King was an official position.  Also, there were four ranks of Friends:  Friends (entry-level), Honored Friends, First Friends, and Preferred Friends.)  The sons of Mattathias were:

  1. John Gaddi–“fortunate,” literally;
  2. Simon Thassis–“burning,” literally;
  3. Judas Maccabeus–“designated by Yahweh” or “the hammerer,” literally;
  4. Eleazar Avaran–“awake,” literally; and
  5. Jonathan Apphus–“favorite,” literally.

The rebellion, under Mattathias, was against Hellenism.  Under Judas Maccabeus, the rebellion became a war for independence.

Mattathias died in 166 B.C.E.

The farewell speech in 2:49-70 contains references to the the following parts of the Hebrew Bible:

  1. Genesis 22 (Abraham; see Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 44:19-21, also);
  2. Genesis 39 (Joseph);
  3. Numbers 25 (Phinehas; see Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 45:23-26, also);
  4. Joshua 1 (Joshua; see Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 46:1-10, also); 
  5. Numbers 13 and 14 (Caleb; see Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 46:7-10, also);
  6. 2 Samuel 7 (David; see Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 47:2-12, also);
  7. 1 Kings 17 and 2 Kings 2 (Elijah; see Ecclesiasticus/Sirach 47:25-12, also); 
  8. Daniel 3 (Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego); and
  9. Daniel 6 (Daniel).

The point is to remain faithful to God during difficult times.  I support that.  On the other hand, killing some people and forcibly circumcising others is wrong.  If I condemn Hellenists for committing violence, I must also condemn Hasmoneans for doing the same.

The text intends for us, the readers, to contrast the death of Mattathias with the death of Alexander the Great (1:5-6).  We read:

[Alexander’s] generals took over the government, each in his own province, and, when Alexander died, they all assumed royal crowns, and for many years the succession passed to their descendants.  They brought untold miseries on the world.

–1 Maccabees 1:8-9, The Revised English Bible (1989)

The agenda of 1 Maccabees includes the belief that renewal of Jewish traditions followed the death of Mattathias , however.

I have a habit of arguing with scripture, off-and-on.  I may recognize a text as being canonical yet disagree with part of it.  Arguing with God is part of my patrimony, inherited from Judaism.  Sometimes I seek to adore and thank God.  Arguing with God (as in Judaism) contrasts with submitting to God (as in Islam).  Perhaps the combination of my Protestant upbringing and my inherent rebelliousness keeps showing itself.  If so, so be it; I offer no apology in this matter.

As much as I engage in 1 and 2 Maccabees and find them interesting, even canonical–Deuterocanonical, actually–they disturb me.  Violence in the name of God appalls me, regardless of whether an army, a mob, or a lone civilian commits it.  I may recognize a given cause as being just.  I may, objectively, recognize the historical importance of certain violent acts, including those of certain violent acts, including those of rebellious slaves and of John Brown.  I may admit, objectively, that such violence may have been the only feasible option sometimes, given the circumstances oppressors had created or maintained.   Yet, deep down in my soul, I wish I could be a pacifist.

So, the sacred violence in 1 and 2 Maccabees disturbs me.  I understand the distinction between civilians and combatants.  The violence against civilians in 1 and 2 Maccabees really offends me morally.  These two books are not the only places in the Old Testament I read of violence against civilians.  It is present in much of the Hebrew Bible proper, too.  I object to such violence there, also.

Jennifer Wright Knust, a seminary professor and an an ordained minister in the American Baptist Churches USA, wrote Unprotected Texts:  The Bible’s Surprising Contradictions About Sex and Desire (2011).  She said in an interview on Canadian Broadcasting Corporation (CBC) radio that she has detected a disturbing pattern in many of her students.  Knust has said that many of her pupils think they must hold positions they would otherwise regard as morally repugnant.  They believe this, she has explained, because they interpret the Bible as supporting these positions.

As Mark Noll (a historian, a University of Notre Dame professor, and a conservative Presbyterian) has written, the U.S. Civil War was a theological crisis.  The authority of scripture was a major part of proslavery arguments that quoted the Bible, chapter and verse.  The counterargument was, therefore, allegedly heretical.  That argument rested mainly on a few verses–the Golden Rule, mainly.  And the abolitionist argument was morally superior.

I encourage you, O reader, to go all-in on the Golden Rule.  Questions of orthodoxy or heresy be damned.  Just follow the Golden Rule.  Leave the rest to God.  Do not twist the authority of scripture into an obstacle to obeying the Golden Rule.  I do not believe that God will ever condemn any of us for doing to others as would have them to do to us.

I offer one other thought from this chapter.  Read verses 29-38, O reader.  Notice that even those zealous for keeping the Law of Moses fought a battle on the Sabbath, instead of resting on the day of rest.  Know that, if they had rested, they may have lost the battle.  Know, also, that relativizing commandments within the Law of Moses was a Jewish practice.  (Remember that, so not to stereotype Judaism, as in stories in which Jesus healed on the Sabbath then faced criticism for having done so.)  Ideals clash with reality sometimes.

To return to Knust’s point, one need not believe something one would otherwise consider repugnant.  One need not do so, even if one interprets the Bible to support that repugnant belief.  The recognition of the reality on the ground takes one out of the realm of the theoretical and into the realm of the practical.  May we–you, O reader, and I–properly balance the moral demands (real or imagined) of the theoretical with those (also real or imagined) of the practical.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

FEBRUARY 9, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF DANNY THOMAS, U.S. ROMAN CATHOLIC ENTERTAINER AND HUMANITARIAN; FOUNDER OF SAINT JUDE’S CHILDREN’S RESEARCH HOSPITAL

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALTO TO ALTOMUNSTER, ROMAN CATHOLIC HERMIT

THE FEAST OF BRUCE M. METZGER, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER, BIBLICAL SCHOLAR, AND BIBLICAL TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF JOHN TIETJEN, U.S. LUTHERAN MINISTER, ECUMENIST, AND BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT PORFIRIO, MARTYR, 203

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Identity in Christ   Leave a comment

Above:  The Temple of Artemis (1886), Richard Knab

Image in the Public Domain

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For the Seventeenth Sunday after Trinity, Year 2

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Lectionary from A Book of Worship for Free Churches (The General Council of the Congregational Christian Churches in the United States, 1948)

Collect from The Book of Worship (Evangelical and Reformed Church, 1947)

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Lord, we beseech thee, grant thy people grace to withstand

the temptations of the world, the flesh, and the devil;

and with pure hearts and minds to follow thee, the only true God;

through Jesus Christ our Lord.  Amen.

The Book of Worship (1947), 216

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Proverbs 16:1-9

Psalm 107:1-16

Acts 19:21-41

Luke 14:1-14

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The teachings and commandments of God may fall on deaf ears for many reasons.  One reason is that they constitute either a real or a perceived threat.  They may threaten ego or economic status, for example.

Ephesus was the site of a temple to Artemis.  This temple was one of the seven wonders of the ancient world.  Ephesian silversmiths had a vested interest in the continuation of the cult of Artemis, obviously.

Above:  The Ruins of the Temple of Artemis

Image Source = Google Earth

Relativizing commandments was a common practice in Second Temple Judaism.   Whenever practical considerations brushed up against provisions of the Law of Moses, selective violations of that Law may have occurred.  Saving lives was a frequently-cited justification for violating Sabbath laws, for example.  Christ’s healings on the Sabbath exceeded saving lives.  His Sabbath healings threatened perceptions of righteousness.

Christ’s subsequent teaching in Luke 14 threatened egos, too.

This seems like a good time to quote Proverbs 9:

Better a little with righteousness

Than a large income with injustice.

A man may plot out his course,

But it is the LORD who directs his steps.

–Verses 8-9, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Wealth and human ego may be the two most popular idols.  I am uncertain which one of the two is more popular than the other.

Properly, a Christian’s identity relies on Jesus, not any other factor.  This is a lesson I grasp intellectually yet not psychologically.  Knowing what to do is the first step in accomplishing it.  Knowing what to do is also easier than accomplishing it.  I am working on this matter, by grace.

Perhaps you, O reader, are also struggling with the issue of proper Christian identity.  If so, do not give up.  Hang in there and trust God.  If, however, you do not have this problem, you have received a great blessing.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 24, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE THIRD SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF THE ORDINATION OF FLORENCE LI-TIM-OI, FIRST FEMALE PRIEST IN THE ANGLICAN COMMUNION

THE FEAST OF GEORGE A. BUTTRICK, ANGLO-AMERICAN PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR; AND HIS SON, DAVID G. BUTTRICK, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN THEN UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST MINISTER, THEOLOGIAN, AND LITURGIST

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARIE POUSSEPIN, FOUNDRESS OF THE DOMINICAN SISTERS OF CHARITY OF THE PRESENTATION OF THE VIRGIN

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF PODLASIE, 1874

THE FEAST OF SAINT SURANUS OF SORA, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT AND MARTYR, 580

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Rich in Good Deeds   2 comments

Above:  The Pool of Bethesda

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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Zephaniah 1:1-18 or Proverbs 25:6-22

Psalm 119:73-77, 103-105

1 Timothy 6:9-21

John 5:1-18

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Idols abound.  They include wealth, power, prestige, and foreign religions.  Even the most well-meaning people are vulnerable to these temptations.

As we read in 1 Timothy 6, we should be rich in good deeds.  As we read in Psalm 119, we should delight in the Law of God.  And, as even much of Second Temple Judaism affirmed, performing a good deed on the Sabbath is acceptable.

Those who criticized Jesus for healing on the Sabbath in John 5:16f seemed not to have cared about that final detail.  Sabbath laws were flexible in Second Temple Judaism, or at least in portions thereof.  There were schools of Judaism.  And, within each school, personal agendas informed how some people responded and reacted to various deeds on the Sabbath.

None of this should surprise us–especially Gentiles.  I recall a saying from my formative years (as a United Methodist) in southern Georgia, U.S.A., in the Bible Belt:

There are Baptists, then there are Baptists.

So, may we lay aside the stereotype of Second Temple Judaism as a legalistic religion with works-based righteousness.  May we do so as we follow the advice (from 1 Timothy 6) to be rich in good works.  After all, one knows a tree by its fruits.

We can take nothing with us when we die.  We can, at that time, however, leave a legacy of faithful, active love.  We can leave a legacy of trust in God, love of God, and love of our fellow human beings.  We can leave the world better than we found it.  We can leave this life rich in good deeds.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 4, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE ELEVENTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS

THE FEAST OF SAINT ELIZABETH ANN SETON, FOUNDRESS OF THE AMERICAN SISTERS OF CHARITY

THE FEAST OF FELIX MANZ, FIRST ANABAPTIST MARTYR, 1527

THE FEAST OF SAINTS GREGORY OF LANGRES, TERTICUS OF LANGRES, GALLUS OF CLERMONT, GREGORY OF TOURS, AVITUS I OF CLERMONT, MAGNERICUS OF TRIER, AND GAUGERICUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS

THE FEAST OF JOHANN LUDWIG FREYDT, GERMAN MORAVIAN COMPOSER AND EDUCATOR

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Adapted from these posts:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2021/01/04/devotion-for-the-ninth-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-d-humes/

https://ordinarytimedevotions.wordpress.com/2021/01/04/devotion-for-proper-7-year-d-humes/

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Idolatry and Tribalism   1 comment

Above:  Saint John the Evangelist, by Peter Paul Rubens

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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Genesis 1:14-25

Psalm 146

1 John 2:7-12; 3:1-3

John 1:6-13

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Genesis 1 divides the first six days of creation into two groups–the creation of generalities and domains (the first three days’ work) and the creation of the specifics or the inhabitants of those domains (the work of the fourth, fifth, and sixth days).  The seventh day is the time of the creation of the sabbath.  The sovereignty of God is a theme that pervades this great myth.

God also deserves much love.  As the other three readings tell us, that love (or absence thereof) is manifest in how we behave toward other human beings.  These other human beings also bear the image of God (Genesis 1:27).  I know I am getting ahead of the continuous readings in Genesis.  I am staying on topic, though.

Whoever says he is in the light, yet hates his brother, is still in the darkness.  Whoever loves his brother remains in the light, and there is nothing in him to cause a fall.  Whoever hates his brother is in darkness; he walks in darkness and does not know where he is going because darkness has blinded his eyes.

–1 John 2:9-11, The New American Bible–Revised Edition (2011)

That text explains itself.

According to a story that may be apocryphal, the elderly St. John the Evangelist was due to visit a congregation somewhere.  The members gathered in great anticipation on the appointed day.  They watched as men carried the infirmed apostle into the space and sat him down in front of the congregation.  Then St. John said, 

My children, love one another.

Immediately, he motioned for the men to carry him out.  One member of the congregation ran after St. John and asked, in so many words, 

That’s all you came here to say?

The apostle replied,

When you have done that, I will tell you more.

Loving one another can be very difficult.  Deciding to love one another can also prove challenging, albeit easier than effectively acting on the goal.  We need grace to succeed, of course.  Yet grace requires our desire to love one another.  Free will and grace are partners.

I write this post during a period of prolonged and intensified political polarization.  Even the definition of objective reality, as in X caused Y, and Z happened, is often contentious.  More so than in the past, many disagreements start at the point of assuming that those who differ from one are bad, if not evil.  The more generous judgment that that those who disagree are probably good yet misinformed and misguided is increasingly rare.

I notice this unfortunate pattern in topics that range far beyond science, religion, and politics.  I detect this regarding science fiction (one of my favorite topics), too. 

Do you enjoy that series?  Do you not enjoy that movie?  What kind of person are you?  You certainly aren’t a real fan.  I’m a real fan! 

Many criteria can define tribalism.

Whenever we erect idols, whether tangible or intangible, we set ourselves up for this.  We do this to ourselves and each other.  We can choose never to do this.  We can also choose to cease and desist from doing this.  We can opt to repent of our idolatry and tribalism.

May we do so.  May we love God.  May we love ourselves and each other.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 24, 2020 COMMON ERA

CHRISTMAS EVE

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Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2020/12/24/devotion-for-the-second-sunday-of-advent-year-d-humes/

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