Archive for the ‘St. John the Baptist’ Tag

St. Paul’s Third Missionary Journey   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of St. Paul the Apostle

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LUKE-ACTS, PART LXX

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Acts 18:24-21:16

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The material for this post opens with St. Paul the Apostle back in Antioch in Syria, at the end of the Second Missionary Journey.

Meanwhile, we readers meet St. Apollos, a Jewish Christian recently arrived in Ephesus then in Corinth.  We read that Sts. Priscilla and Aquila (from Corinth) catechized him.  We also read that St. Apollos, who spoke boldly for Christ, had only experienced the baptism of St. John the Baptist.

Related to that point, St. Paul, en route overland back to Ephesus (where he had been recently in 18:19-21), encountered about twelve Christians who had never heard of the Holy Spirit.  This was not surprising; the religion was young, Trinitarian theology was in its infancy, and one could not purchase a catechism in a bookstore yet.

I know what I mean by “Holy Spirit,” but my understanding emerges from Roman Catholic tradition.  I even use the filoque clause, unlike the Eastern Orthodox.  Definitions of the Holy Spirit vary within Christianity.

I have read sufficiently deeply to know that St. Paul used “Jesus” and “Holy Spirit” interchangeably sometimes.  I posit that elements of St. Paul’s Trinitarian theology were heterodox, relative to the conclusions of subsequent, major ecumenical councils.  So be it.  Trying to explain more of the nature of God than we mere mortals can grasp (most of it) is a foolish undertaking.  Who am I to blame St. Paul for dying about two and a half centuries prior to the First Council of Nicaea?

St. Paul, who spent years in Ephesus, made powerful religious and economic enemies.  The growth of Christianity threatened the commerce related to the goddess Diana.  The town clerk (another good Roman official) talked down the rioting silversmiths, but St. Paul had to leave.

A few months later, at Troas, St. Paul and his entourage spent about a week.  One Eutychus, sitting in a window, fell asleep and feel three stories to his death.  St. Paul, like Jesus before him, restored the young man to life.

Sleep, in this case, represented moral laxity and spiritual dullness, as well as indicating a physical state.  Culturally, story legitimized Lord’s Day worship, in contrast to “nocturnal assemblies and associated immoralities” (to quote Charles H. Talbert).  These nighttime meetings were commonplace in the cultural setting.  St. Justin Martyr wrote of the pagan misapprehension that Christians at worship “extinguished the lights and indulged in unbridled sensuality.”  St. Luke took pains to mention that the room was well-lit (20:8).  St. Luke also used this story in 20:7-12 to refute allegations that Christians practiced child sacrifice.

Many ancient pagans harbored false notions regarding Christians and Christianity.  Frequently, correcting these misunderstandings would have required a minimum of effort.  The stubbornness of people in holding objectively inaccurate ideas has not ceased to be an element of human nature, sadly.

St. Paul, hurrying back to Jerusalem in time for Pentecost, bid farewell to the Ephesian elders in Miletus.  His farewell speech, reminiscent of Christ’s predictions of the Passion, included excellent advice and interesting historical information.

Presbyters (elders) and overseers (bishops) were interchangeable at the time.  Mutuality defined the farewell address.  And the Lucan motif of the Holy Spirit was present.

St. Paul and his entourage evangelized on the way to Jerusalem.  They visited St. Philip the Evangelist (Acts 6:5; 8:4-8, 26-40) and his four daughters, prophets, in Caesarea.  More predictions of St. Paul’s fate occurred, but the Apostle kept going to Jerusalem.  Like Jesus in Luke 9:51, St. Paul set his face toward Jerusalem.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 1, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE THIRD SUNDAY OF EASTER, YEAR C

THE FEAST OF SAINTS PHILIP AND JAMES, APOSTLES AND MARTYRS

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The Ascension of Our Lord Jesus Christ   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of the Ascension, by Andrei Rublev

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LUKE-ACTS, PART LIII

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Luke 24:50-53

Acts 1:1-11

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Given that I have written numerous blog posts about the Ascension, and given that they are available at this weblog, I do not seek to replicate them in this post.

As I continue through Luke-Acts, I notice a narrative contradiction.  Luke 24:50-53, read within the narrative context of chapter 24, dates the Ascension to Easter Day.  Yet Acts 1:3 dates the Ascension to forty days after Easter Day.  Interpretations of this discrepancy include:

  1. “Forty days” is symbolic,
  2. The forty days fill out the calendar, and
  3. Acts 1:3 corrects Luke 24 after St. Luke the Evangelist uncovered more information than he had when he wrote the Gospel of Luke.

I am not a fundamentalist.  Biblical inerrancy and infallibility are utter nonsense.  If St. Luke changed his mind, so be it.  If “forty days” is symbolic, so be it.  I do not know which interpretation is corect.

Forty is frequently a symbolic number in the Bible.  One may recall that the reign of King David lasted for about forty years, that the Hebrews wandered in the desert for forty years, that Jesus spent forty days in the desert, and that the mythical Great Flood lasted for forty days and forty nights.  Forty is a sacred number in the Bible.  It, therefore, recurs in the Bible for many more examples than i have cited.  Forty, symbolically, is a round number that designates a fairly long time in terms of human existence or endurance.

So, even if the forty days (Acts 1:3) are symbolic, they still contradict Luke 24, with Jesus’s resurrection and the Ascension occurring on the same day.

Anyway, “ascension” may not be the most accurate word for Jesus’ departure.  “Assumption” may be better.  Christ’s departure resembles the assumptions of Elijah (2 Kings 2:9-11; Sirach 48:9) and Enoch (Genesis 5:23-24; Sirach 49:14b), with apocalyptic imagery added.

The priestly gestures and blessings of Jesus before his departure, followed by worship, close the Gospel of Luke fittingly.  Recall Luke 1:20-23, O reader:  the priest Zechariah could not pronounce a blessing.

The Lukan accounts of the Ascension of Jesus also draw from Sirach 50:1-21, about the high priest Simon II.  The account of Simon II depicts him as the culmination of Israel’s history, at the point of the composition of that book.  Luke-Acts, which postdates Sirach, depicts Jesus as the culmination of Israel’s history.

In Luke 24, the Ascension is the fitting end of the story of Jesus.  In Acts 1, however, the Ascension is the beginning of the story of the mission of the Church.  Placing the two Lukan interpretations side-by-side provides the full picture.

I also detect one of St. Luke’s organizing principles in Luke 24 and Acts 1.  Luke-Acts finishes focusing on one story before focusing on another one, although the stories may overlap.  Consider the focus on St. John the Baptist (Luke 3) before the focus on Jesus (Luke  4-24), O reader.  Then we come to a different focus, starting in Acts 1.

The story of the mission of the Church, empowered by the Holy Spirit, follows.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 2, 2022 COMMON ERA

ASH WEDNESDAY

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Sayings on the Law and Divorce   2 comments

Above:  Divorce Symbol

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LUKE-ACTS, PART XL

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Luke 16:16-18

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Some major, germane points are essential in these readings:

  1. The ministry of St. John the Baptist marked the end of an era.  The ministry of Jesus defined the beginning of a new era (v. 16).
  2. The translation of verse 16n is difficult, but it seems to mean that, given the proclamation of the Kingdom of God, positive response to Jesus is urgent.
  3. The Law of Moses remained in effect.  Jesus has not nullified it.  No, Jesus is the ultimate arbiter of the Law of Moses (v. 17).
  4. The teaching regarding divorce requires its own section (v. 18).

I write within my context–North America.  In some ways, my context is similar to that of Christ.  The widening chasm between the rich and the poor, the shrinking of the middle class, and the persistence of institutionalized social injustice (especially that of the economic variety) come to mind immediately.  Yet, in other ways, my context differs significantly from that of Jesus.  Therefore, I have to read books to learn about contexts of Jesus.  The work of Richard Horsley, given his economic focus, proves essential in this endeavor.  He writes of the reality on the ground during Christ’s time and contextualizes Jesus’s teachings within that reality.

It is likely that [the Pharisees’] “liberal” divorce laws (based on Deut. 24:1-4) were useful for well-to-do families in consolidating their landholding through the device of divorce and remarriage.  Such maneuvering was also taking advantage of deeply indebted families, one more factor exacerbating the disintegration of marriage and family units.  By forbidding divorce and remarriage, in appeal to the creation stories of the solidarity of husband and wife, Jesus was reinforcing the marriage bond as the essential core of the fundamental social form of the family.

–Horsley, Jesus and Empire:  The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder (2003), 110

Valid reasons for divorce exist in the Bible.  Infidelity is one (Matthew 19:9; Mark 10:1-12).  A review of colonial era Puritan family law in North America reveals other valid reasons within their society.  These include neglect, abandonment, and domestic violence.  I know of a female minister who divorced her first husband on the grounds of attempted murder.  Ideals frequently fail to match messy reality.  Ideally, marriage is until death do the spouses part.  In reality, though, some marriages need to dissolve, for the good of the family.

When we interpret Christ’s teaching on divorce in its cultural context, we recognize the economic component of that teaching.  We also see the timeless principle undergirding the culturally-specific teaching.  To mistake the culturally-specific teaching for a timeless principle is to err.  One of our tasks, then, is to ponder how best to apply the timeless principle in our cultural context.  May we, by grace, do so properly and correctly.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 20, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT FABIAN, BISHOP OF ROME, AND MARTYR, 250

THE FEAST OF SANTS EUTHYMIUS THE GREAT AND THEOCTISTUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOTS

THE FEAST OF GREVILLE PHILLIMORE, ENGLISH PRIEST, HYMN WRITER, AND HYMN TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF HAROLD A. BOSLEY, UNITED METHODIST MINISTER AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF HARRIET AUBER, ANGLICAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF RICHARD ROLLE, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC SPIRITUAL WRITER

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A Covenant People, Part IX   1 comment

Above:  Icon of the Baptism of Christ

Image in the Public Domain

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According to the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) Lectionary (1973), as contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Lutheran Worship (1982)

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Isaiah 42:1-7

Psalm 45:7-9

Acts 10:34-38

Matthew 3:13-17

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Father in heaven, at the baptism of Jesus in the River Jordan

you proclaimed him your beloved Son

and anointed him with the Holy Spirit. 

Make all who are baptized into Christ

faithful in their calling to be your children

and inheritors with him of everlasting life;

through your Son, Jesus Christ our Lord,

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 15

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Father in heaven, as at the baptism in the Jordan River

you once proclaimed Jesus your beloved Son

and anointed him with the Holy Spirit,

grant that all who are baptized in his name may

faithfully keep the covenant into which they have been called,

boldly confess their Savior,

and with him be heirs of life eternal;

through Jesus Christ, who lives and reigns

with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 21

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The people of God–Jews and Gentiles–have a divine mandate to be a light to the nations, for the glory of God and the benefit of the people.  The ethics of the Law of Moses and the teachings of Jesus value and mandate equity and justice, both collectively and individually, as a matter of conduct and policy.

The servant in Isaiah 42:1-7 is the personification of the people of Israel, in the context of the Babylonian Exile.  Yet much of Christian Tradition interprets that servant as Christ.  Read Isaiah 42:6-7, O reader:

I have created you, and appointed you 

A covenant people, a light of nations–

Opening eyes deprived of light,

Rescuing prisoners from confinement,

From the dungeon those who sit in darkness.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures 

I have checked this text in five French translations.  “You” is singular in all of them, for it refers to the personified servant.  Yet 43:6b-7a refers to “a covenant people.”

Possible reasons for Jesus, sinless, taking St. John the Baptist’s baptism for repentance for forgiveness of sins have long filled minds and commentaries.  Maybe Jesus was originally a disciple of St. John the Baptist, and authors of the four canonical Gospels attempted to obscure this potentially embarrassing fact.  Perhaps Jesus was identifying with sinful human beings.  (One may legitimately accept more than one rationale.)

Regardless of how one accounts for the baptism of Jesus, the baptized belong to that covenant people described in Isaiah 42:1-7.  To belong to the covenant people is to carry a demanding divine mandate to serve, to live in mutuality, and to keep the Golden Rule.  To belong to the covenant people, as Gentiles, is to carry the divine mandate to love like Jesus, for Christ’s sake and glory.  To belong to the covenant people is to carry a glorious and crucial calling.

Yet a certain bumper sticker rings true too often.  It reads:

JESUS, SAVE ME FROM YOUR FOLLOWERS.

I hear that saying and think:

Yes, I feel like that sometimes.

Perhaps you, O reader, feel like that sometimes, too.  Many of the members of the covenant community have behaved badly and betrayed the mandate in Isaiah 42:6b-7a.  That is sad, as well as counter-productive to the effort to aid people in their walk with God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 18, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE CONFESSION OF SAINT PETER, APOSTLE

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Adapted from this post

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Fateful Warnings for Jesus and Jerusalem   Leave a comment

Above:  The Disobedient Children, by Carl Jutz der Altere

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LUKE-ACTS, PART XXXVI

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Luke 13:31-35

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Lest anyone think that Jesus had negative relations with all Pharisees, consider Luke 13:31-33, O reader.  These Pharisees’ warning of the lethal intentions of Herod Antipas seems friendly to Jesus.  Elsewhere in the canonical Gospels, one can identify at least two pro-Jesus Pharisees–Sts. Nicodemus and Joseph of Arimathea–by name.

Herod Antipas, a son of King Herod the Great, was a chip off the old block.  Antipas had ordered the arrest of St. John the Baptist.  Then Antipas, salivating over Salome, his stepdaughter and this half-grandniece, had ordered the execution of St. John the Baptist.  Antipas also wanted that other troublemaker, Jesus, dead.

Jesus was a troublemaker.  He made what the late, great John Lewis called “good trouble.”

Jesus was also en route to Jerusalem to die during the week of Passover.  Not even Herod Antipas, who Jesus contemptuously called “that fox,” could deter Jesus.

The image of Jesus as a mother hen is striking.  This metaphor for God’s relationship to the people of God exists in rabbinic literature and in Deuteronomy 32:11-12; Psalm 36:7; and Isaiah 31:5. In this case, the point is that God has withdrawn divine protection of Jerusalem and perhaps the nation.  This reading fits with the status of Jerusalem and Judea circa 85 C.E., after the First Jewish War.

Another way to interpret the metaphor is in the context of the upcoming crucifixion of Jesus.  A mother hen protects her chicks with her body during a fire in the barnyard.  The chicks live yet the hen dies.  Jesus is like the mother hen, and we are like the chicks.

The interpretation of verse 35 varies.  It may refer to the Triumphal Entry into Jerusalem, to the Second Coming, or to both.  Given the lenses of hindsight and eschatological expectations in the canonical Gospels, “both” may be the correct answer.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 16, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE SECOND SUNDAY AFTER THE EPIPHANY, YEAR C

THE FEAST OF SAINT ROBERTO DE NOBOLI, ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY IN INDIA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BERARD AND HIS COMPANIONS, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS IN MOROCCO, 1220

THE FEAST OF EDMUND HAMILTON SEARS, U.S. UNITARIAN MINISTER, HYMN WRITER, AND BIBLICAL SCHOLAR

THE FEAST OF EDWARD BUNNETT, ANGLICAN ORGANIST AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF SAINT JUANA MARIA CONDESA LLUCH, FOUNDER OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE HANDMAIDS OF THE IMMACULATE CONCEPTION, PROTECTRESS OF WORKERS

THE FEAST OF TIMOTHY RICHARD MATTHEWS, ANGLICAN PRIEST, ORGANIST, AND HYMN TUNE COMPOSER

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Judgment and Mercy, Part XXIII   1 comment

Above:  St. John the Baptist

Image in the Public Domain

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According to the Inter-Lutheran Commission on Worship (ILCW) Lectionary (1973), as contained in the Lutheran Book of Worship (1978) and Lutheran Worship (1982)

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Isaiah 35:1-10

Psalm 146

James 5:7-10

Matthew 11:2-11

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Almighty God, you once called John the Baptist

to give witness to the coming of your Son and to prepare his way. 

Grant us, your people, the wisdom to see your purpose today

and the openness to hear your will,

that we may witness to Christ’s coming and so prepare his way;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Book of Worship (1978), 13

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Almighty God, through John the Baptist, the forerunner of Christ,

you once proclaimed salvation;

now grant that we may know this salvation and serve you

in holiness and righteousness all the days of our lives;

through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 13

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If I seem like a proverbial broken record, I am.  I am like a proverbial broken record because the Bible is one on many points.  In this case, the point is the balance of divine judgment and mercy.  Divine judgment on the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire in Isaiah 34 balances divine mercy (via a second exodus) in Isaiah 35.  Divine mercy on the faithful balances divine judgment on princes in Psalm 146.  Jesus is simultaneously the judge and the advocate in James 5:7-10.  Despite divine faithfulness to the pious, some (such as St. John the Baptist, in Matthew 11) suffer and die for their piety.  Then God judges the oppressors.

The twin stereotypes of the Hebrew Bible being about judgment and the New Testament being about grace are false.  Judgment and mercy balance each other in both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament.

The inclusion of the fate of St. John the Baptist in Advent reminds us that he was the forerunner of Christ in more than one way.  About two weeks before December 25, one may prefer not to read or hear such a sad story.  Yet we all need to recall that Christmas commemorates the incarnation of Jesus, who suffered, died, then rose.  Advent and Christmas are bittersweet.  This is why Johann Sebastian Bach incorporated the Passion Chorale into his Christmas Oratorio.  This is why one can sing “Hark! The Herald Angels Sing” and “Jesus Christ is Risen Today” to the same tune (EASTER HYMN).

God is active in the world.  So are evil and misguided forces, unfortunately.  Evil, in the Biblical sense, rejects dependence on God.  Evil says:

If God exists, God does not care.  Everyone is on his or her own in this world.  The ends justify the means.

Evil is amoral.  The misguided may be immoral, at best.  The results of amorality and immorality may frequently be identical.  Yet God remains constant.

That God is constant may constitute good news or bad news, depending on one’s position.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 7, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF FRANÇOIS FÉNELON, ROMAN CATHOLIC ARCHBISHOP OF CAMBRAI

THE FEAST OF SAINT ALDRIC OF LE MANS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF LE MANS

THE FEAST OF JEAN KENYON MACKENZIE, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MISSIONARY IN WEST AFRICA

THE FEAST OF LANZA DEL VASTO, FOUNDER OF THE COMMUNITY OF THE ARK

THE FEAST OF SAINT LUCIAN OF ANTIOCH, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR, 312

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM JONES, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND MUSICIAN

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Adapted from this post

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Jesus and St. John the Baptist   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of St. John the Baptist

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LUKE-ACTS, PART XVIII

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Luke 7:18-35

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The doubts of St. John the Baptist may surprise many people.  These doubts do not surprise me, though.  Incarceration frequently sows the seeds of doubt and despair.  I, like Jesus, do not condemn St. John the Baptist.  No, I commend the great forerunner of Christ.

Chapter 7 is a fine example of how the Gospel of Luke is “an orderly account.”  The passage of time is vague in Luke 7.  An account of healing and an account of Jesus raising a widow’s son from the dead precede the arrival of the messengers from St. John the Baptist.  Then Jesus cites evidence, including Luke 7:1-17.  The two stories in 7:1-17 are fresh in the memories of an observant reader when that reader gets to verse 18f.

Some people refuse to be satisfied; they thrive on criticizing (in the negative sense of that word).  What ever one does or does not do, these critics will find fault with one.  Being this critical must be an unpleasant way to live, but many people prefer it.  Human psychology makes no sense sometimes.

Jesus and St. John the Baptist had to contend with such critics.  St. John the Baptist lived austerely and received criticism for doing so.  Jesus dined with people in their homes and received criticism for doing so.  These critics’ standards were inconsistent.

This situation reminds me of the Argument Clinic, one of my favorite sketches from Monty Python’s Flying Circus.

I came here for an argument!

No, you didn’t!

Some people argue for the sake of arguing and criticize for the sake of criticizing.  In so doing, they do not contribute to understanding.  Yet maybe they reinforce their dysfunctional egos.

Jesus and St. John the Baptist made positive differences, though.  And their constructive lives led to their unjust executions.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 29, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FIFTH DAY OF CHRISTMAS

THE FEAST OF THE HOLY INNOCENTS (TRANSFERRED)

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The Baptism and Genealogy of Jesus   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of the Baptism of Christ

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LUKE-ACTS, PART VII

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Luke 3:21-38

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Christological orthodoxy holds that Jesus was sinless.  I affirm this doctrine.  Consider also, O reader, that St. John the Baptist offered baptism for repentance for the forgiveness of sins.

Why, therefore, did Jesus get baptized by St. John the Baptist?  In the Gospel of Luke, the baptism of Christ functioned as a ritual of succession.  Jesus was the successor of St. John the Baptist.

Three major germane points interest me:

  1. The opening of heaven (a motif in apocalyptic literature) at the baptism of Jesus signaled that he was the Messiah and that he fulfillment of Israel’s eschatological expectations was at hand.
  2. The descent of the Holy Spirit in a physical form, like a dove, was crucial, too.  In ancient Near Eastern thought, doves symbolized virtue.  They, worthy of sacrificing to God, symbolized the divine presence in this story.
  3. The Holy Spirit descended in a similar form upon the Apostles at Pentecost (Acts 2:1-4).

The genealogy of Jesus (Luke 3:23-38) traces Christ’s family tree back to the mythical Adam (and Eve).  The theological importance of this detail is two-fold:

  1. To point to the universality of the Gospel, and
  2. To affirm that Jesus was the Son of God.  The numbers are symbolic, not historical.  We read sequences of seven generations.  The new age begins with Jesus in Luke 3.

Theologically, the genealogy of Jesus is important, regardless of the difficulties one faces in establishing its historical accuracy….Jesus stands within the history of the covenant with Israel; yet, the story of his life has significance for all people.  Jesus is the Son of God who entered human history to declare the arrival of God’s reign in human history, to call together a new community and to redeem humanity.  Read in this way, the genealogy, like the birth narratives, is a gospel in miniature.

–R. Alan Culpepper, in The New Interpreter’s Bible, Vol. IX (1995), 95-96

Amen.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 24, 2021 COMMON ERA

CHRISTMAS EVE

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The Forerunner   Leave a comment

Above:  St. John the Baptist

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LUKE-ACTS, PART VI

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Luke 3:1-20

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In what we call 533 C.E., (which started as 1286 A.U.C.), St. Dionysius Exiguus created the dating system we know as B.C./B.C.E.-A.D./C.E.  In so doing, he rewrote the Christian calendar and made life easier for historians and archaeologists.  In antiquity, however, dating was relative, as in Luke 3:1.  Establishing a precise range of dates for what follows Luke 3:1 has proven impossible because relative dating was inexact and competing calendars coexisted.  According to the Roman Calendar, Luke 3:1 established the setting of chapter 3 as being between August 19, 28 C.E. and August 18, 29 C.E.  However, according to the Syrian manner of calculating time, the timeframe was between September-October 27 C.E. and September-October 28 C.E.  To complicate matters further, assuming that the birth of Jesus occurred closer to 6 B.C.E. than to 4 B.C.E., Jesus would have been in his middle thirties during Luke 3.  However, Luke 3:23 defined Christ’s age as “about thirty years old.”

Keeping track of time can be complicated.

St. John the Baptist was in full prophetic mode, condemning social injustice, calling out unrepentant sinners, and resembling Elijah.  St. John was also baptizing for repentance for the forgiveness of sins.  This baptism was related to the ritual bath in Judaism.

A few thoughts regarding St. John the Baptist come to my mind:

  1. His teaching included themes Jesus used in his teaching.  How much of an influence was St. John the Baptist on Jesus?  Had Jesus been a disciple of St. John the Baptist?  Or did the two men simply draw from the same influences?
  2. If St. John the Baptist had told people he was the Messiah, he would have had a messianic following.
  3. St. John’s advice to tax collectors, if followed, put them out of business.  Tax collectors lived on the excess funds they collected.
  4. St. John’s preaching led to him becoming a political prisoner.  Herod Antipas had violated the Law of Moses by marrying Herodias, his half-niece and the ex-wife of his half-brother.

St. John the Baptist was humble.  He knew who he was and whose he was.  St. John had an assigned part to play in life.  He played it faithfully.  St. John was humble, not mousy.  His courage led to his incarceration and execution.  He was more than inconvenient to Herod Antipas.

“Humble” derives from the Latin humilis, meaning “lowly” and related to “earth” (humus).  To be humble is to be down to earth, literally, “close to the ground.”  I explain this for the sake of clarity.  When two people use the same word yet define it differently, they talk past each other.

An old joke tells us that How I Achieved Humility is a short book.  I do not lie to you, O reader; I know about intellectual arrogance firsthand, from inside my skull.  My intellectual arrogance is the fruit of being better informed and more widely read than most of the people around me most of the time while growing up.  I recall that most people around me most of the time while I grew up treated me as the smartest person in the room.  Regardless of the objective verdict on that supposition, I prefer the company of people whom I understand know more than I do and who have read more widely than I have.  I have questions, too.

I regard arrogance with empathy.  How many geniuses have been humble?  I do not profess to be a genius, but I grasp that they are intellectually superior to most people and tend, predictably, to be arrogant.  How are they supposed to be otherwise?

Foibles of human psychology aside, we are all “but dust” (to quote the Book of Psalms) before God.  Humility before God is crucial.  Our greatest accomplishments are microscopic in God’s eyes.  The mythology in Genesis 11:1-9 tells us that God had to “come down” (v. 5) to see the great city and the Tower of Babel.  One may imagine, in literary terms, God squinting in Heaven then coming down to get a good look.  Lest we–collectively and individually–think we are all that and a bag of potato chips compared to God, we err.  Yet we are the apples of God’s eyes because of grace.

May we be good apples for God.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 24, 2021 COMMON ERA

CHRISTMAS EVE

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The Births and Infancies of St. John the Baptist and Jesus   Leave a comment

Above:  On the Morning of Christ’s Nativity

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LUKE-ACTS, PART IV

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Luke 1:47-2:40

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The stories of St. John the Baptist and Jesus continue to intertwine in the earliest chapters of the Gospel of Luke.  Foreshadowing continues, too.  We read that Jesus and St. John the Baptist came from devout Jewish families, as well.

As we–you and I, O reader–march through the Gospel of Luke, I will address a topic a breach initially in this post.  One unfortunate tradition within Christianity distances Jesus from Judaism.  This erroneous tradition places our Lord and Savior in opposition to Judaism.  This tradition exists within my family tree.  I have some of the hand-written sermon notes of the Reverend George Washington Barrett (1873-1956), my great-grandfather and a minister in the North Georgia Conference of the old Methodist Episcopal Church, South.  I have the book in which he wrote that Jesus

grew up in a Christian home.

Rather, one should understand Jesus within the context of Judaism.

Luke 2 poses historical problems:

  1. No such census occurred.  No empire-wide census took place during the reign of the Emperor Augustus.  Quirinius, who became the Governor of Syria in 6 C.E., did preside over a provincial census, though–in 6 C.E., ten or so years after the birth of Jesus.
  2. No Roman census required such movement of populations.

To quote a spiritual mentor of mine:

What is really going on here?

Theology is going on here:

  1. St. Luke introduced a divine plan that culminated in St. Paul the Apostle preaching in Rome in Acts 28.  The plan launched with the fictional empire-wide census.
  2. The angelic announcement of the birth of Jesus was an imperial proclamation.  Officially, Augustus was the savior of the world and the Son of God; currency proclaimed this.  The angels sang for Jesus, not Augustus.  Jesus was greater than Augustus.
  3. The text set the Roman Empire and the Kingdom of God in opposition to each other.
  4. Luke 2:7 created a reason to have Jesus born in Bethlehem, with its Davidic connection.
  5. The text, in doing so, portrayed the Roman Empire negatively.  The text also depicted Augustus as a pawn of God.

Luke 2:7 may not refer to an inn.  The New Jerusalem Bible (1985) renders the germane Greek word as “dwelling-place.”  This is a reference to a two-story home in which the people lived upstairs and the animals were downstairs.  In this scenario, the scene is of a crowded home, in which St. Mary gave birth downstairs, away from the in-laws.

I knew nothing about this alternative translation and interpretation as a child.  In the rural United Methodist congregations in which my father served, I learned that the “inn” was an inn–a caravansary, to be precise.  I also suffered through nativity plays that depicted the innkeeper as a brusque, unsympathetic figure.  To be fair, my father defended the innkeeper for not turning out paying customers.

Likewise, “manger” can also be “stable.”

In the play Cotton Patch Gospel (1982), the birth of Jesus occurred in an abandoned trailer behind the Dixie-Delite Motor Lodge, about two miles outside Gainesville, Georgia.  Joe Davison and Mary Hagler were en route to Atlanta for a federal tax audit.

Notice, O reader, the parallelism between 1:28 and 2:40, regarding divine favor.  The Gospel of Luke is a theological and literary work.  It has a structure that indicates much thought and effort.  It is, as the prologue says, “an orderly account.”

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 22, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE TWENTY-FIFTH DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF FREDERICK TEMPLE AND WILLIAM TEMPLE, ARCHBISHOPS OF CANTERBURY

THE FEAST OF SAINTS CHAEREMON AND ISCHYRION, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYRS, CIRCA 250

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

THE FEAST OF SAINT DEMETRIUS A. GALLITZIN, RUSSIAN-AMERICAN ROMAN CATHOLIC MISSIONARY PRIEST; “THE APOSTLE OF THE ALLEGHENIES”

THE FEAST OF HENRY BUDD, FIRST ANGLICAN NATIVE PRIEST IN NORTH AMERICA; MISSIONARY TO THE CREE NATION

THE FEAST OF ISAAC HECKER, FOUNDER OF THE MISSIONARY SOCIETY OF SAINT PAUL THE APOSTLE

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