Archive for the ‘Violence’ Tag

Reception and Rejection in the Kingdom of God   Leave a comment

Above:  Herod’s Gate, Jerusalem

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LUKE-ACTS, PART XXXV

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Luke 13:22-30

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Two prominent Lucan themes exist in this passage.  They are: (1) the inclusion of Gentiles, and (2) the reversal of fortune.

Consider the narrative context, O reader:  Jesus was en route to Jerusalem to die.  For all the mixed metaphors, 13:22-30 is about the Jewish rejection of Jesus and the inclusion of faithful Gentiles.  Judgment and mercy coexist in 13:22-30, and many people will be shocked that they do not pass through the narrow door or gate to enjoy the heavenly banquet.

I reject anti-Semitism, an unjustifiable Christian tradition.  Let us–you, O reader, and I–be clear about that as we move forward in this post.  And let us not take the easy way out in (mis)interpreting 13:22-30.

The ultimate message of caution is not to presume on grace.  Our efforts to obey God matter, as faithful response.  They are spiritual fruits.  Yet passage through the narrow gate depends on grace.  Many people exclude themselves by closing themselves to receiving grace.

Consider the context circa 85 C.E., O reader.  The Church was young, small, and growing.  Christianity was still a Jewish sect, albeit one with many Gentile members.  Tensions between Jewish Christians and non-Christian Jews were rising.  And many Christian Jews argued that Gentile Christians must convert to Judaism.  Judaism and Christianity were careening toward a schism, which occurred in 137 C.E., during the Second Jewish War.

The four canonical Gospels, which exist in the shadow of the First Jewish War, include the language of invective, often aimed at non-Christian Jews.  I admit that some of this may be historical in relation to Jesus clashing with religious authorities.  Co-religionists arguing remains a current practice, after all.  Yet I, trained in historical methodology, know that people recount the past through the lens of their present day–circa 85 C.E. for Luke-Acts.  Therefore, we read some circumstances circa 85 C.E. projected onto Jesus’s time.

Invective disturbs me.  Read in historical context, it makes sense.  One can dispassionately interpret invective, especially if one does not have a dog in the fight, so to speak.  Yet, read out of context, invective becomes justification for bigotry and violence, as in the case of Christian anti-Semitism.  I understand the link between centuries of Christian anti-Semitism and the Holocaust.

I dare not pretend to know who will enter through the narrow door or gate and who will not; I am not God.  Besides, not all people who profess of follow Jesus will make the cut anyway.  I do, however, notice a common thread in Covenantal Nomism (of Second Temple Judaism) and Luke 13:22-30:  Salvation is by grace, with the obligation to obey moral and ethical mandates.  Repeatedly and unrepentantly violating and disregarding those mandates leads to damnation.  God damns nobody, but people damn themselves

So, what are we supposed to make of grace?  In the U.S. South, we say that grace is like grits; it comes with everything.  (I dislike grits, by the way.)  I recall a t-shirt I wore until I washed it too many times.  It read:

GRACE HAPPENS.

BLOGA THEOLOGICA is a PG-related weblog, so I will not name what, in the vernacular, usually happens.  After that usual thing happens, grace happens.  Yet scripture keeps warning against behaving badly and presuming on grace; this is a theme in both Testaments.  Furthermore, as the the late Episcopal Bishop Henry Irving Louttit, Jr., said in my hearing:

Baptism is not fire insurance.

As for the Jews, I affirm that God’s covenant for them remains.  I, as a Gentile, come in via a second covenant.  Covenants are, by definition, about grace.  A covenant is not a contract; it is not a transactional relationship.

Grace is free yet not cheap.  Grace requires much of its recipients; they may even die because they fulfill these duties.  Grace also imposes the responsibility to extend grace to each other.  Saying and writing that last sentence is easy.  Living it is difficult, though.  But living grace is possible via grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 14, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MACRINA THE ELDER, HER FAMILY, AND SAINT GREGORY OF NAZIANZUS THE YOUNGER

THE FEAST OF ABBY KELLEY FOSTER AND HER HUSBAND, STEPHEN SYMONDS FOSTER, U.S. QUAKER ABOLITIONISTS AND FEMINISTS

THE FEAST OF EIVIND JOSEF BERGGRAV, LUTHERAN BISHOP OF OSLO, HYMN TRANSLATOR, AND LEADER OF THE NORWEGIAN RESISTANCE DURING WORLD WAR II

THE FEAST OF KRISTEN KVAMME, NORWEGIAN-AMERICAN HYMN WRITER AND TRANSLATOR

THE FEAST OF RICHARD MEUX BENSON, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND CO-FOUNDER OF THE SOCIETY OF SAINT JOHN THE EVANGELIST; CHARLES CHAPMAN GRAFTON, EPISCOPAL PRIEST, CO-FOUNDER OF THE SOCIETY OF SAINT JOHN THE EVANGELIST, AND BISHOP OF FOND DU LAC; AND CHARLES GORE, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF WORCESTER, BIRMINGHAM, AND OXFORD; FOUNDER OF THE COMMUNITY OF THE RESURRECTION; THEOLOGIAN; AND ADVOCATE FOR SOCIAL JUSTICE AND WORLD PEACE

THE FEAST OF SAVA I, FOUNDER OF THE SERBIAN ORTHODOX CHURCH AND FIRST ARCHBISHOP OF SERBS

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Eschatological Ethics XIII   1 comment

Above:  Cedars of Lebanon

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USZ62-75016

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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 11:1-10

Psalm 72:1-14 (15-19)

Romans 15:4-13

Matthew 3:1-12

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Stir up in our hearts, O Lord, to prepare the way for your only Son. 

By his coming give us strength in our conflicts

and shed light on our path through the darkness of the world; 

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), 13

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Stir up our hearts, O Lord, to make ready the way of your only-begotten Son

that at his second coming we may worship him in purity;

who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit,

one God, now and forever.  Amen.

Lutheran Worship (1982), 11

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For improved comprehension of Isaiah 11:1-10, O reader, back up to 10:32b-34.  There we read that God will destroy the Neo-Assyrian Empire, built on militarism, cruelty, and exploitation.  Isaiah 10:34 likens that empire to majestic cedars of Lebanon, cut down by God.  Then Isaiah 11 opens with the image of the Messiah, depicted as a twig sprouting from a tree stump.

The Messiah–the ruler of the fully-realized Kingdom of God in Isaiah 11–has much in common with the ideal king in Psalm 72.  Both monarchs govern justly.  They come to the aid of the oppressed and punish the oppressors.  Judgment and mercy remain in balance.

The ethics of the Kingdom of God–whether partially-realized or fully-realized–contradict the conventional wisdom of “the world” and its great powers.  The Roman Empire, built on militarism, cruelty, and exploitation, continues as a metaphor to apply to oppressive powers–not only governments–in our time.  Spiritual complacency remains a problem.  And how we mere mortals treat each other continues to interest God.

Real life is frequently messy and replete with shades of gray.  Sometimes one must choose the least bad option, for no good options exist.  Whatever one does, somebody may suffer or perhaps die, for example.  We live in an imperfect world.  But we can, by grace, make the best decisions possible then act accordingly.  We can, by grace, love one another selflessly and self-sacrificially.  We can, by grace, act based on mutuality and the Golden Rule.  We can, by grace, welcome those whom God welcomes.  We can, by grace, confront those whom God confronts.  We can, by grace, make the most good from an imperfect situation.

May we do so.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JANUARY 6, 2022 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF THE EPIPHANY OF OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST

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Adapted from this post

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“Come, Lord Jesus.”   1 comment

Above:  Alpha and Omega

Image in the Public Domain

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READING REVELATION, PART XVI

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Revelation 22:6-21

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How soon is soon?  We read that, in a text from the 90s C.E., that Christ will return “soon.”  We may safely assume that John of Patmos understood “soon” be within the lifetimes of many members of the original audience.

The passage of time has handed down a verdict on that expectation, as well as many other expectations regarding the timing of the Second Coming of Jesus.

If we assume Amillennialism to be true (see Revelation 20), we accept that the “millennium” has been in progress for thousands of years.  Given that numbers are symbolic in Revelation (except in the case of the seven churches in the first three chapters), why not interpret “millennium” is a non-literal way?

Details of the Second Coming reside with God.  I am content to leave them there.  In the meantime, I have faithful living in which to engage.  Trying to understand how to live faithfully in concrete terms, can prove challenging sometimes.  I suspect that God cares about how I live faithfully, within circumstances, than about how I understand any detail of an ancient apocalyptic text.

I do focus on broad strokes, though.  Serve only God, who is sovereign.  Reject the bad value systems (exploitation, militarism, slavery, et cetera) of “Roman Empires.”  Stick close to Jesus.  Resist evil.  Trust in the faithfulness of God.

God will handle the rest.

Thank you, O reader, for joining me on this journey through Revelation.  May something you read along the way have benefited you spiritually.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 21, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF GEORGE MCGOVERN, U.S. SENATOR AND STATESMAN; AND HIS WIFE, ELEANOR MCGOVERN, HUMANITARIAN

THE FEAST OF DAVID MORITZ MICHAEL, GERMAN-AMERICAN MUSICIAN AND COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF EMILY GARDINER NEAL, EPISCOPAL DEACON, RELIGIOUS WRITER, AND LEADER OF THE HEALING MOVEMENT IN THE EPISCOPAL CHURCH

THE FEAST OF SAINT LAURA OF SAINT CATHERINE OF SIENA, FOUNDER OF THE WORKS OF THE INDIANS AND THE CONGREGATION OF MISSIONARY SISTERS OF IMMACULATE MARY AND OF SAINT CATHERINE OF SIENA

THE FEAST OF WALTER SISULU AND ALBERINA SISULU, ANTI-APARTHEID ACTIVISTS AND POLITICAL PRISONERS IN SOUTH AFRICA

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The Pouring of the Seven Bowls   Leave a comment

Above:  The Whore of Babylon

Image in the Public Domain

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READING REVELATION, PART XIII

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Revelation 16:1-19:21

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In this installment, replete with allusions to the plagues on Egypt, God destroys the empire.  As I have mentioned, Revelation is a text that originally constituted high treason.

“Babylon,” is Rome, of course.  Let us ponder the state of the literal Babylon in the middle 90s C.E., O reader.  Reference works tell me that Babylon, ancient by then, had been a great city and the capital of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.  These books also inform me that Babylon had become a mere village, pillaged for building materials.  Human greatness may last a long time, in some cases, but it fades, inevitably.

Some Biblical authors–including John of Patmos–used fornication and adultery as metaphors for idolatry.  The Roman Empire was corrupt.  The society was decadent.  The empire’s foundations included slavery, exploitation, and violence.  The Roman Empire was, symbolically:

Babylon the Great, the Mother of all prostitutes and all filthy practices on the earth.

–Revelation 17:5, The Jerusalem Bible (1966)

Those who identified with, traded with, and accepted the value system of “Babylon the Great” mourn the empire’s fall in Revelation 18.  Yet, in chapter 19, there is rejoicing in Heaven.  God’s creative destruction is nearly complete.

What are the “Roman Empires” around us?  To what extent do we accept their value systems?  If any one of these “Roman Empires” were to fall, would we–you–I–mourn its passing?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 18, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT LUKE THE EVANGELIST, PHYSICIAN

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The Woman, the Red Dragon, and the Two Beasts   Leave a comment

Above:  The Death of the Dragon, by Evelyn de Morgan

Image in the Public Domain

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READING REVELATION, PART XII

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Revelation 12:1-15:8

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THE SHADOW OF KING ANTIOCHUS IV EPIPHANES

Seleucid King Antiochus IV Epiphanes (reigned 175-164/163 B.C.E.) was notorious.  He persecuted Jews and became the chief boogeyman of First, Second, and Fourth Maccabees.  The Daniel apocalypse (chapters 7-12), composed in the first century B.C.E., referred to him.  Revelation added more references to le roi terrible.  For example, the three and a half years (forty-two months) before the fall of “Babylon” (Rome) called back to the time King Antiochus IV Epiphanes desecrated the Temple in Jerusalem and persecuted Jews.

Revelation 12 and 13 unfold during those symbolic forty-two months.  The vivid accounts, replete with symbolism drawn from regional mythology, the Hebrew Bible, 2 Esdras/4 Ezra, 1 and 2 Enoch, and 2 Baruch, among other sources.  For example, the following sources are germane to Revelation 12-15:

  1. 1 Enoch 40:7; 54:6
  2. 2 Enoch 7; 18; 29:5
  3. The Ascension of Isaiah 7:9; 10:29
  4. 2 Esdras/4 Ezra 6:49-42; 12:22-25
  5. The Sybilline Oracles 4:119-127, 137-139; and
  6. 2 Baruch 29:4.

THE EVOLVING THEOLOGY OF SATAN IN JUDAISM

Revelation 12:7-9 reflects a relatively late development in the theology of Satan.  Careful study of the evolution of Jewish and Christian theology reveals that, until the Persian period, “the Satan”–“the Adversary”–worked for God, usually as a loyalty tester.  Satan as a free agent is an idea imported from Zoroastrianism, in which Ahriman is the chief evil force, and the opposite number of Ahura-Mazda.  One may conclude that Jewish and Christian theology finally arrived at the correct theology of Satan.  Regardless of what one decides regarding this theological matter, the historical record remains objectively accurate and not subject to dispute.

HIGH TREASON

If the Roman censors had understood Revelation, they would have correctly identified chapters 12-15 as treasonous.  The woman (12:1-6), resembling the goddess Isis, is the Church.  The great, red dragon, with dominion in the known world, is Satan.  The dragon pursues the woman, but she survives.  The Archangel Michael defeats the dragon in Heaven and casts him down to the Earth.  That is bad news for the Earth.  Horns represented power.  Ten horns represented complete power.  So, in Revelation 13, the beast rising out of the sea had complete power.  The horns were Emperors of Rome.

Can you say “treason,” O reader?

One emperor–Nero (d. 68)–received special attention in 13:3.  He had supposedly not died–not really.  He would supposedly return to life and lead an army out of Parthia and ravage the Roman Empire.  Nero was the original figure of the Antichrist.

Revelation 13 labels the Roman Empire a force of evil.  When civil authority becomes an expression of evil, the only proper Christian response, in Revelation, is to disobey it and to obey God.

666

The number “666” is symbolic.  Seven is the number of perfection.  Six, therefore, is less than perfect; it represents evil.  “666” represents ultimate evil.  “666” is, as Donald Richardson said:

godless political power allied with godless religion.

–Quoted in Ernest Lee Stoffel, The Dragon Bound:  The Revelation Speaks to Our Time (1981), 75

Stoffel offered:

There is also a warning here for Christians and for any who would speak in the name of God.  Any church or religion that allows itself to overlook injustice may have the number of the beast.  This speaks to me as an individual Christian.  In order to prosper I might be tempted to condone or overlook injustice, and so be wearing the “number” myself.

–76

We read in Revelation 14 that all who followed God in Christ will find redemption and that all who worshiped the Roman Empire and its value system will find damnation.  Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance.  Those damnable values include exploitation and militarism.  These have no place in the Kingdom of God.

Revelation 15 includes praise of God.  The chapter concludes by setting up the next few chapters with seven bowls of judgment.

What are our contemporary Roman Empires?  To what extend to we buy into their erroneous value systems?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

OCTOBER 17, 2021 COMMON ERA

PROPER 24:  THE TWENTY-FIRST SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF CHARLES GOUNOD, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF BIRGITTE KATERINE BOYE, DANISH LUTHERAN POET, PLAYWRIGHT, HYMN TRANSLATOR, AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF JOHN BOWRING, ENGLISH UNITARIAN HYMN WRITER, SOCIAL REFORMER, AND PHILANTHROPIST

THE FEAST OF RICHARD MCSORLEY, U.S. ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST, PROFESSOR, AND PEACE ACTIVIST

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The People’s Lament and God’s Response   Leave a comment

Above:  Valley of Hinnom

Image in the Public Domain

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READING THIRD ISAIAH, PART V

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Isaiah 63:1-66:24

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Isaiah 63:1-6 depicts God as a warrior taking vengeance on Edom (Amos 1:11-12; Isaiah 21:11-12; Ezekiel 25:12-14; Ezekiel 35:1-15; Jeremiah 49:7-22; Obadiah; Isaiah 34:5-17).  For more about Edom, follow the links.  Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance, as in the previous section.

Most of Isaiah 63 and 64 consist of a grand tour of Biblical history, in the form of a lament in the voice of Third Isaiah.  It is a recounting of divine faithfulness, human faithlessness, and divine punishment.  Third Isaiah’s questions of why God has allowed terrible events to occur and not prevented them stand the test of time.  One may ask them, for example, about millennia of anti-Semitic violence, especially the Holocaust.

Nevertheless, Isaiah 64 concludes on a combination of trust and uneasiness.  This makes sense, too.

The divine response, at the beginning of Isaiah 65, is consistent with Covenantal Nomism.  Those who disregarded the mandates of the covenant consistently and unrepentantly dropped out of the covenant and condemned themselves.  God will punish sins, we read.  We also read that God will also regard faithful servants.  Divine judgment and mercy remain in balance.

In the new divine order (65:1-66:24), circumstances will be idyllic and the relationship between God and the faithful population will be close.  The process of getting to that goal is underway, we read.  The old prophecies of heaven on earth will come to pass, we read.  And Jews and Gentiles will recognize the glory of God, we read.  Yet not all will be puppies and kittens, we read:

As they go out they will see the corpses of those who rebelled against me, where the devouring worm never dies and the fire is not quenched.  All mankind will view them with horror.

–Isaiah 66:24, The Revised English Bible (1989)

Isaiah 66:24 refers, literally, to Gehenna, in the Valley of Hinnom, outside the walls of Jerusalem.  Commentaries tell me that, when Jewish Biblical authors (perhaps including Third Isaiah) sought a properly terrifying metaphor for Hell, they used the Jerusalem garbage dump, where corpses of criminals either burned or decomposed, without receiving burial.  Yet, in Isaiah 66:24 (perhaps of later origin than 66:22-23, the bodies of those who rebel against God will neither burn nor decompose.

Regardless of when someone composed 66:24, as well as whether 66:23 originally ended the chapter, I push back against the desire to end the Book of Isaiah on an upbeat note.  I read that, in Jewish practice (as in The Jewish Study Bible), people reprint 66:23 after 66:24, to have an upbeat ending:

And new moon after new moon,

And sabbath after sabbath,

All flesh shall come to worship Me

–said the LORD.

TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Yet 66:23-24, taken together, balance divine judgment and mercy.  Brevard S. Childs, conceding the possibility of the later composition of 66:24, argues that 66:24 fits the theme of

the division between the righteous and the wicked.

Isaiah (2001), 542

This division exists elsewhere in Third Isaiah, too.

In spite of God’s new heavens and death, the exaltation of Zion, and the entrance of the nations to the worship of God, there remain those outside the realm of God’s salvation.

–Brevard S. Childs, Isaiah (2001), 542

They remain outside the realm of God’s salvation because they have condemned themselves.  As C. S. Lewis wrote, the doors of Hell are locked from the inside.

Thank you, O reader, for joining me on this journey though Third Isaiah.  I invite you to remain by my side, so to speak, as I move along next to the Book of Joel.  This journey through the Hebrew prophetic books is much closer to its conclusion than to its beginning.  Nevertheless, much to learn remains.

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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The Community’s Lament to the Lord   Leave a comment

Above:  $100 Trillion Bank Note, Zimbabwe

Image in the Public Domain

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READING LAMENTATIONS, PART VI

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Lamentation 5:1-22

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The Book of Lamentations concludes on a thoroughly depressing note.  The prayer for restoration ends without hope.  Hope was for Chapters 3 and 4, not Chapter 5.

So much has gone wrong by Chapter 5:

  1. The family structure has broken down (verses 2-3).
  2. Foreign conquerors have overrun the country (verse 2).
  3. The people were defenseless (verse 3).
  4. The economy was and inflation was rampant (verses 4-5).
  5. The last Assyrian king had fallen from power in 609 B.C.E., but the point that trusting in in foreign powers, not in God, remained valid.
  6. The voice of the community accepted intergenerational guilt and punishment (Exodus 20:5 and Deuteronomy 5:9, contra Ezekiel 3:16-21; Ezekiel 14:12-23; Ezekiel 18:1-32; Ezekiel 33:1-20).
  7. Lackeys of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian monarch governed Judah (verse 8).
  8. Food was scarce (verse 9).
  9. The social order had broken down.  Violence, indignity, rape, and abusive labor were rampant (verses 11-14).  Young men performed the work of women, prisoners, slaves, and animals (verse 13).
  10. Old men no longer administered justice at city gates (verse 14), as in Deuteronomy 22:15; Deuteronomy 25:7; Ruth 4:1-2, 11).
  11. Temple worship was impossible (verse 15).
  12. The Davidic Dynasty had ended (verse 16).
  13. The covenant relationship with God was broken (verses 21-22).

Take us back, O LORD, to Yourself,

And let us come back;

Renew our days as of old!

–Lamentations 5:22b, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

The Book of Lamentations concludes without a divine reply to that plea.  It ends without a comforting or easy answer.  It concludes with God present yet hiding.  Sit with that, O reader.  Give the Book of Lamentations its due.

Thank you, O reader, for accompanying me on this journey through the Book of Lamentations.  I invite you to remain with me as I move along to the Book of Ezekiel.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 19, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHN DALBERG ACTON, ENGLISH ROMAN CATHOLIC HISTORIAN, PHILOSOPHER, AND SOCIAL CRITIC

THE FEAST OF ADELAIDE TEAGUE CASE, EPISCOPAL PROFESSOR OF CHRISTIAN EDUCATION, AND ADVOCATE FOR PEACE

THE FEAST OF MICHEL-RICHARD DELALANDE, FRENCH ROMAN CATHOLIC COMPOSER

THE FEAST OF VERNARD ELLER, U.S. CHURCH OF THE BRETHREN MINISTER AND THEOLOGIAN

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

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The Commissioning of Jeremiah   Leave a comment

Above:  Icon of Jeremiah

Image in the Public Domain

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READING JEREMIAH, PART II

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Jeremiah 1:4-19

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The prophet was an individual who said No to his society, condemning its habits and assumptions, its complacency, waywardness, and syncretism.  He was often compelled to proclaim the very opposite of what his heart expected.  His fundamental objective was to reconcile man and God.  Why do the two need reconciliation?  Perhaps it is due to man’s false sense of sovereignty, to his abuse of freedom, to his aggressive, sprawling pride, resenting God’s involvement in history.

–Rabbi Abraham J. Heschel, The Prophets, Vol. 1 (1962), xiii

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The assurance of having a divine call and commission was a primary element in the prophetic consciousness….Jeremiah, the shy and sheltered youth, found himself thrust into the forefront of great events and clothed with an authority that terrified even himself.

Coupled with his sense of this overwhelming compulsion by the divine will and the divine choice was the prophet’s recognition that he had been set apart from other men and consecrated to a task from which there was no release.  To be sanctified was to be set apart for Yahweh’s use, like an offering in the temple.  “Before thou camest forth out of the womb I sanctified thee”, Yahweh declares to Jeremiah, “I had appointed thee a prophet to the nations.”….

The call appears to have come to each prophet in a time of intellectual and emotional tension….Jeremiah and Zephaniah began to prophesy when the world empire of the Assyrians was tottering under the onslaught of barbarian hordes, which were soon to appear on the northern horizon of Palestine.

–R. B. Y. Scott, The Relevance of the Prophets, 2nd. ed. (1968), 93-94

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One motif in the Hebrew Bible has someone just called by God pleading inadequacy for the task.  God replies that these supposed disqualifying inadequacies are not problems He cannot address.  In the case of Jeremiah, the cited reasons for being inadequate are being too young and lacking public speaking skills.  But God qualifies the called; God does not call the qualified.  Compared to God, all mere mortals are inadequate and unqualified.

Jeremiah’s commission was to pronounce an unpopular message.  Judah had committed idolatry and would, therefore, face destruction and exile.  People would reject this message, but God was with Jeremiah.  In his lifetime, Jeremiah had few followers and allies; the main one was his scribe, Baruch ben Neriah.  Jeremiah received a commission for a perilous and daunting task.  He was to confront his society and its leaders, and to tell them that they had fallen short of divine standards.

A text says what it says.  A variety of contexts reveals a range of shades of meanings, though.  One may reasonably assert, for example, that the call of Jeremiah resonated with Jews before the Babylonian Exile differently than it did after that exile.  Hindsight provides crucial temporal perspective.  Also, we human beings interpret the post in the context of the present day.  The past remains constant, but the present keeps shifting as time passes.  And history, by definition, includes interpretation.

Telling the uncomfortable truth can be perilous.  The Book of Jeremiah tells us that Jeremiah and Baruch suffered greatly and died in involuntary exile for doing so.  Powerful people and angry, powerless people may find the uncomfortable truth unbearable.  They may use violence, and prophets may die.  One may recall that Mohandas Gandhi and Martin Luther King, Jr., died by assassination, for example.

Jeremiah, of all the Hebrew prophets, may have most exemplified the grave danger of answering this call of God on one’s life.  The prophet argued with God yet remained faithful to his vocation.  God was faithful to Jeremiah, who survived all attempts to kill him.  Yet Jeremiah died in exile in Egypt.

To say, “I will follow God,” is easy.  To follow through is not easy, though.  Even if one has a less challenging set of circumstances than Jeremiah did, one still has to make sacrifices.  One’s life is not one’s own.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 7, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MATTHEW TALBOT, RECOVERING ALCOHOLIC IN DUBLIN, IRELAND

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANTHONY MARY GIANELLI, FOUNDER OF THE MISSIONARIES OF SAINT ALPHONSUS

THE FEAST OF FREDERICK LUCIAN HOSMER, U.S. UNITARIAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF HUBERT LAFAYETTE SONE AND HIS WIFE, KATIE HELEN JACKSON SONE, U.S. METHODIST MISSIONARIES AND HUMANITARIANS IN CHNA, SINGAPORE, AND MALAYSIA

THE FEAST OF SEATTLE, FIRST NATIONS CHIEF, WAR LEADER, AND DIPLOMAT

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Oracles of Divine Salvation, Part I   Leave a comment

Above:  Swords into Plowshares Statue

Image in the Public Domain

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READING MICAH, PART V

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Micah 4:1-5:1 (Anglican and Protestant)

Micah 4:1-14 (Jewish, Roman Catholic, and Eastern Orthodox)

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The fourth and fifth chapters of the Book of Micah constitute a distinct section of that book.  They apparently contain a mix of material from the prophet Micah and from a later period.  The references to Assyria (5:4-5) are contemporary to the prophet, but the mention of Babylon (4:10) is not, for example.  Also, Micah 4:1-5 bears a striking resemblance to to Isaiah 2:1-5/2:2-6 (depending on versification).  This makes much sense, for scholars tell us that Micah and First Isaiah were contemporaries.  Also, Biblical authors quoting and paraphrasing each other is a practice one encounters as one studies the Bible seriously.  Alternatively, one may plausibly posit that the Book of Micah and the First Isaiah portion of the Book of Isaiah paraphrased the same source.

After all the doom and gloom of the first three chapters, the tonal shift in Micah 4 is impossible to miss.  That which R. B. Y. Scott wrote in relation to the Book of Hosea applies to the Book of Micah, too:

The final word remains with mercy.

The Relevance of the Prophets, 2nd. ed (1968), 80

Looking ahead, judgment will return in Chapters 6 and 7, but the Book of Micah concludes on a note of divine mercy.

The hopes of an ideal future remain attractive.  I pray for a future in which nations will beat their swords into plowshares.  I am a realist; I want to be a pacifist yet understand that some violence, sadly, is necessary.  I also affirm that most violence is unnecessary.  I yearn for the day when all people will be at shalom with themselves, each other, and God.  I pray for the time when the reality of the world will be the fully-realized Kingdom of God.

A careful reader may notice certain details in the designated portion of the Book of Micah.  4:2 tells us that “many nations” will seek divine instruction at Mount Zion.  It does not read, “all nations.”  4:11 tells us that “many nations” still oppose God’s covenant people.  Reading this chapter, in its final form, can be confusing, given the mix of material from different eras.  Micah 4:11f, in the context of 4:10 (“To Babylon you shall go….”) dates to a period later than the prophet Micah.  Micah 4:11f, acknowledging a challenging geopolitical situation for Judah, comforts Judah with the promise of divine deliverance.  Divine mercy on Judah will be divine judgment on Judah’s enemies.  The vision of 4:1-8 remains unfulfilled in the rest of the chapter.  In 4:14/5:1 (depending on versification), Jerusalem is under siege.

Dare we hope for the vision of Micah 4:1-8 to become reality, finally?  Dare we have enough faith to accept this ancient prophecy as not being naive?  Bringing the fully-realized Kingdom of God into existence is God’s work.  Transforming the world from what it is into a state less unlike that high standard is the work of the people of God, by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MAY 26, 2021 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT AUGUSTINE OF CANTERBURY, ARCHBISHOP

THE FEAST OF HARDWICKE DRUMMOND RAWNSLEY, ANGLICAN PRIEST AND HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT LAMBERT PÉLOGUIN OF VENCE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK AND BISHOP

THE FEAST OF SAINT PHILIP NERI, THE APOSTLE OF ROME AND THE FOUNDER OF THE CONGREGATION OF THE ORATORY

THE FEAST OF SAINT QUADRATUS THE APOLOGIST, EARLY CHRISTIAN APOLOGIST

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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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