Week of Proper 28: Thursday, Year 1   7 comments

Above:  Mattathias

Image in the Public Domain

A Time for Intellectual Honesty

NOVEMBER 23, 2023


Holy Women, Holy Men:  Celebrating the Saints (2010), of The Episcopal Church, contains an adapted two-years weekday lectionary for the Epiphany and Ordinary Time seasons from the Anglican Church of Canada.  I invite you to follow it with me.


1 Maccabees 2:15-28 (Revised English Bible):

The king’s officers who were enforcing apostasy came to the town of Modin to see that sacrifice was offered.  Many Israelites went over to them, but Mattathias and and all his sons stood apart.  The officers addressed Mattathias :

You are a leader here, a man of mark and influence in this town, with your sons and brothers at your back.  Now you be the first to come forward; carry out the king’s decree as all the nations have done, as well as the leading men in Judaea and the people left in Jerusalem.  Ten you and your sons will be enrolled among the king’s Friends; you will all receive high honours, rich rewards of silver and gold, and many further benefits.

In a ringing voice Mattathias replied:

Though every nation within the king’s dominions obeys and forsakes its ancestral worship, though all have chosen to submit to his commands, yet I my sons and my daughters will follow the covenant made with our forefathers.  Heaven forbid that we should ever abandon the law and its statutes!  We will not obey the king’s command, nor will we deviate one step from our way of worship.

As he finished speaking, a Jew came forward in full view of all to offer sacrifice on the pagan altar at Modin, in obedience to the royal decree.  The sight aroused the zeal of Mattathias, and, shaking with passion and in a fury of righteous anger, he rushed forward and cut him down on the very altar.  At the same time he killed the officer sent by the king to enforce sacrifice, and demolished the pagan altar.  So Mattathias showed his fervent zeal for the law, as Phinehas had done when he killed Zimri son of Salu.  He shouted for the whole town to hear,

Follow me, all who are zealous for the law and stand by the covenant!

Then he and his sons took to the hills, leaving behind in the town all they possessed.

Psalm 129 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

1  “Greatly have they oppressed me since my youth.”

let Israel now say;

2  “Greatly have they oppressed me since my youth,

but they have not prevailed against me,”

3  The plowmen plowed upon my back

and made their furrows long.

4  The LORD, the Righteous One,

has cut the cords of the wicked.

5  Let them be put to shame and thrown back,

all those who are enemies of Zion.

6  Let them be like grass upon the housetops,

which withers before it can be plucked;

7  Which does not fill the hand of the reaper,

nor the bosom of him who binds the sheaves;

8  So that those who go by say not so much as,

“The LORD prosper you,

We wish you will in the Name of the LORD.”

Luke 19:41-44 (Revised English Bible):

When Jesus came in sight of Jerusalem, he wept over it ans aid,

If only you had known this day the way that leads to peace!  But no; it is hidden from your sight.  For a time will come upon you, when your enemies will set up siege-works against you; they will encircle you and hem you in at every point; they will bring you to the ground, you and your children within your walls, and not leave you one stone standing on another, because you did not recognize the time of God’s visitation.


The Collect:

Blessed Lord, who caused all holy Scriptures to be written for our learning: Grant us so to hear them, read, mark, learn, and inwardly digest them, that we may embrace and ever hold fast the blessed hope of everlasting 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.


Let us–especially those of us who call ourselves–believers–be intellectually honest.  The “new atheists” who point to contradictions and bloody passages in the Bible are not entirely mistaken in the factual points of their claims.  Read the Hebrew Scriptures and notice how many times the authors claim that God ordered massacres of civilian populations and pagan priests.  And how many capital offenses are there in the Law of Moses?  Sometimes, of course, some of these “new atheists” ignore textual and contextual subtleties, so not all of their facts are accurate.

I am an Episcopalian, a nearly compulsive student of the Bible, and a frequent church-goer.  An an Episcopalian, I reject the Reformation claim of sola scriptura in favor of scripture, tradition, and reason.  A common name for this formula is the three-legged stool, but that is misleading, for the scripture leg is longer than the other two; one would fall off the stool easily.  So a tricycle is a better analogy.  Using the Episcopalian tricycle, I can work my way through the contradictions between “wipe out civilian populations when you move back into Canaan” and our Lord’s command to love my neighbors as I love myself, with everybody being my neighbor.  I am Christian; I try to follow Christ, who did not condone genocide.

A few years ago, at a Eucharistic Ministers’ conference in the Diocese of Georgia, I heard Dr. Donald Armentrout speak.  Armentrout, a minister in the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America, works as a professor at the Episcopal seminary at The University of the South.  He used the analogy of putting on the “Gospel glasses” when reading the Bible; not all parts of the Bible are equal, he said.  I agree; Jesus takes precedence over Elijah, for example.

So let us consider the readings for this day.  The psalm is angry, as I have been.  But anger proves corrosive after a very short while.  It does not behoove one or others.  Mattathias, original leader of the Hasmonean rebellion which, after his death, liberated Judea from Seleucid rule, killed a fellow Jew to prevent him from making a pagan sacrifice.  And the Gospel of Luke dates to after the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 C.E., during the First Jewish War.  That event must have had some effect on the writing of Luke 19:41-44.  The dominant theme here is how to respond or react under occupation and oppression, and the readings exist in the shadow of violence.

Violence is a reality we can reduce by practicing nonviolence and loving our neighbors (that is, everybody) as we love ourselves, by grace, of course.  And, as Paul wrote in Romans 13, love fulfills the law.  We follow our Lord, who died by an act of violence and whom God raised from the dead, thereby reversing that deed.  As the Moravians say,

Our lamb has conquered; let us follow him.

And let us do it with intellectual honesty, love of ourselves and our neighbors, and obedience to God.



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