Archive for the ‘Herod Antipas’ Tag

Devotion for Proper 13, Year B (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  Herod Antipas

Image in the Public Domain

Honor and Prestige

AUGUST 2, 2020

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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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Exodus 14:5-31 or 2 Samuel 18:5-33

Exodus 15:1-21

2 Corinthians 8:1-15

Mark 6:14-29

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Honor and prestige are of limited value.  When we derive honor from the opinions of others, it does not reflect our character.  Furthermore, human prestige does not impress God.

Herod Antipas had honor and prestige, but he was far from noble, in the sordid tale in Mark 6 reveals.  He had incarcerated St. John the Baptist for publicly objecting to the client ruler’s marriage to his half-niece and former sister-in-law, Herodias.  Salome, the daughter of Herodias, was, therefore, his grand half-niece and his step-daughter.  In a rash moment, he chose to save face rather than spare the life of St. John the Baptist, a noble man, in the highest since of “noble.”

Honor and prestige underlie the reading from 2 Corinthians 8.  We are to follow the example of Jesus the Christ, who exemplified humility yet not timidity.  We are supposed to trust in God, not wealth, and to walk humbly before God.

Absalom, son of David, had honor and prestige, but not nobility of character.  David’s knowledge that his sin had brought about the rebellion of Absalom then the death of that errant son must have added much guilt to the monarch’s grief.

Slaves had no honor and prestige, but Hebrew slaves in Egypt had divine favor.  Unfortunately, they began to grumble before they left Egypt.  This did not bode well for the future.

God is faithful to us.  Divine favor–grace–is superior to human honor and prestige.  Will we try to be faithful to God?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 23, 2019 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT BRIDGET OF SWEDEN, FOUNDRESS OF THE ORDER OF THE MOST HIGH SAVIOR; AND HER DAUGHTER, SAINT CATHERINE OF SWEDEN, SUPERIOR OF THE ORDER OF THE MOST HIGH SAVIOR

THE FEAST OF ADELAIDE TEAGUE CASE, PROFESSOR OF RELIGIOUS EDUCATION

THE FEAST OF SAINTS PHILIP EVANS AND JOHN LLOYD, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIESTS AND MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF THEODOR LILEY CLEMENS, ENGLISH MORAVIAN MINISTER, MISSIONARY, AND COMPOSER

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2019/07/23/honor-and-prestige/

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Devotion for Saturday Before Proper 27, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Moses and the Burning Bush

Above:   Moses and the Burning Bush

Image in the Public Domain

Human Traditions and Divine Authority

NOVEMBER 9, 2019

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The Collect:

O God, our eternal redeemer, by the presence of your Spirit you renew and direct our hearts.

Keep always in our mind the end of all things and the day of judgment.

Inspire us for a holy life here, and bring us to the joy of the resurrection,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 52

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The Assigned Readings:

Exodus 3:13-20

Psalm 17:1-9

Luke 20:1-8

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Weigh my heart, summon me by night,

melt me down, you will find no impurity in me.

–Psalm 17:3, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Moses had been a fugitive from Egyptian justice from Exodus 2.  Egyptian juris prudence frowned upon killing taskmasters in charge of slaves (2:11-15).  Moses was safely distant from Egypt and hopefully happily married when God called him to return to Egypt, to participate in the liberation of the Hebrews.  In reply to the request for a name, God provided a non-name, indicating the absence of human control over the divine.

Throughout the long narrative of the Bible prophets were frequently inconvenient to people in authority.  There were false prophets who agreed with the monarchs who favored them, but prophets of God were often in the faces of kings.  St. John the Baptist, standing in this tradition, ran afoul of religious authorities and Herod Antipas.  Jesus, greater than the prophets, had many confrontations with religious authorities and proved to be a better debater than any of them.  God was doing a new thing via Jesus, and religious authorities, wedded to their traditions and collaborating with the Roman Empire, found it threatening.

Tradition itself is not bad; neither is it inherently good.  Tradition is simply that which one generation passes down to another.  The best question to ask in this context is the one which evaluates any given tradition on its merits.  May we avoid becoming so attached to our traditions that we oppose the work of God, who is beyond our control.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 3, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF WILL CAMPBELL, AGENT OF RECONCILIATION

THE FEAST OF SAINTS LIPHARDUS OF ORLEANS AND URBICIUS OF MEUNG, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOTS

THE FEAST OF THE MARTYRS OF UGANDA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MORAND OF CLUNY, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK AND MISSIONARY

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2016/06/03/human-traditions-and-divine-authority/

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Devotion for Wednesday After Proper 26, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Archelaus

Above:   Archelaus

Image in the Public Domain

Deeds and Creeds

NOVEMBER 6, 2019

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The Collect:

Merciful God, gracious and benevolent,

through your Son you invite all the world to a meal of mercy.

Grant that we may eagerly follow this call,

and bring us with all your saints into your life of justice and joy,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 52

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The Assigned Readings:

Amos 5:12-14

Psalm 50

Luke 19:11-27

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“Consider this well, you who forget God,

lest I rend you and there be none to deliver you.

Whoever offers me the sacrifice of thanksgiving honors me;

but to those who keep in my way will I show the salvation of God.”

–Psalm 50:23-24, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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The traditional title for the pericope from Luke 19 is the Parable of the Pounds.  That reading is superficially similar to the Parable of the Talents (Matthew 25:14-30), which teaches the imperative of diligence in the work of God.  In the case of Luke 19:11-27, however, the real point is quite different.

Textual context matters.  Immediately prior to the parable we read of our Lord and Savior’s encounter with Zacchaeus, a man who worked as a tax collector for the Roman Empire.  He was a literal tax thief, although, as we read, he changed his ways and made more restitution than the Law of Moses required.  Immediately after the parable Jesus enters Jerusalem at the beginning of that fateful Holy Week.  The story of Zacchaeus explains verse 11a (“As they were listening to this”); the context of the impending Triumphal Entry is crucial to understanding the pericope which Volume IX (1995) of The New Interpreter’s Bible calls “The Parable of the Greedy and Vengeful King.”

The nobleman in the parable resembles members of the Herodian Dynasty, especially Archelaus (reigned 4 B.C.E.-6 C.E.), son of Herod the Great (reigned 47-4 B.C.E.), Governor of Galilee then the client king of the Jews.  Herod the Great, who traveled to Rome to seek the title of king, reigned as one because the Roman Republic then Empire granted him that title.  He was also a cruel man.  Biblical and extra-Biblical sources agree on this point, constituting a collection of stories of his tyranny and cruelty.  In Matthew 2 he ordered the Massacre of the Innocents, for example.  Archelaus, a son of Herod the Great, ruled as the Roman-appointed ethnarch of Idumea, Judea, and Samaria, after traveling to Rome.  Archelaus sought the title of King, which the Emperor Augustus denied him after meeting with a delegation of Jews.  Archelaus, mentioned by name in Matthew 2:22, was also cruel and tyrannical, victimizing Jews and Samaritans alike.  On one day alone he ordered the massacre of 3000 people at the Temple precinct in Jerusalem.  Eventually Augustus deposed him.  Herod Antipas, full brother of Archelaus, ruled on behalf of the Roman Empire as the tetrarch of Galilee and Perea from 4 B.C.E. to 39 C.E., when he sought the title of King and found himself banished to Gaul instead.  Antipas, a chip off the old block, ordered the execution of St. John the Baptist (Matthew 14:3-10) and sought to kill Jesus, who called the tetrarch “that fox” (Luke 13:32).

A trope in the interpretation of parables of Jesus is that one of the characters represents God.  That does not apply accurately to the parable in Luke 19:11-27.  In fact, the unnamed nobleman, who orders the execution of his political opponents, is an antitype of Jesus, who enters Jerusalem triumphantly in the next pericope and dies on the cross a few days later, at the hands of Roman officials.  The Kingdom of God is quite different from the Roman Empire, built on violence and exploitation.  The kingship of Jesus is quite different from the model that the Roman Empire offers.

Amos 5 condemns those in the Kingdoms of Israel and Judah who profess to follow Yahweh, yet oppose the establishment of justice, especially for the needy.  There is nothing wrong with religious rituals themselves, but engaging in them while perpetuating injustice makes a mockery of them.  God is unimpressed, we read.

God, in Psalm 50, addresses those who recite divine statutes yet do not keep them, who think wrongly that God is like them.  They will not find deliverance in God, we read.  That Psalm fits well with Amos 5, of course.  Then there are the evildoers who do not even pretend to honor God and do not change their ways.  Their path is doomed in the long run also.

One must reject the false dichotomy of deeds versus creeds.  In actuality, I argue, deeds reveal creeds.  One might detect a dichotomy between deeds and words, but, barring accidents, no dichotomy between deeds and creeds exists.

What do your deeds reveal about your creeds, O reader?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 1, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL STENNETT, ENGLISH SEVENTH-DAY BAPTIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER; AND JOHN HOWARD, ENGLISH HUMANITARIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT JUSTIN MARTYR, APOLOGIST

THE FEAST OF SAINT PAMPHILUS OF CAESAREA, BIBLE SCHOAR AND TRANSLATOR; AND HIS COMPANIONS, MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF SAINT SIMEON OF SYRACUSE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2016/06/01/deeds-and-creeds/

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Devotion for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday After Proper 15, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Premium Yeast Powder

Above:  Premium Yeast Powder, 1870

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-USZ61-1537

Causing Dissensions and Offenses, Part II

AUGUST 20, 21, and 22, 2018

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The Collect:

Ever-living God, your Son gives himself as living bread for the life of the world.

Fill us with such knowledge of his presence that we may be strengthened and sustained

by his risen life to serve you continually,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 45

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The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 43:1-15 (Monday)

Genesis 45:11-15 (Tuesday)

Genesis 47:13-26 (Wednesday)

Psalm 36 (All Days)

Acts 6:1-7 (Monday)

Acts 7:9-16 (Tuesday)

Mark 8:14-21 (Wednesday)

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The daily readings of the Revised Common Lectionary continue the motif of good and drink.  Jesus, in a pericope (John 4:7-26) for the previous post, was the living water.  Joseph, of whom St. Stephen spoke in Acts 7, fed not only his family but the entire Egyptian Empire.  Unfortunately, he enslaved the populace in the process.  On the other hand, Jesus brings freedom and serves as the ultimate thirst quencher (John 4:13-14).  Speaking of spiritual food and drink, one might, like the Pharisees of Mark 8:15, have bad food and not know it.  Herod Antipas was not a sympathetic figure either, but he lacked the pretense of holiness.  Sometimes deceivers are unambiguously bad, but others think they are righteous.

Yeast functions as a metaphor in Mark 8.  It indicated

the diffusion of veiled evil.

The New Interpreter’s Study Bible (2003), page 1823

Herod’s veil was the authority of the Roman Empire, legitimized by violence and oppression.  The Pharisaic veil was the Temple system, which depended on economic exploitation and a form of piety which favored the wealthy.  One lesson I have derived from these passages is that political legitimacy does not necessarily indicate moral fitness.

Do not let an arrogant man approach me,

do not let the wicked push me off course.

There they have fallen, those wicked men,

knocked down, unable to rise.

–Psalm 36:12-13, Harry Mowvley, The Psalms Introduced and Newly Translated for Today’s Readers (1989)

Yet many such arrogant people thrive in this life for a long time, for many of the godly suffer because of them.  Economically exploitative systems continue to exist, and many people who consider themselves righteous defend them.  Oppressive violence persists, and many who consider themselves godly defend it.  Yet the testimony of faithful people of God, from antiquity to current times, against it remains also.  The words of Hebrew prophets thunder from the pages of the Old Testament, for example.  The condemnations of repression and exploitation are ubiquitous.  Dare we listen to them and heed them?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 1, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL STENNETT, ENGLISH SEVENTH-DAY BAPTIST MINISTER AND HYMN WRITER; AND JOHN HOWARD, ENGLISH HUMANITARIAN

THE FEAST OF SAINT JUSTIN MARTYR, APOLOGIST

THE FEAST OF SAINTS PAMPHILUS OF CAESAREA, BIBLE SCHOLAR AND TRANSLATOR; AND HIS COMPANIONS, MARTYRS

THE FEAST OF SAINT SIMEON OF SYRACUSE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/06/02/causing-dissensions-and-offenses-part-ii/

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Devotion for Wednesday After Proper 12, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   3 comments

St. Edward's, Lawrenceville

Above:  St. Edward’s Episcopal Church, Lawrenceville, Georgia, October 19, 2014

Image Source = Bill Monk, Episcopal Diocese of Atlanta

Four Banquets

AUGUST 1, 2018

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The Collect:

Gracious God, you have placed within the hearts of all your children

a longing for your word and a hunger for your truth.

Grant that we may know your Son to be the true bread of heaven

and share this bread with all the world,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 43

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 25:6-10a

Psalm 111

Mark 6:35-44

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He has provided food for his worshippers;

he remembers his covenant for ever.

–Psalm 111:5, Harry Mowvley, The Psalms Introduced and Newly Translated for Today’s Readers (1989)

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This is a post about four banquets:  the divine coronation feast in Isaiah 25:6-10a, the sordid feast of Herod Antipas in Mark 6:14-29, the Feeding of the 5000 (Plus) in Mark 6:30-44, and the Holy Eucharist.

The reading from Isaiah 25 speaks of a time immediately after Yahweh has defeated pride, evil, and sorrow, and established the Kingdom of God, in its fullness, on the Earth.  This is a time in our future.  All people are welcome at Yahweh’s coronation feast, to take place on Mount Zion, in Jerusalem.  All is well, except for those whom God has vanquished, namely the Moabites (25:10).

Our next two banquets, which stand is stark contrast to each other, come from Mark 6.  The first is a sordid event, with Herod Antipas lusting after the seductive Salome (whose name and image come to us via archaeology, not the Bible) and making a hasty promise which leads to the execution of St. John the Baptist.  The Herodian family tree was complicated, for both Herodias and her daughter, Salome, were granddaughters of Herod the Great via different women.  Herod Antipas, a son of Herod the Great via a third woman, married Herodias, who had been the wife of a half-brother of Herod Antipas.  Thus Salome was the step-daughter and a cousin of Herod Antipas.

I will not attempt to explain the Feeding the 5000 (Plus) rationally, for doing that constitutes seeking an answer to the wrong question.  (And I am more of a rationalist than a mystic.)  Neither will I try to explain Jesus walking on water (next in Mark 6) logically, for the same reason.  No, I am interested in answering the question which compelled one of my spiritual mentors whenever he studied any passage of scripture:

What is really going on here?

The Markan account of the Feeding of the 5000 men (no word about the number of women and children) uses imagery from elsewhere in the Bible.  Jesus is the Good Shepherd feeding the flock.  His feeding of the multitude exceeds Elisha’s feeding of 100 men (2 Kings 4:42-44) and Elijah’s miracle of the refilling jug of oil (1 Kings 17:8-16).  The messianic banquet, an echo of Isaiah 25:6-10a, recurs in the wilderness motif in subsequent pseudipigraphal works, such as in 2 Baruch 29:4 and 4 Ezra 6:52.  Two main ideas stand out in my mind:

  1. Jesus is greater than Elijah and Elisha (see Mark 6:15, in which some people thought that Jesus was Elijah), and
  2. Nothing we bring to Jesus is inadequate in his capable hands.  There will be leftovers after he has finished working with it.  We are insufficient by ourselves yet more than sufficient in Christ.  That is what grace can effect.

The eucharistic imagery in Mark 6 points to the fourth banquet, which I, as an Episcopalian, celebrate at least once weekly.  The Holy Eucharist has constituted the core of my spiritual life since childhood.  One reason I left the United Methodism of my youth was to have the opportunities to partake of the sacrament more often.  In the Holy Eucharist I meet Jesus in the forms of bread and wine and swear loyalty to him again.  No, I am not worthy on my merit (such as it is) to do this, but I rely on his merits to make me worthy to do so.  The first step to becoming worthy is acknowledging one’s unworthiness.

The contrast between human systems built on the foundation of violence, exploitation, and oppression on one hand and the Kingdom of God on the other hand is clear.  Injustice and artificial scarcity characterize the former, but justice and abundance for all distinguish the latter.  We can experience a foretaste of the Kingdom of God, which is partially present already, but we await the fullness of the Kingdom.  Until then we can, at least, leave the world better off than we found it.  No effort toward this goal is too little in Christ’s capable hands.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 6, 2015 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT MARCELLINUS OF CARTHAGE, ROMAN CATHOLIC MARTYR

THE FEAST OF DANIEL G. C. WU, EPISCOPAL PRIEST AND MISSIONARY TO CHINESE AMERICANS

THE FEAST OF FREDERIC BARKER, ANGLICAN BISHOP OF SYDNEY

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https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/04/06/four-banquets/

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Devotion for Saturday Before Proper 24, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Beheading of St. John the Baptist Caravaggio

Above:  The Beheading of St. John the Baptist, by Caravaggio

Image in the Public Domain

Oppression

OCTOBER 17, 2020

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The Collect:

Sovereign God, raise your throne in our hearts.

Created by you, let us live in your image;

created for you, let us act for your glory;

redeemed by you, let us give you what is yours,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 50

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The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 14:3-11

Psalm 96:1-9 [10-13]

Matthew 14:1-12

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He [the LORD] will judge the world with righteousness

and the people with his truth.

–Psalm 96:13, The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

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Herod Antipas (reigned 4 B.C.E.-39 C.E.) was a bad character and a client ruler (a tetrarch, not a king, by the way) within the Roman Empire.  He had married Herodias, his niece and daughter-in-law, an act for which St. John the Baptist had criticized him.  This incestuous union violated Leviticus 18:16 and 20:21 and did not come under the levirate marriage exemption in Deuteronomy 25:5.  John, for his trouble, lost his freedom and his life.  Salome (whose name we know from archaeology, not the Bible), at the behest of her mother, Herodias, requested the head of the holy man on a platter.

The text from Isaiah 14 is an anticipated taunt of the Chaldean/Neo-Babylonian Empire.

How the oppressor has ceased!

How his insolence has ceased!

–Isaiah 14:3b, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

That oppression and insolence did cease in the case of Herod Antipas.  He had deserted the daughter of King Aretas IV of the Nabateans to wed Herodias.  In 36 C.E. Aretas took his revenge by defeating Herod Antipas.  The tetrarch sought Roman imperial assistance yet gained none, for the throne had passed from Tiberius to Caligula.  Herod Antipas, encouraged by Herodias, requested that Caligula award him the title of “King” as the Emperor had done to the tetrarch’s nephew (and brother of Herodias), Herod Agrippa I (reigned 37-44 C.E.).  Yet Herod Agrippa I brought charges against Herod Antipas, who, having traveled to Rome to seek the new title in person, found himself exiled to Gaul instead.  The territories of Herod Antipas came under the authority of Herod Agrippa I who was, unfortunately, one of the persecutors of earliest Christianity (Acts 12:1-5).

Oppression has never disappeared from the face of the Earth.  Certain oppressive regimes have ended, of course, but others have continued the shameful tradition.  You, O reader, can probably name some oppressive regimes in the news.  Sometimes they fight each other, so what is one supposed to do then?  I remember that, during my time as a graduate student at Georgia Southern University, Statesboro, Georgia, I took a course about World War II.  The professor asked us one day that, if we had to choose between following Joseph Stalin or Adolf Hitler (a decision many in Eastern Europe had to make in the early 1940s), whom would we select?  I said, “Just shoot me now.”  That, I imagine is how many people in Syria must feel in 2014.

Only God can end all oppression.  Until God does so, may we stand with the oppressed and celebrate defeats of oppressors.  Some good news is better than none, after all.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

AUGUST 31, 2014 COMMON ERA

PROPER 17:  THE TWELFTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAINT AIDAN OF LINDISFARNE, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/09/05/oppression/

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Week of Proper 20: Thursday, Year 2   1 comment

Above:  Herod Antipas, by James Tissot

Image Source = Brooklyn Museum

That Which Has Significance

SEPTEMBER 24, 2020

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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.

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Ecclesiastes 1:1-11 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures):

The words of Koheleth son of David, king in Jerusalem.

Utter futility!–said Koheleth–

Utter futility!  All is futile!

What real value is there for a man

In all the gains he makes beneath the sun?

One generation goes, another comes,

But the earth remains the same forever.

The sun rises, the sun sets–

And glides back to where it riese.

Southward blowing,

Turning northward,

Ever turning blows the wind;

On its rounds the wind returns.

All streams flow into the sea,

Yet the sea is never full;

To the place [from] which they flow

The streams flow back again.

All such things are wearisome:

No man can ever state them;

The eye never has enough of seeing,

Nor the ear enough of hearing.

Only that shall happen

Which has happened,

Only that occur

Which has occurred;

There is nothing new

Beneath the sun!

Sometimes there is a a phenomenon of which they say,

Look, this one is new!

–it occurred long since, in ages that went by before us.  The earlier ones are not remembered; so too those that will occur later will no more be remembered than those that will occur at the very end.

Psalm 90:1-6 (1979 Book of Common Prayer):

 Lord, you have been our refuge

from one generation to another.

 Before the mountains were brought forth,

or the land and the earth were born,

from age to age you are God.

3  You turn us back to the dust and say,

“Go back, O child of earth.”

 For a thousand years in your sight are like yesterday when it is past

and like a watch in the night.

 You sweep us away like a dream;

we fade away suddenly like the grass.

 In the morning it is green and flourishes;

in the evening it is dried up and withered.

Luke 9:7-9 (The Jerusalem Bible):

Meanwhile Herod the tetrarch had heard all that was going on; and he was puzzled, because some people were saying that John had risen from the dead, others that Elijah had reappeared, still others that one of the ancient prophets had come back to life.  But Herod said,

John?  I beheaded him.  So who is this that I hear such reports about?

And he was anxious to see him.

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The Collect:

Grant us, Lord, not to be anxious about earthly things, but to love things heavenly; and even now, while we are placed among things that are passing away, to hold fast to those that shall endure; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, for ever and ever. Amen.

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Great ambition without contribution is insignificant.

–William Hundert in The Emperor’s Club (2003)

The Hebrew word often translated “vanity” or “futility” means “air” or “breath,” therefore something transient.  This linguistic background is essential to grasping correctly the passage from Ecclesiastes.  But what is futile?  Does nothing have real meaning and purpose?  A note from page 1606 of The Jewish Study Bible has helped my understanding.  It reads:

Within Jewish commentary, one emphasis applies futility to actions of humans for themselves alone, since actions can last and be worthwhile only if they are involved with Torah and labor for God.

Herod Antipas, of whom we read in Luke 8:19-21, was a bad character.  He, a son of the notorious Herod the Great, had entered into an incestuous marriage, ordered the arrest of John the Baptist for decrying said marriage, and ordered John’s execution to save face at a party.  This man acted for his own self-interest, so his ambitions lacked significance.  John the Baptist, however, acted for God, so his deeds were significant.

The deeds of John the Baptist and Jesus of Nazareth were for God; they were significant.  May we–you, O reader, and I–lead lives of significance, matters lasting and worthwhile.

KRT

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2011/10/24/that-which-has-significance/