Archive for the ‘Pharisees’ Tag

Devotion for Wednesday After Proper 17, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Appalachian Trail

Above:  The Appalachian Trail

Photographer = Carol M. Highsmith

Image Source = Library of Congress

Reproduction Number = LC-DIG-highsm-13022

Devious Hearts and the Unpardonable Sin

SEPTEMBER 2, 2020

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The Collect:

O God, we thank you for your Son,

who chose the path of suffering for the sake of the world.

Humble us by his example,

point us to the path of obedience,

and give us strength to follow your commands,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 46

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The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 17:5-18

Psalm 17

Matthew 12:22-32

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Keep me as the apple of your eye;

hide me under the shadow of your wings,

From the wicked who assault me,

from my enemies who surround me to take away my life….

Arise, Lord; confront them and cast them down;

deliver me from the wicked by your sword.

–Psalm 17:8-9, 13, Common Worship (2000)

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That Psalmist and the prophet Jeremiah shared the sentiment.

Let my persecutors be shamed,

And let not me be shamed;

Let them be dismayed,

And let not me be dismayed.

Bring on them the day of disaster,

And shatter them with double destruction.

–Jeremiah 17:18, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

That reminds me of some of my prayers at severe periods of my life.  I am glad to report truthfully that I never arrived at the spiritual place of Psalm 137:

O daughter of Babylon, doomed to destruction,

happy the one who repays you

for all you have done to us;

Who takes your little ones,

and dashes them against the rock.

–Verses 8 and 9, Common Worship (2000)

To be fair, some people were trying to kill Jeremiah.  And, regarding Psalm 137, vengeance is an emotion common to oppressed people.  Revenge is a seductive spiritual toxin.

Today we have readings about enemies and rejection.  YHWH, speaking in Jeremiah 17:11 (TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures), says:

Most devious is the heart;

It is perverse–who can fathom it?

I the LORD probe the heat,

Search the mind–

To repay every man according to his ways,

With the proper fruit of his deeds.

This brings me to the lesson from Matthew.  In the Hellenistic world the widespread assumption regarding the causation of a variety of disorders and diseases was demonic possession.  Thus, most (if not all) of the demoniacs in the New Testament actually had conditions with down-to-earth causes–biological or just too much stress.  Brain science, which tells us much in 2014, did not exist two thousand years ago.  In fact, modern science is only about five hundred years old.  Nobody should, therefore, expect the Bible to function as a scientific text or a psychological or medical diagnostic manual.  Anyone who does is pursuing a fool’s errand.

Jesus, in his cultural context, conducted what people called exorcisms of “evil spirits” which had caused everything from epilepsy to multiple personalities.  In his cultural context this demonstrated power over evil itself.  Jesus, in his cultural context, faced opposition from people as being of divine origin.  Therefore they preferred to say (if not believe wholeheartedly) that he cast out demons by the power of Satan–a statement ridiculous inside its cultural context.  Their sin–blasphemy against the Holy Spirit–was being unable to tell the difference between good and evil when good stood in front of them and performed great and mighty acts.  Theirs was a voluntary spiritual blindness.

Why did they do it?  Perhaps they were so attached to their social status and religious traditions that admitting that which was manifest in their presence was the genuine article proved threatening.  At stake were matters of identity and livelihood, after all, and Jesus, by his mere presence, called those into question.  His words and deeds constituted even more of a threat.  So these Pharisaic opponents in the reading from Matthew decided to pursue an illogical and spiritually dangerous course.

Blasphemy against the Holy Spirit–a sin which requires much effort to commit–is the unpardonable sin because it is deliberate spiritual blindness.  For most of us all our sins flow from either ignorance or weakness.  We either do not know that what we do or do not do is wrong (perhaps due to cultural programming) or, like St. Paul the Apostle, we know what is right yet discover that we are too weak to do it.  In these cases we are either blind spiritually because of what others have taught us or we have clear vision of the moral variety.  But to see clearly in the moral sense, recognize intellectually that good is present, and choose to call it evil because that is the convenient course of action is worse.  One might even lie to oneself and persuade oneself that good is evil.  And how is one supposed to follow God then?

Following God can prove difficult under the best of circumstances.  It is possible by grace, however.  May each of us be willing to cooperate with God in the path God has established.  When God points to an area of spiritual blindness, may we accept the correction.  Such a walk with God will entail times of discomfort, but that is part of the growth process.  Our identity ought to be in God.  Our chief end, the Westminster Catechisms tell us correctly, is to enjoy and glorify God forever.  The specifics of pursuing that goal properly will vary from person to person.  May we support each other in our journeys.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 20, 2014 COMMON ERA

PROPER 11:  THE SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR A

THE FEAST OF SAMUEL HANSON COX, U.S. PRESBYTERIAN MINISTER AND ABOLITIONIST; AND HIS SON, ARTHUR CLEVELAND COXE, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF WESTERN NEW YORK, HYMN WRITER, AND TRANSLATOR OF HYMNS

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANSEGIUS OF FONTANELLE, ROMAN CATHOLIC ABBOT

THE FEAST OF ELIZABETH CADY STANTON, AMELIA BLOOMER, SOJOURNER TRUTH, AND HARRIET ROSS TUBMAN, WITNESSES TO CIVIL RIGHTS FOR AFRICAN AMERICANS AND WOMEN

THE FEAST OF SAINTS FLAVIAN II OF ANTIOCH AND ELIAS OF JERUSALEM, ROMAN CATHOLIC PATRIARCHS

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/07/20/devious-hearts-and-the-unpardonable-sin/

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Devotion for Saturday Before Proper 16, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Foundation of the Tower of Antonia

Above:  Foundation of the Tower of Antonia, Jerusalem, Palestine, 1921

Image Creators = Jamal Brothers

Image Source = Library of Congress

Exile and Restoration

AUGUST 22, 2020

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The Collect:

O God, with all your faithful followers in every age, we praise you, the rock of our life.

Be our strong foundation and form us into the body of your Son,

that we may gladly minister to all the world,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 45

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The Assigned Readings:

Ezekiel 36:33-38

Psalm 138

Matthew 16:5-12

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All the kings of the earth shall praise you, O Lord,

for they have heard the words of your mouth.

They shall sing of the ways of the Lord,

that great is the glory of the Lord.

–Psalm 138:4-5, Book of Common Prayer (2004)

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That was part of the vision of the Book of Ezekiel.  The theology of that text held that exile was divine punishment for persistent national sins and that God would act mightily to restore the fortunes of Israel for the glory of the divine name and the benefit of the people.  Surely such an impressive act would convince many skeptical people that God (YHWH) was not only real but great.  It was a hopeful vision, but life in post-exilic Judea fell far short of those expectations.  At the time of Christ the Roman Empire ruled in military might and with economic exploitation, with the collaboration of Jerusalem Temple officials in Jerusalem.  The exilic experience persisted, with the ironic twist that the exiles were home.

We human beings have a tendency to use logic to confirm our opinions.  Thus we tend to seek prooftexts, cherry-pick evidence, and seek not to become “confused by the facts.”  This reality helps to explain much political discord, especially when disputing partisans cannot agree even on the definition of objective reality.

Sadducees and Pharisees disagreed on many substantive issues, but members of both camps were in league with the Roman Empire and challenged Jesus.  Of course their stations in life and their theological opinions reinforced each other in a repeating feedback loop, but I suspect that many Sadducees and Pharisees were sincere in their doctrine.  They followed the Law of Moses as they understood it and recalled lessons from Hebrew tradition about the relationship between national sin and fortunes.  And certainly they understood our Lord and Savior as a threat in the overlapping realms of economics, politics, and religion.

I know which side I support, for I am a Christian, a partisan of Christ.  Both the Pharisees and Sadducees sought to perpetuate forms of piety dependent on wealth.  Peasants could not find enough time to keep all the Pharisaic rules and regulations, for they had to work for so many hours.  And Sadducees, who rejected the doctrine of the resurrection of the dead, channeled considerable efforts into maintaining aristocratic status and estates for the next generation to inherit.  That brought them into disagreement with Jesus.

Exile can assume many forms.  People can be in exile at home or abroad, physically or spiritually.  Exiles might not even know that they are in exile and therefore in need of restoration.  Informing such exiles of their actual status might prompt not return, restoration, and gratitude but hostility and even violence.

Though I walk in the midst of trouble, you will preserve me;

you will stretch forth your hand against the fury of my enemies;

your right hand will save me.

The Lord shall make good his purpose for me;

your loving-kindness, O Lord, endures for ever;

forsake not the work of your hands.

–Psalm 138:7-8, Book of Common Prayer (2004)

The Interpreter’s Bible, Volume VI (1956), page 266, offers a germane analysis:

God does not impose his gracious purpose on us, but waits until we ourselves desire it of him.  We sometimes hear it argued that if God is really eager to bless us, he will give up now what we need and not wait till we ask him.  But is that so?  Surely God is never concerned merely to give us things, but only in and through what he gives us to train to be his children, true men and women.  He can adequately bless us only when we ourselves are ready and eager for his blessing.  Thus some of us discover for the first time what if it really means to relish our food–because we come to it hungry.  It is as simple as that.

So, how eager are you, O reader, to receive the grace God has for you and the responsibilities which come with it?  Grace is free to us; we cannot purchase it.  But it is not cheap, for it costs us much.  Many have even died in faithful response.  They have died as free people–not exiles–in Christ.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 16, 2014 COMMON ERA

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

THE FEAST OF JOHN MOORE WALKER, EPISCOPAL BISHOP OF ATLANTA

THE FEAST OF THE RIGHTEOUS GENTILES

THE FEAST OF WALTER CRONKITE, JOURNALIST

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This post owes much to the scholarship of Richard Horsley.  Perhaps the most compact book in his oeuvre is Jesus and Empire:  The Kingdom of God and the New World Disorder (Minneapolis, MN:  Fortress Press, 2003).

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http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/07/20/exile-and-restoration/

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