Archive for the ‘Vengeance’ Tag

Devotion for Proper 26, Year C (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  Avenge Me of Mine Adversary

Image in the Public Domain

Resisting Evil Without Joining Its Ranks

OCTOBER 31, 2021

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

1 Samuel 26:2-23 or Lamentations 1:1-12

Psalm 112

Romans 12:9-21

Luke 18:1-8

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Never pay back evil for evil….Do not let evil conquer you, but use good to conquer evil.

–Romans 12:17a, 21, The Revised English Bible (1989)

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

All of the lesson from Romans 12 explains itself and constitutes timeless advice about how to live in community.  I encourage frequent reading of it, followed by corresponding actions.  Details will differ according to circumstances, such as who, where, and when one is, of course.  The principles remain constant, however.

“Anger” comes from the Old Norse word for “grief.”  Anger flows from grief, literally.  Others may commit evil or some lesser variety of sin, causing us to suffer.  We may be properly sad and angry about that.  Human beings bear the image of God, not the image of doormats, after all.  Resisting evil is a moral imperative.  So is resisting evil in proper ways.  One cannot conquer evil if one joins the ranks of evildoers.

I have struggled with this spiritual issue in contexts much less severe than the fall of the Kingdom of Judah and the time of the Babylonian Exile.  I have known the frustration that results from powerlessness as my life, as I have known it, has ended.  I have learned to read the angry portions of the Book of Psalms and identity with them.  I have also learned of the toxicity of such feelings.  I have learned the wisdom of obeying God and letting go of grudges, even when forgiveness has been more than I could muster.

After all, all people will reap what they sow.  Why not leave vengeance to God?  Why not strive to become the best version of oneself one can be in God?  Why not seek the support of one’s faith community to do so?  Why not support others in one’s faith community in their spiritual growth?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

APRIL 30, 2020 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JAMES MONTGOMERY, ANGLICAN AND MORAVIAN HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF DIET EMAN; HER FIANCÉ, HEIN SIETSMA, MARTYR, 1945; AND HIS BROTHER, HENDRIK “HENK” SIETSMA; RIGHTEOUS AMONG THE NATIONS

THE FEAST OF JAMES RUSSELL MACDUFF AND GEORGE MATHESON, SCOTTISH PRESBYTERIAN MINISTERS AND AUTHORS

THE FEAST OF SARAH JOSEPHA BUELL HALE, POET, AUTHOR, EDITOR, AND PROPHETIC WITNESS

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2020/04/30/resisting-evil-without-joining-its-ranks-part-v/

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Devotion for Proper 14, Year A (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  The Seduction of Dinah, Daughter of Leah, by James Tissot

Image in the Public Domain

Trusting in God, Part I

AUGUST 11, 2019

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Genesis 34 or Isaiah 29:13-24

Psalm 18:1-15

1 Corinthians 5:1-13

Matthew 10:34-11:1

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

We have some unpleasant content this week–rape, deceit, and murder in Genesis 34 and incest in 1 Corinthians 5.

The rape of Dinah is one of those stories that makes people squirm.  Dinah is the only completely sympathetic character.  Jacob, her father, is indifferent to her plight.  Her brothers Simeon and Levi are sympathetic until they entrap and massacre Canaanite men still recuperating from circumcision.  Shechem the rapist is not sympathetic at all; neither is his father Hamor.  Still, Simeon and Levi, avengers of their sister, are somewhat sympathetic characters.

At least they cared about what had happened to her, what was happening to her, and might happen to her.

As for Dinah, given the realities of her situation in a patriarchal culture that shamed raped women, her future seemed bleak.  Who would marry her now?  And marrying her rapist was not a good option either.  She almost dropped out of the narrative; her name recurred in the census in Genesis 46.  She had no descendants.

Her brothers’ vengeance brought them material gain and ego boosts, but wounded their souls and diminished them as human beings.  It made a bad situation worse.

Trust in God, most of the assigned readings tell us.  Trust in God when doing so is difficult.  Trust in God and live accordingly.  Trust in God, take up one’s cross, follow Jesus, and take care of each other.  Trust in God when one’s family abandons one.

Trusting in God can prove challenging during the best of times, especially if one insists on self-reliance.  Trusting in God when one is in dire straits can therefore be more difficult.  Yet I know from experience that trusting in God might be easier in times of dire straits if, for perhaps no other reason, one is acutely aware of one’s dependence on God and of God’s presence.  God is always with us.  If one likens God to a lamp turned on, one might understand my point.  One might notice the light during daylight, but the light is more noticeable at night.

Trusting in God also entails leaving desires for revenge unfulfilled.  Vengeance might prove satisfying in the short term, but it devours those who have committed it.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 30, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF CLARENCE JORDAN, SOUTHERN BAPTIST MINISTER AND WITNESS FOR CIVIL RIGHTS

THE FEAST OF SAINT PETER CHRYSOLOGUS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP OF RAVENNA AND DEFENDER OF ORTHODOXY

THE FEAST OF SAINT VICENTA CHÁVEZ OROZCO, FOUNDRESS OF THE SERVANTS OF THE HOLY TRINITY AND THE POOR

THE FEAST OF SAINT WILLIAM PINCHON, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2018/07/30/trusting-in-god-part-vii/

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Devotion for Proper 5, Year A (Humes)   1 comment

Above:  Christ Pantocrator

Scan by Kenneth Randolph Taylor

Faithful Servants of God, Part III

NOT OBSERVED IN 2019

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Ecclesiastes 7:1-4, 11-18 or Ezekiel 34:1-10

Psalm 9:1-10

Galatians 4:1-16

Matthew 5:38-48

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

As Koheleth and Jesus tell us, the way of the world is that righteous people suffer, both the righteous and the wicked prosper, and God is in control.  The combination of those three statements might seem incongruous.  Throughout the Book of Psalms righteous people cry out to God for deliverance from oppression.  Often they are understandably angry, but Christ tells us to pray for our persecutors and to love our enemies.  Interestingly, nowhere does the Hebrew Bible command anyone to love one’s enemies, and, as we have read previously in this series of posts, God prospers that the wicked change their ways and find mercy.  Yet many of the wicked refuse to repent, so the divine deliverance of the oppressed becomes bad news for oppressors.

The call to radical love thunders off the pages of the Sermon on the Mount.  We are to trust in God, not ourselves, and be so loving as to seem foolish to many.  Such love breaks the cycle of anger, resentment, revenge, and violence.  We, as inheritors, by grace, and adopted members of the household of God, are free to do that, if we dare.

May we dare accordingly.  Then we, by grace, will be suited for our purpose, or, as Matthew 5:48 puts it, perfect.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 21, 2018 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF JOHANN SEBASTIAN BACH, CARL PHILIPP EMANUEL BACH, AND JOHANN CHRISTIAN BACH, COMPOSERS

THE FEAST OF SAINT NICHOLAS OF FLÜE AND HIS GRANDSON, SAINT CONRAD SCHEUBER, SWISS HERMITS

THE FEAST OF SAINT SERAPION OF THMUIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOP

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM EDWARD HICKSON, ENGLISH MUSIC EDUCATOR AND SOCIAL REFORMER

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Adapted from this post:

https://adventchristmasepiphany.wordpress.com/2018/03/21/devotion-for-the-seventh-sunday-after-the-epiphany-year-a-humes/

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Devotion for Proper 11 (Year D)   1 comment

testament-and-death-of-moses

Above:  The Testament and Death of Moses, by Luca Signorelli

Image in the Public Domain

The Apocalyptic Discourse, Part II

JULY 19, 2020

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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 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

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Assigned Readings:

Deuteronomy 31:(1-22) 23-29 or Micah 7:1-7 or Daniel (11:40-45) 12:1-13

Psalm 54

Matthew 10:17-22a; 24:9-14 or Mark 13:9-13

1 Corinthians 9:1-15

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Human nature is corrupt, we read in Deuteronomy 31 and Micah 7.  We do not require these or any other texts to grasp that truth, do we?  All we need to do is to understand ourselves and follow current events and study the past if we are to be aware of our flawed nature.  As St. Paul the Apostle reminds us down the corridors of time, our only proper basis is in God–Christ Jesus, to be precise.  God will ultimately destroy the corrupt human order, founded on violence and exploitation, and replace it with a just social, economic, and political order.  Certainly we are incapable of accomplishing that goal.

As much as we might seek divine destruction of our enemies, we must be careful not to fall into the trap of living as vengeful people.  As we read in 2 John 5b-6, love is supposed to be our rule of life.  Even during times of persecution love is properly the rule of life.  This is a lofty spiritual goal–one which requires us to resist our nature and to rely on divine grace.  How can we be God’s salt and light in the world if we do otherwise?  We are free in Christ Jesus to glorify God wherever we are, and no matter under what circumstances we live.  May we, in all circumstances, to quote my bishop, love like Jesus, by grace.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 17, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE TWENTY-FIRST DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM LLOYD GARRISON, ABOLITIONIST AND FEMINIST; AND MARIA STEWART, ABOLITIONIST, FEMINIST, AND EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF EGLANTYNE JEBB AND DOROTHY BUXTON, FOUNDERS OF SAVE THE CHILDREN

THE FEAST OF FRANK MASON NORTH, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER

THE FEAST OF MARY CORNELIA BISHOP GATES, U.S. DUTCH REFORMED HYMN WRITER

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2016/12/17/the-apocalyptic-discourse-part-ii/

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Devotion for Proper 8 (Year D)   1 comment

christ-and-the-two-blind-men

Above: Christ and the Two Blind Men, by Julius Schnorr

Image in the Public Domain

Love, the Rule of Life

JUNE 27, 2021

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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 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

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Assigned Readings:

2 Kings 20:1-21 or Amos 4:1-13 or Malachi 3:5-18; 4:(1-2a) 2b-6

Psalm 56

Matthew 9:27-34 or John 5:31-47

1 Corinthians 3:12-15 (3:16-4:5) 4:6-21 or 2 John 1-13

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Do not think that I am sending a new command; I am recalling the one we have had from the beginning:  I ask that we love one another.  What love means is to live according t the commands of God.  This is the command that was given you from the beginning, to be your rule of life.

–2 John 5b-6, The Revised English Bible (1989)

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

That rule of life includes commandments such as do not be haughty (2 Kings 20), swear falsely, commit adultery or sorcery, deny workers their proper wages, thrust aliens aside, oppress widows and orphans (Malachi 3), rob God (Malachi 4), oppress the poor and the needy (Amos 4), mistake good for evil (Matthew 9) or good for evil (Matthew 9) or become so legalistic as to complain about someone committing good works on the Sabbath, to the point of wanting to kill one who does that (John 5).  This is, of course, a woefully incomplete list.

Sometimes people who violate these and other commandments of God flourish and the righteous suffer.  One finds recognition of this reality in the Bible, which tells us that this might be true temporally, but the picture is more complex than that (see Malachi 4).

Vengeance is properly God’s alone.  Temporal justice, which is, when it is what it ought to be, is not revenge.  Life does not present us with morally complicated situations sometimes, but the commandment to make love the rule of life applies always.  May we, by grace, succeed in living accordingly, to the glory of God and the benefit of our fellow human beings, as well as ourselves.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

DECEMBER 17, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE TWENTY-FIRST DAY OF ADVENT

THE FEAST OF WILLIAM LLOYD GARRISON, ABOLITIONIST AND FEMINIST; AND MARIA STEWART, ABOLITIONIST, FEMINIST, AND EDUCATOR

THE FEAST OF EGLANTYNE JEBB AND DOROTHY BUXTON, FOUNDERS OF SAVE THE CHILDREN

THE FEAST OF FRANK MASON NORTH, U.S. METHODIST MINISTER

THE FEAST OF MARY CORNELIA BISHOP GATES, U.S. DUTCH REFORMED HYMN WRITER

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2016/12/17/love-the-rule-of-life/

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Devotion for Wednesday After Proper 12, Year C (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Haman Begging the Mercy of Esther

Above:  Haman Begging the Mercy of Esther, by Rembrandt van Rijn

Image in the Public Domain

Esther VII:  Enemies

JULY 31, 2019

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Collect:

Almighty and ever-living God, you are always more ready than we are to pray,

and you gladly give more than we either desire or deserve.

Pour upon us your abundant mercy.

Forgive us those things that weigh on our conscience,

and give us those good things that come only through your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 43

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Assigned Readings:

Esther 7:7-8:17

Psalm 55:16-23

Matthew 5:43-48

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

You, God, will thrust them down

to the abyss of destruction,

men bloodthirsty and deceptive,

before half their days are spent.

–Psalm 55:23, The New Jerusalem Bible (1985)

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

In Matthew 5:43-48, part of the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus commands his followers to love their enemies and to pray for their persecutors.  Those instructions contradict the psalm and the designated portion of the Book of Esther.

In the Book of Esther Haman meets his grisly end and King Ahasuerus grants permission to Mordecai and Queen Esther to revoked the first royal edict and order anything (in his name) they deem appropriate.  Ahasuerus remains a figure through whom others govern.  The monarch orders the execution of Haman and his sons and gives his property to Queen Esther.  She and Mordecai write the second royal edict (as contained in Chapter E, as The New American Bible labels it) in the name of Ahasuerus.  They authorize Jews living in the Persian Empire to attack their (the Jews’) enemies.  Mordecai receives special honors, and, throughout the empire, Jews rejoice and their enemies do not.

How much of this is justice and how much is revenge?  In the Law of Moses the penalty for perjury to convict someone falsely is symmetrical:

If the man who testified is a false witness, if he has testified falsely against his fellow, you shall do to him as he schemed to do to his fellow.  Thus you will sweep out evil from your midst; others will hear and be afraid, and such evil things will not again be done in your midst.  Nor must you show pity; life for life, eye for eye, tooth for tooth, hand for hand, foot for foot.

–Deuteronomy 19:18b-21, TANAKH:  The Holy Scriptures (1985)

Nevertheless, there is a difference between justice and revenge.  I grasp the punishment of Haman yet wonder about the bloodbath reported subsequently in the Book of Esther.    “An eye for an eye and a tooth for a tooth” leaves the world blind and toothless in time.

I, as a Christian, read the Bible through what the late Donald Armentrout called the “Gospel glasses.”  The four canonical Gospels contextualize the rest of the Bible for me.  The ethics of Jesus therefore override contradictory texts in my mind.  I am still working on loving my enemies as I understand the distinction between justice and revenge on one hand and revenge and a rescue operation on the other.  Some people will not cease from oppressing because others appeal to their consciences, which might not exist.  Nevertheless, is even necessary violence something to celebrate?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

MARCH 17, 2016 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT PATRICK, BISHOP OF ARMAGH

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2016/03/17/esther-vii-enemies/

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Devotion for Monday and Tuesday After Proper 26, Year B (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Moses Pleading with Israel

Above:  Moses Pleading with Israel

Image in the Public Domain

Difficult Obedience to God

NOVEMBER 1 and 2, 2021

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Collect:

Almighty God, you have taught us in your Son that love fulfills the law.

Inspire us to love you with all our heart, our soul, our mind, and our strength,

and teach us how to love our neighbors as ourselves,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 51

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Assigned Readings:

Deuteronomy 6:10-15 (Monday)

Deuteronomy 28:58-29:1 (Tuesday)

Psalm 51 (Both Days)

Romans 12:17-21; 13:8-10 (Monday)

Acts 7:17-29 (Tuesday)

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Do not repay anyone evil for evil, but take thought for what is noble in the sight of all.  If it is possible, so far as it depends on you, live peaceably with all.  Beloved, never avenge yourselves, but leave room for the wrath of God; for it is written, “Vengeance is mine, I will repay, says the Lord.”  No, “if your enemies are hungry, feed them; if they are thirsty, give them something to drink; for by doing this you will heap burning coals on their heads.”  Do not be overcome by evil, but overcome evil with good….Owe no one anything, except to love one another; for the one who loves has fulfilled the law.

–Romans 12:17-21; 13:1, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

That is a worthy and difficult standard by which to live.  The advice to remain faithful to God (or else, as in Deuteronomy) functions as a reminder of the consequences of actions; we reap whatsoever we sow.  When we tether ourselves to idols, we enslave ourselves.  Yet, when we obey God, we find liberation to love each other as effectively as possible.

As for me, the passage from Romans I have quoted highlights challenges with which I have struggled and continue to struggle.  The desire for revenge is elemental.  Yet, when one thinks rationally, one will realize that it is counterproductive.  Nevertheless, seeking vengeance is easier to do than to seek justice–even reconciliation–or at least to lay down a grudge or to refrain from carrying one.  As I admit my weakness, I pray in the words of Psalm 51, 3,

For I acknowledge my rebellion:

and my sin is ever before me.

The Alternative Service Book 1980

What about you, O reader?

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 5, 2015 COMMON ERA

PROPER 9:  THE SIXTH SUNDAY AFTER PENTECOST, YEAR B

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANTHONY MARY ZACCARIA, FOUNDER OF THE BARNABITES AND THE ANGELIC SISTERS OF SAINT PAUL

THE FEAST OF SAINTS ADALBERO AND ULRIC OF AUGSBURG, ROMAN CATHOLIC BISHOPS

THE FEAST OF H. RICHARD NIEBUHR, UNITED CHURCH OF CHRIST THEOLOGIAN

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

https://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2015/07/05/difficult-obedience-to-god/

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Assigned Readings:

Jeremiah 17:5-18

Psalm 17

Matthew 12:22-32

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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)

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

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

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Devotion for Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday After Proper 14, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Job and God

Above:  God Speaking to Job; from a Byzantine Manuscript

Image in the Public Domain

Arguing Faithfully With God

AUGUST 10-12, 2020

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Collect:

O God our defender, storms rage around and within us and cause us to be afraid.

Rescue your people from despair, deliver your sons daughters from fear,

and preserve us in the faith of your Son,

Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 44

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Assigned Readings:

Genesis 7:11-8:5 (Monday)

Genesis 19:1-29 (Tuesday)

Job 36:24-33; 37:14-24 (Wednesday)

Psalm 18:1-19 (All Days)

2 Peter 2:4-10 (Monday)

Romans 9:14-29 (Tuesday)

Matthew 8:23-27 (Wednesday)

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Faithful and pure, blameless and perfect–

yet to the crooked you show yourself shrewd.

Your holy light shines on my darkness;

my steps are guided, my vigor renewed.

Your law will shape my heart and my mind,

letting me find richest blessing.

–Martin Leckebusch, Verse 3, “Refuge and Rock,” a paraphrase of Psalm 18 in Psalms for All Seasons:  A Complete Psalter for Worship (2012)

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Elihu, in the Book of Job, was a pious idiot.  He condemned Job for challenging God and was sure that the titular character of the text must have done something wrong, for surely a just deity would not permit the innocent to suffer.

The Almighty–we cannot find him;

he is great in power and justice,

and abundant righteousness he will not violate.

Therefore mortals fear him;

he does not regard any who are wise in their conceit.

–Job 37:23-24, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

The Book of Job 1 and 2, had established, however, that God had permitted this suffering as a test of loyalty.  And, starting in Chapter 38, when God spoke to Job, one of the most impatient people in the Bible (despite the inaccurate cliché about the “patience of Job”), the divine reply contained no apology.

(Yes, I know of the layers of composition in the Book of Job, that Elihu’s section was not part of the original text and that the prose wraparounds came later, but I am, in this post, treating the book as a whole, as we have received the final version.)

The readings from Genesis contain parts of accounts of divine destruction of the wicked and sparing of some people in the process.  The men of Sodom were as anxious to rape women as they were to violate angels, so their issue was not homosexual orientation or practice but violence against almost anyone on two legs.  Their sin involved the opposite of hospitality in a place and at a time when the lack of hospitality could prove fatal for guests or world-be guests.  Lot was morally troublesome, for he offered his virgin daughters to the rape gang.  Those same daughters got him drunk and committed incest with him later in the chapter.  Abraham had at least negotiated with God in an attempt to save lives in Genesis 18:20-33, but Noah did nothing of the sort in his time, according to the stories we have received.

Sometimes the faithful response to God is to argue, or at least to ask, “Did I hear you right?”  The Bible contains references to God changing the divine mind and to God holding off judgment for a time.  I am keenly aware of the unavoidable anthropomorphism of the deity in the Bible, so I attempt to see through it, all the way to the reality behind it.  That divine reality is mysterious and ultimately unfathomable.  The titular character of the Book of Job was correct to assert his innocence, which the text had established already, but, in the process of doing so he committed the same error as did Elihu and the three main alleged friends; he presumed to think to know how God does or should work.

This occupies my mind as I read elsewhere (than in the mouth of Elihu or one of the three main alleged friends of Job) about the justice, judgment, and mercy of God.  I recall that the prophet Jeremiah argued with God bitterly and faithfully–often for vengeance on enemies.  I think also of the repeated cries for revenge and questions of “how long?” in the Book of Psalms and the placement of the same lament in the mouths of martyrs in Heaven in the Book of Revelation.  And I recall how often God has extended mercy to me in my ignorance, faithlessness, and panic-driven errors.  I conclude that I must continue to seek to embrace the mystery of God, rejecting temptations to accept false and deceptively easy answers as I choose the perhaps difficult alternative of a lack of an answer or a satisfactory reply instead.  God is God; I am not.  That much I know.  Nevertheless, some more answers from God might be good to have.  May the faithful argument continue.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JULY 14, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF MATTHEW BRIDGES, HYMN WRITER

THE FEAST OF SAINT CAMILLUS DE LELLIS, ROMAN CATHOLIC PRIEST

THE FEAST OF SAMSON OCCUM, PRESBYTERIAN PASTOR

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/07/20/arguing-faithfully-with-god/

+++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Devotion for Saturday Before Proper 10, Year A (ELCA Daily Lectionary)   1 comment

Christ Pantocrator

Above:  Christ Pantocrator

Image in the Public Domain

Love and Forgiveness

JULY 11, 2020

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Collect:

Almighty God, we thank you for planting in us the seed of your word.

By your Holy Spirit help us to receive it with joy,

live according to it, and grow if faith and love,

through Jesus Christ, our Savior and Lord.  Amen.

Evangelical Lutheran Worship (2006), page 42

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

The Assigned Readings:

Isaiah 52:1-6

Psalm 65:[1-8], 9-13

John 12:44-50

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

Isaiah 52:1-6 speaks of a time, in our past yet in the original audience’s future, when foreigners would no longer hold sway in Jerusalem.  One might imagine faithful Jews saying, in the words of Psalm 65:1,

You are to be praised, O God, in Zion;

to you shall vows be performed in Jerusalem.

The Book of Common Prayer (1979)

Yet, in John 12, Jerusalem was not only under Roman occupation, but a Roman fortress sat next to and towered over the Temple complex, the seat of a collaborationist and theocratic state.  Jesus, about to die, is in hiding and the Temple rulers have been plotting since John 11:48-50 to scapegoat Jesus, for in the words of High Priest Caiaphas,

…it is better for you to have one man die to have the whole nation destroyed.

–John 11:50b, The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

That was not the only germane conflict, for the Gospel of John came from marginalized Jewish Christians at the end of the first century C.E.  They had lost the argument in their community.  Certainly this fact influenced how they told the story of Jesus.  I know enough about the retelling and reinterpretation of the past to realize that we humans tell history in the context of our present.  The present tense shapes our understanding of events which belong in the past tense; it can be no other way.

What must it be like to experience great hope mixed with subsequent disappointment–perhaps even resentment–inside which we frame the older hope?  Faithful Jews of our Lord and Savior’s time knew that feeling well when they pondered parts of the Book of Isaiah and other texts.  The Johannine audience knew that feeling well when it considered Jesus.  Perhaps you, O reader, know that feeling well in circumstances only you know well.

And how should one respond?  I propose avoiding vengeance (in the style of Psalm 137) and scapegoating.  Anger might feel good in the short term, but it is a spiritual toxin in the medium and long terms.  No, I point to the love of Jesus, which asked God to forgive those who crucified him and consented to it, for they did not know what they had done and were doing.  And I point to Isaiah 52:3, in which God says:

You were sold for nothing, and you shall be redeemed without money.

The New Revised Standard Version (1989)

I point to the agape God extends to us and which is the form of love in 1 Corinthians 13.  Love and forgiveness are infinitely superior to anger, resentment, and scapegoating.

KENNETH RANDOLPH TAYLOR

JUNE 13, 2014 COMMON ERA

THE FEAST OF SAINT ANTONY OF PADUA, ROMAN CATHOLIC MONK

THE FEAST OF G. K. (GILBERT KEITH) CHESTERTON, AUTHOR

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++

http://blogatheologica.wordpress.com/2014/06/15/love-and-forgiveness/

++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++++