Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Deuteronomy 19-20 and Galatians 1

Deuteronomy 19 - The land is to be divided into three regions and each region is to have a city of refuge so “that every [non-malicious or accidental] homicide will be able to find a refuge” (19:4). In the event the territory given is expanded, three additional cities shall be added. In that time, it was the duty of a family member of anyone killed to exact vengeance on the perpetrator; this is an attempt to put in place some means whereby those innocent of intending to kill can be protected from unjust revenge. The guilty are not to be protected, however, under the system. If a person seeking refuge is really guilty of a “murder” he is to be killed: “life for life, an eye for an eye, a tooth for a tooth, a hand for a hand, and a foot for a foot’”(19:21). Judicial findings require two or three witnesses.  If one commits false witness “you are to receive the punishment the accused would have received” (19:19) had the testimony been true. 
Deuteronomy 20 - In battle, do not be afraid.  The Lord fights for you.  But this part of the code permits a number of categories of people to avoid involvement. If you are someone who “has just built a house” that has not been “dedicated”; or has a vineyard that has not been harvested; or has just become engaged to be married (20:5-7), you are exempt from having to fight. More surprisingly, another exemption is provided for those who lose their nerve and are full of fear. They are to go home as well (20:8). They don’t want people with them who will damage the morale of all the others.

When you prepare to attack a city, they are instructed to always offer terms of peace first.  If the terms are accepted, and they surrender, the people of the city under assault “are all to become your slaves and do forced labor for you. But if the people of that city will not surrender, but choose to fight, surround it with your army [and] kill every man in it [and] take for yourselves the women, the children, the livestock and everything else in the city” (20:13-14). As bad as this sounds, it is even more dire if the people attacked are Hittites, Amorites, Canaanites, Perizzites, Hivites or Jebusites. These are people who worship their gods in ways that the Jews must not be tempted by – child sacrifice or other vilified practices. These people, if defeated, are all to go under the ban and be completely wiped out lest they “teach. . . . all the disgusting things that they do in the worship of their gods” (20:18). Then there is a passage concerned with protecting the fruit trees in cities placed under siege. Other trees may be used for building defenses, but fruit trees should be preserved. 

Introduction to Galatians: The Jerusalem Bible introduction has this letter dated after the Council of Jerusalem (57-58 AD), the first such “council” called in the history of this newly emerging Christian “Church.” The letter implies that Paul has visited there twice on his first missionary journey – visiting them on the way out and then on the way back. Galatia is located in the middle of the Anatolian Peninsula, present-day Turkey.

Galatians 1 - A Jerusalem Bible note says that the opening of this epistle is “shorter and less friendly” than any other letter Paul wrote. He starts by saying that his apostle-ship “did not come from human beings or by human means, but from Jesus Christ and God the Father, who raised him from death” (1:1). Jesus came, Paul says, to “set us free from this present evil age” (1:4). “Christ gave himself for our sins, in obedience to the will of our God and Father” (1:4). 

He is disappointed with the Galatians. They are already drifting from the true gospel and following “a different version of the Good News” (1:6). But there is only one gospel. He says, “even if we or an angel from heaven should preach to you a gospel other than the one that we preached. . .let him be accursed” (1:8-9).

Paul insists that the Good News he taught them “is not a human message . . . it is something I learnt only through a revelation of Jesus Christ” (1:12). He recounts his conversion story and insists he did not go up to Jerusalem to see the early apostles but went to the Nabataean Arabs, who lived in what today is the Sinai Peninsula of Egypt. Only three years after his conversion did he go to Jerusalem to confer with Peter for 15 days.  The only other apostle he saw then was James, the brother of the Lord (1:20). Then he went to Syria and Cilicia where his hometown of Tarsus was. He is vociferous in writing that he is not lying about any of this!

Monday, January 30, 2012

Deuteronomy 17-18 and Matthew 28

Deuteronomy 17 – Sacrificial animals must be without “serious defect.” Death is to be the penalty for idolatry, but only on the testimony of more than one witness.  The witnesses must be among those who stone the perpetrator—the first to cast the stone (17: 7) [Here is where Jesus gets his saying when he saves the woman accused of adultery—perhaps they had gotten away from this rule] Complicated cases should go to the assigned judge or levitical priests in office. This is a change from the elders who were earlier assigned these functions—it shows an evolution of offices similar to the evolution experienced in the church. If you should have a king - also an evolution of offices from judges to kings - in the future, he should not have too much of anything – wives, gold and silver, etc  (17:16-17) and should read and observe the law so as not to become estranged from his people. These references to “judges” and “levites” and to the monarchy are evidence that Deuteronomy comes from a later point in time than the earlier books of the Torah.

Deuteronomy 18 – The priestly tribe of Levi shall have no share in Israel’s heritage.  “The Lord himself is his heritage” (18:2).  They shall receive a portion of what is given over to God.  There shall not be permitted idolaters, child-sacrificers, fortune-tellers, soothsayers, charmers, diviners, people who cast spells or consult ghosts or oracles from the dead.  “You must be altogether sincere toward the Lord, your God” (18:13).  Then he says, “A prophet like me will the Lord, your God, raise up for you from among your own kinsmen; to him you shall listen” (18:15). This is a preeminently important passage for Christians, and particularly for Friends who took this as a pointing toward Christ.

In the context of Deuteronomy, Moses reminds the people that they asked at Horeb that they not be subjected to the frightful and overwhelming presence and voice of God in a direct way—see Exodus 20:19.  So what Friends took to be a promise concerning the removal of intermediaries between the people and God, the Jews actually took to be a promise of continuing “protection” from that intimacy through the continuation of the prophetic role Moses played. Moses goes on to tell the people that they can know the true prophet from the false by looking to whether or not the words of the prophet are actually fulfilled.

Matthew 28 - The Resurrection – Instead of just having Matthews’s account, all accounts are here set side by side.  I think Paul is the only NT writer we have who writes about the risen Jesus Christ from his own experience.  But his credibility is so huge.  He is so convincing, so resonant even though he lived so damn long ago, that no one can fail to be at least tempted to listen to him.  In Matthew, only verses 1-8 are based on Mark.  The rest is unique:

·      Matthew 28: 1-8
o   The two Marys come to the tomb. There is a great earthquake and the coming of an angel “like lightning” with “clothing. . .white as snow” to roll back the stone and sit on it. The angel probably same as Mark’s young man. The guards are shaken with fear and were “like dead men.” The angel tells them not to fear; he tells them Jesus “has been raised” and has gone ahead to Galilee. They leave in fear but are overjoyed. Jesus meets them on the way and greets them; they embrace his feet, and he tells them again not to fear but to go tell others to go to Galilee (28:10) where they will also see him.
o   The guards tell the priests and they are paid to tell everyone that his disciples stole the body (28:14).
o   The disciples then go to Galilee, to the mountain where they see and worship him, but we are also told “they doubted.” (28:17).  His last words to them are: “All power in heaven and on earth has been given to me [see Dan. 7:13]. Go, therefore, and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you.  And behold, I am with you always, until the end of the age.” (28:18-20) An NAB note indicates this is meant to be a foretaste of the final Parousia when “the nations” will experience him in this way.
·      Mark 16:1-8
o   Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James, and Salome bring spices; they come after dawn, worrying about the stone. It is rolled back. They enter and see a young man on their right in white
o   “Do not be amazed!” he tells them. “You seek Jesus of Nazareth, the crucified. He has been raised. . .Go and tell his disciples and Peter; he is going before you to Galilee where you will see him as he said.”
o   They flee, terrified, and say “nothing to anyone” for they are afraid.
o   In the longer ending [thought by some to have been an addition, by others to have been lost for a time and then re-added] has him appearing first to Mary Magdalene and her going to tell went his companions. Then there are also appearances to the two [on their way to Emmaus as in Luke] and his appearance to the Eleven.
·      Luke 24:1-12
o   Unnamed women who had come from Galilee with Jesus – a wonder why only here they remain unnamed? – they take spices and go to the tomb where they find the stone rolled away. Puzzling over his disappearance, they see “two men in dazzling garments” and are terrified. The men ask, “Why do you seek the living one among the dead?  He is not here, but he has been raised.”  They remind them of Jesus’ words to them.They return and tell everyone.
o   The women are then identified: Mary Magdalene, Joanna and Mary the mother of James and “others.”
o   The disciples generally do not believe them, but Peter runs to the tomb and discovers the burial cloths but no Jesus.
o   Then comes the Emmaus story
·      John 20:1-18
o   Mary of Magdala comes early when it is still dark and sees the stone removed. So, she runs to Simon Peter and to the beloved disciple and tells them “They have taken the Lord from the tomb, and we don’t know where they put him.” Peter and the other disciple run out to look for him.  The “beloved disciple” arrives first, having run faster, but Peter actually enters the tomb first and sees the burial cloths – the head cloth rolled up in a separate place. They return home, but Mary stays and weeps.  Then she sees the two angels in white sitting there, one at the head and one at the feet where the body of Jesus had been. He asks why she is weeping; then she turns around and sees a man who asks “Woman, why are you weeping? Who are you looking for? She thinks it is the gardener, but when he says her name, “Mary,” she turns and calls him “Rabbouni”
o   He tells her to stop holding on to him and that he is going to “my God and your God.”
o   Mary goes and tells the others what she has seen and what he told her.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Deuteronomy 15-16 and Matthew 27:55-66

Deuteronomy 15 – Every seven years the people shall have a “relaxation of debts” for kinsmen.” The NAB notes that we are not sure if this meant a suspension of interest or of payments on debt, or release from the full amount of any debt.  There should be no one of you in need.”  Kinsmen who sell themselves for debt shall be freed every 7th year.  They are also to watch that they do not get resentful when the year of “release” approaches (15:9). You need to look beyond the seeming loss to the blessing God will bestow (15:10).  The saying “the needy will always be among you” (15:15) is here as it is in the NT, but a periodic dealing with the issue is provided for here.  Remember you were once slaves.  So when you offer him freedom every seventh year, you are also to offer him food-stuffs to sustain him in his freedom as the Israelites also took goods with them from Egypt. (15:13) He may choose to stay and be your for life though. If he does you are to pierce his ear (15:17).

Deuteronomy 16 – The month of Abib [later Babylonian Nisan] around Mar/Apr is set for celebration of Passover.  Eat only unleavened bread (the bread of affliction—in memory of the fear they felt in leaving so hurriedly) for seven days.  Meat [in Exodus lamb was specified, but not here] for Passover may only be sacrificed in the place God chooses.  On the 7th day, a solemn meeting in honor of God.  Seven weeks from the day of first harvest comes Pentecost (Feast of Weeks – the day after 7 X 7 days) giving what you can out of whatever God has granted you.  This is a time for making merry, remembering also orphans, widows and aliens. Today the festival is called Shavuot – the time of the giving of the Torah.
The Feast of Booths or Shelters, a seven-day holiday commemorating the wandering in the desert when they lived in shelters, at completion of the harvest is a pilgrim feast – “do nought but make merry.”  Today it is call Sukkot, commemorating God’s providence and miraculous survival of His people. Three times a year then—at these three feasts--every male shall appear before the Lord with an offering.  The people must also appoint judges; they  “must be impartial. . . Justice and justice alone shall be your aim, that you may have life. . .” (16:20).

Matthew 27:55-66 - Jesus is buried in a tomb belonging to Joseph of Arimathea and a guard posted (27:64). Mary Magdalene and the other Mary, the mother of James and Joseph, keep watch too (27:61).

The Words of Jesus on the Cross Compared in the Gospels:
·      Matthew and Mark
o   “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Matthew 27:46 and Mark 15:34)
·      Luke
o   “Father forgive them, they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34 – not in oldest papyruses].
o   “Amen, I say to you, today you will be with me in Paradise” (Luke 23:43).
o   “Father, into your hands I commend my spirit” (Luke 23:46).
·      John
o   “Woman, behold your son. . .Behold your mother” (John 19:26).
o   “I thirst” (John 19:28).
o   “It is finished [or accomplished]” (John 19:30).
§  See my piece on John: http://catholicquaker.blogspot.com/2011/05/genesis-and-john.html

Saturday, January 28, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Deuteronomy 13-14 and Matthew 27:27-54

Deuteronomy 13 – Moses warns the people not to add to or take from the command he gives them. If “a prophet or dreamer” performs signs, don’t let that lead you to worship strange gods.  Yahweh tests us to see if we love him. “. . .his voice you shall obey, him shall you serve, to him shall you cling. . .”  (13:5). And if someone tries to turn you to away from the Lord, that person should be “put to death” (13:5). We tend to forget that God’s chosen in our long tradition once held to this very harsh standard.

Even if someone closest to you – mother, father, son, wife, etc. tries to turn you aside, you must “be the first” to raise you hand to stone that person (13:9).  God will be served singly and without exception.  No other loyalty can be put first.  Jesus says this too –he does say he comes to separate father from son, wife from husband, etc. Even the closest human bonds should not separate us from the Lord our God. But Jesus turns his back on the violence.

The penalties here are very severe, very violent The dangers are people from within who pretend to be prophets and dreamers, people close to you by blood whose influence may be strong, and the danger that comes from internal corruption, which, when brought to light, induce whole groups (towns) of people to break unity, then vengeance is to be brought onto the whole place, not only the instigators (13:2, 7 and 14).

One interesting thing to note about the prophets and dreamers part is that here even if the fruits of their prophecy (the signs they are able to perform) are powerful, it is the message itself that condemns them.  They are preaching disloyalty to God.

Deuteronomy 14 – Warnings against pagan rites, the eating of unclean things—animals with only cloven hooves (but who do not chew the cud) or who chew the cud (and do not have cloven hooves—both must be present); water animals that have only one (fins/scales—both must be present); birds of prey are unclean; and winged insects; animals that are found dead.  Milk and meat (life and death) are not to be eaten together.  Foreigners and aliens among you may eat these things (14:21).

When the Lord finally chooses his “place” you shall bring tithes.  Every third years’ tithes shall go to the Levites and widows, aliens and orphans.

Matthew 27:27-54 - Jesus is taken to the Praetorium, residence of the Roman governor, clad in a scarlet cloak and crowned with thorns to mock his claim of kingship.  Simon, the Cyrenian [Northern Africa], carries Jesus’ cross.  The guards cast lots for his clothes.  “If you are God’s Son, come down from the cross” (27:40) – these words echo the temptation Christ had early on in the desert.  Also here both of the men Jesus is crucified with, real revolutionaries or “bandits”, “abuse him” along with the Roman soldiers.

Around noon, the sky goes dark—see Amos 8:9--and remains dark for 3 hours.  Around 3 o’clock in the afternoon, Jesus cries out his last words, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”(27:46 from Psalm 22). Jesus dies and immediately “the veil of the sanctuary is torn in two from top to bottom (27:51). The earth shakes. The bodies of saints are raised and appear to “many” (27:53).  The three women said to be in attendance are Mary Magdalene, Mary, the mother of James and Joseph, and the mother of the Zebedee brothers. 

Friday, January 27, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Deuteronomy 12 and Matthew 27:1-26

Deuteronomy 12 – The editor of the Schocken Bible  (1997) notes that Deuteronomy as a whole is similar to other Near Eastern “covenant” or “treaty” models, Assyrian and earlier Hittite texts. It presents an historical overview and exhortation (chapters 1 through 11) followed by the “terms of the covenant” (chapters 12 through 28) and a concluding exhortation (chapters 29 through 34).

Chapters 12 to 28 is the heart of Deuteronomy – it represents the terms of the covenant they are entering into. There must be only ONE place of worship; they must tear down “all the places where the people worship their gods on high mountains, on hills and under green trees” (12:2). There must be NO IDOLS to Asherah. While these chapters of the book of Deuteronomy recount the entry of the Jews into the Promised Land after forty years of “wandering” in the desert, it was composed much later, at a time when the monarchy was struggling to reform and reestablish the community on the covenant under the leadership of King Josiah (7th c BC) or possibly even later, during the restoration made possible by the Persians (6th c. BC). The centralization it speaks of here was not a factor in 13th c. BC when the historic narrative of the exodus was thought to have happened.

Other post-exilic (6th c BC) values reflected in Deuteronomy are concern for the proper slaughter of food, concern for care of the Levites, and avoidance of false worship – especially things like child sacrifice. Interesting is the passage that reads, “You shall not do as we are now doing; here, everyone does what seems right to himself, since you have not yet reached your resting place, the heritage which the Lord, you God, will give you” (12:8). This sounds like an attempt to squelch a certain troubling individualism, but I think it pertains only to the place in which sacrifice is offered.  For the time being, any place will do, but when the Lord reveals the “place,” then it should be there alone.

They are also admonished not to consume the blood but to pour it out on the ground (12:16 and 24).  When “the place” is established, however, the blood should be poured out against the altar (12:27).

There is an emphasis here too on “making merry before the Lord” (12:12 and18), which Nehemiah seems to refer to in his exhortation when the people of Israel rebuild the Temple and stand to hear the Law proclaimed again and are overcome with tears.

Matthew 27:1-26 – Jesus is handed over to Pilate in the morning.  Judas experiences despair, a despair that seems like remorse for he says, “I have sinned in betraying an innocent man to death” (27:4), but he then goes off and kills himself rather than turning to God for forgiveness. Priests use the silver Judas returned to buy a potter’s field.  

Pilate questions Jesus and Jesus does not answer him directly, nor does he answer the chief priests and leaders who also question him. Pilate asks the people if they want Jesus released—it was customary to release one imprisoned on this feast—but the people, incited by their leaders (27:20) demand his death. Pilate seems disturbed by the baselessness of the crowd’s hostility (27:23) and washes his hands according to a practice described in Deuteronomy 21: 7-8. Early Christians saw Jesus treatment here as foreshadowed by Isaiah 53: 7

                  He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he did
                           not open his mouth:
                  Like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
                           and like a sheep that before it shearers is silent,
                  He did not open his mouth.

Thursday, January 26, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Deuteronomy 11 and Matthew 26:47-75

Deuteronomy 11 – The people must remember that these memories are theirs - the knowledge of the Lord’s “discipline” (Schocken 11:2 – what he did to the sons of Reuben during the rebellion of Korah) is theirs, not their children’s). I will add more about this rebellion, which for early Quakers, especially George Fox, had an importance that many do not understand.  So this is the challenge to the Jewish people is how to pass down the memory of what happened in the exodus and the devotion to the covenant that grew out of that.

From age to age, the love of the Lord’s precepts must be passed from parent to child, from one generation to another  (11:18-21). How can this be done?  The author suggests that they “take these words of [Moses] into [their] heart and soul.  Bind them on [their] wrist as a sign . . .”etc (11:18).

The living touch you cannot give to your children – alas, though it is our greatest treasure; but the rudiments and the example we can give by the depth of devotion we show.  We can pass along the memory passed down to us, the memory of men and women without number who did find their lives in the Lord. I recently read another writer who said this even better. God has no grandchildren; I read it in Richard Rohr, but I think the sentence has been out there for a while. I don’t know who first said it.

It is interesting to compare the passages here to the promise of the new covenant in Jeremiah 31:31.  The depth of knowledge alluded to here is not really different from what is described there.  Both are talking about a knowledge that is “written on the heart;” the circumcision is meant to be a circumcision of the heart.  But the outward signs adopted for these inward realities (the outward circumcision, the outward tefillim and tablets, come over time to supplant the inward devotion that Moses is encouraging here.  So is the new covenant so new and different? Or is really—like most of the prophetic calls—mostly a cry from the heart to return to the reality intended from the beginning.

Moses sets before the people “a blessing and a curse,” a blessing if they obey and a curse if they do not.  The blessing is to be pronounced on Mt. Gerizim and the curse of Mt. Ebal, both in Samaria—there was a deep ravine between these mountains.  They “frame the important political and cultic center of Shechem (today Nablus).”

Matthew 26:47-75 - Judas arrives with a large crowd armed with swords and clubs, sent by the chief priests.  He kisses Jesus (49), and someone steps forward, laying hands on Jesus to arrest him.  One of Jesus’ disciples draws a sword and cuts off the man’s ear.  Jesus scolds him, saying “Put your sword back. . .for all who take the sword will perish by the sword.”  Then he says he could escape through the Father’s power, but “then how would the scriptures be fulfilled which say that it must come to pass in this way?”(54).

·      Is this an absolute rule on use of the sword for self-defense, or is it not more complex than that.  Jesus seems to be renouncing violence to permit his own destiny to be fulfilled, not making a rule for everyone.  Twice here Jesus refers people (first his disciple, then the people around them) to the writings of the prophets, to their fulfillment (54 and 56).

He is taken to Caiaphas (high priest) where many leaders are assembled to try him (even though it is night).  Peter follows. Two witnesses come forward to recount some of Jesus’ words—that he said he would destroy the temple and rebuild it in three days. Caiaphas directly asks him if he is the messiah, but unlike the response he gives in Mark, Jesus gives an indirect response (64)

·      There are aspects of the procedure here, which run against the rules followed by Jewish law—trial on a feast day, a night session, a verdict in the same session as when testimony is heard; but we’re not sure these rules were in force at this time.  Or the author could be combining elements of several sessions.
·      Also see Jer 7:14 where that prophet has God threaten destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem and reminds them how He destroyed the sanctuary at Shiloh. In Jer 26:1-7, these words are repeated and it is clear they think Jeremiah is deserving of death for having said them.

They mock and slap Jesus (68).  Then we turn to Peter, who does just what Jesus predicted he would and denies his friend three times.

Wednesday, January 25, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Deuteronomy 10 and Matthew 26:26-46

Deuteronomy 10 –Moses recounts how God told him to bring two new stone tablets and an ark of wood to place them in.  Aaron dies in Moserah and his son Eleazar succeeds him.  The tribe of Levi is set aside to carry the ark, to stand in God’s presence and serve him.  They give up their share of the inheritance of land (10:12-13). Moses passed forty days on the mountain doing all this, convincing the Lord not to destroy them.

So now, what does the Lord ask of His people in return for all He has done? Only this: to fear Him, to follow all His ways “exactly,” to love Him, to serve Him with all their hearts and souls, to keep the commandments and laws He has given them.  Moses encourages his people to circumcise their hearts [the Schocken editors say this reads “foreskin of your hearts” —the thick part of your hearts]. We need to circumcise the parts of us least amenable to obedience. And then Moses speaks of the character of this God: “He “has no favorites, accepts no bribes; [He] executes justice for the orphan and the widow, and befriends the alien, feeding and clothing him.  So you too must. . .” (10:18-19).  The great love and reverence Moses has for God comes through in all his words.  He calls us to be just and merciful in response to the love and mercy shown to us by God. 

Matthew 26:26-46 - The last supper (26:26-46) is thought to have been held on a Thursday.  Seders were held on Friday evening, but Jesus perhaps knew he would be taken on Friday.  Essenes followed a solar calendar and always celebrated Passover on a Tuesday night. “From now on. . .I shall not drink wine until the day I drink the new wine with you in the Kingdom of my Father” (26:29).

Then they go to the Mount of Olives where Jesus predicts they will all “run away and leave me” (26:31). Peter assures Jesus “I will never leave you, even though all the rest do!” (26:33)  Oh, Peter, you are so like me – so sure of yourself, so wanting to be the one loyal one, the one dependable one – but you (and I) are so like the rest – so unpredictable. Jesus goes off to pray and be alone with God. “Grief and anguish came over him, and he said to them, ‘The sorrow in my heart is so great that it almost crushes me. Stay here and keep watch with me.’” (26:37-38). I think we can all of us relate to this moment. We have all been “crushed” with sorrow in our lives. How comforting it is to know that the great God I love KNOWS my experience.  Jesus asks his friends to “keep watch” with him, but of course, for all their proclamations of love and loyalty, they go off and go to sleep while he is in the deepest pit of misery. This is his agony in the garden.  He prays three times while his disciples—Peter, James and John—sleep.

Lord, that you should sorrow on my account is painful to me even now.  Forgive me for all the times I have denied you or slept when your Spirit called to me and I was asleep. 

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Deuteronomy 8-9 and Matthew 25:1-25

Deuteronomy 8 – The people are told that they must remember – always remember – all that the Lord has done for them. God led you in the wilderness to humble you, to test you, to know your inmost heart. “He made you go hungry, and then he gave you manna to eat, food that you and your ancestors had never eaten before. He did this to teach you that you must not depend on bread alone to sustain you, but on everything that the Lord says (8:3).  These words are very important.  Jesus lived on them in the wilderness.
         God is bringing them “into a prosperous land, a land of streams and springs of waters that well up from the deep in valleys and hills, a land of wheat and barley, . . .”(8:7-10).  They must not  “ . . .  become proud and forget the Lord your God who rescued you from Egypt, where you were slaves” (8:14). They must not become ensnared by prosperity or think you are no longer dependent on God. 
         And beware of thinking YOU did it (8:17) he tells them. For “if you forget Yahweh, your God, . . . you will most certainly perish. . .for not having listened to the voice of Yahweh your God” (8:19-20)

Deuteronomy 9 – They are prepared to enter the Promised Land.  It is not for any quality of goodness in them that God is giving them this land because of the wickedness of those he is displacing (9:5) and “to keep the word that he swore. . .” He tells the story of their apostasy, his breaking of the tablets and his fasting in the desert 40 days and nights for their sin, of his begging the Lord not to destroy them (9:26). Moses prays for them and reminds God of His integrity and reputation.  Moses really strong-arms God here, (9:28) pressuring him to remain faithful because of His reputation – anthropomorphizing God’s faithfulness a little.

Matthew 26:1-25 – Jesus predicts that he will be handed over in two days to be crucified. Jewish leaders consult about how to arrest and destroy himMeanwhile in Bethany, Jesus is staying with Simon the leper and a woman pours expensive ointment on him.  The disciples scold her for waste, but Jesus defends her. “The poor you will always have with you; but you will not always have me” (26:11).

Judas betrays him to the chief priests for 30 pieces of silver. Jesus and his disciples prepare to celebrate the Passover.  At dinner, Jesus tells them one of them will betray him and they are all disturbed. Judas even dares to deny it is he. 

Monday, January 23, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Deuteronomy 7 and Matthew 25

Deuteronomy 7 - Seven nations will fall before Israel.  They must all be placed “under the ban” – for they will turn your sons away from God.  Their altars must be torn down, the sacred pillars smashed, their idols destroyed. They are to be a people set apart.  “If Yahweh set his heart on you and chose you, it was not because you outnumber other peoples: you were the least of all peoples.  It was for love of you and to keep the oath he swore to your fathers . . .” (7:7-8). The reward Moses tells them they will enjoy is almost entirely “material” – especially the reward of fertility, both of soil and of womb.  But he also promises health and military success (7:23).  They are not to enrich themselves on the wealth they find among their enemies “lest you be ensnared by it” (7:25).

Matthew 25 – Jesus tells another parable to describe what the kingdom of heaven is like. Ten bridesmaids take lamps to go looking for the bridegroom. Five are foolish and take no oil along with them for the lamps; five are wise because they take flasks of oil so they can refill their lamps if it takes a long time to find him.  The bridegroom’s arrival is delayed, so the bridesmaids all go to sleep.  When suddenly and unexpectedly the Bridegroom arrives at midnight, the foolish girls have no more oil for their lamps. And the wise ones know there isn’t enough for everyone, so they don’t share.  So, while the “foolish” go to find more oil, the Bridegroom comes and “those who were ready went with him into the wedding banquet; and the door was shut” (25:10). When the other girls arrive they ask the Lord to open the door but by then he says, “I do not know you” (25:12).

Then Jesus tells them the parable of the “talents” [unit of money in those days]. A man going on a journey calls his slaves to him and entrusts them with his property. To one he gives five talents, to another two, to another one, “to each according to his ability” (25:15). The one with five goes off and trades with them and makes five more. The one with two makes two more; but the one with only one digs a hole and buries it in the ground.  When the master returns they settle accounts. To each of the first two the master says, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many thing; enter into the joy of your master” (25:23).

This message is in Luke too, but the parable has been changed a little.  In that one there is a side plot (of rebellion against the master). The master leaves all his servants ten “pounds” to trade with. Each one tries to makes something from one.  When they do well the Lord gives them cities to rule over. When the fearful one comes forward, he judges him “by [his] own words” but just takes the pound away from him. There is no eternal punishment in Luke, but he does end the parable by going back to the rebellion strand and slaughtering the rebels “in [his] presence]. But to the one who had hidden his talent in the ground, believing his master would punish him if he lost it, he says “You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest” (26-27). He orders the one taken away from him and given to the servant with ten. “For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” (25:28-30).

When the Son of Man comes in his glory, Jesus tells them, he will sit on “the throne of his glory.” All the nations will be assembled and he will “separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats” (25:32). The sheep on his right will be welcomes into his kingdom “for I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me something to drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me. I was naked and you gave me clothing, I was sick and you took care of me, I was in prison and you visited me” (25:34-36). When have we ever done these things they will ask. Then he will tell them “Truly I tell you, just as you did it to one of the least of these who are members of my family, you did it to me” (25:40). The goats on his left, on the other hand, he will send “into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. . .” (25:41).

Saturday, January 21, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Deuteronomy 6 and Matthew 24:29-51

Deuteronomy 6 – Moses delivers to them the Great Commandment: “Israel, remember this! The Lord – and the Lord along – is our God. Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your strength” (6:4). As He promised your ancestors, the Lord will give you a land with great cities that you did not build, houses full of things you did not put in them and wells you did not dig (6:10-13). I]m not sure this sounds as cool today as it may have once sounded -taking things they did not build or buy??
We must obey the laws God gave us because “We were slaves . . .and the Lord rescued us by his great power. With our own eyes we saw him work miracles and do terrifying things to the Egyptians and to their king . . . .He freed us from Egypt to bring us here and give us this land. . . .The Lord . . .commanded us to obey all these laws and to honor our nation and keep it prosperous” (6:21-24). We want him to be pleased with us. 

Matthew 24:29-51 - Jesus goes on to cite from Isaiah 9 and Amos 13 about the "end times" - the sun will be darkened and the moon no longer shine. Then “the sign of the Son of Man will appear in heaven, and then all the tribes of the earth will mourn, and they will see ‘the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven’ with power and great glory” (24:30) See Daniel 7. Angels will gather up the elect.

Learn to tell the signs in the same way you read signs of the seasons in the fig tree. “Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place” (24:34). No one knows the day or hour. As in the days of Noah, people will be living life normally until the moment comes.  “Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming” (24:42).

Who is the faithful and wise servant?  Blessed that servant whom the master finds ready and at work when he comes (24:46).

Jesus’ words gave a reasonable expectation to the first generation of Christians that the end of the “age” or the end of the world would soon come. And this despite the fact that he does say in 24:36 that even the Son does not know the “day and hour,” How are we to view this?  Did we – as T.S.Eliot asks in his great poem Four Quartets – “hear the words but miss the meaning?”  Was he speaking in concrete terms or of spiritual realities only? Or was he limited in his own humanity more than we typically believe? Jesus’ intention seems to be to create a level of heightened expectation and readiness for whatever may come. “Stay awake!”

Eschatological discourses in Other NT Books: Two possible applications of the eschatological language here are 1) the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD and b) the end of world scenario. Here in Matthew [as also in Mark 13 and Luke 21], no clear distinction is drawn between the two. Though separated in time, the first is the inevitable pre-figuration and forerunner of the second. The destruction of Jerusalem is seen as the end of the Old Covenant.

In Mark 13, Jesus tells his disciples that “not a single stone [of the Temple] will be left on another.” He then sees same scenario as Matthew describes – the coming of multiple false messiahs, terrible persecutions and troubles that will precede the Son of Man’s coming. All way too mysterious for me to grasp. It is no wonder that the young Church struggled with this all so much over the next century.  

In Luke 17 and 21, he takes a different approach when the Pharisees ask him about the coming Kingdom of God. Jesus says, “The Kingdom of God does not come in such a way as to be seen. But then he goes on to describe pretty much the same kind of confusion. Again, the coming of the Son of Man follows destruction of the Temple and Jerusalem generally.

Friday, January 20, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Deuteronomy 5 and Matthew 24:1-28

Deuteronomy 5 – The Ten Commandments: [Schocken version points out that the commandments were “for a time. . .part of Jewish liturgy, but were ultimately removed from the Prayer Book out of fear that it would be thought that ten rules were the limit of one’s obligations to God (874].

Moses was the mediator between God and his people, mostly because they wanted it that way. They feared encountering God directly. It is interesting that Jews, Catholics and Protestants all number the commandments a little differently. Try doing it yourself and see how you would divide them.

The Jewish division is as follows:
• #1 - “I am the Lord your God, who rescued you from Egypt, where you were slaves” (5:6). This isn’t really a commandment, but the Jews call them “commandments”; they call them the “words” or “sayings” of God.
• #2 – Worship no god but me
• #3 – Do not take the name of the Lord in vain
• #4 – Observe the Sabbath and keep it holy
• #5 – Honor your father and mother
• #6 – Do not kill
• #7 – Do not commit adultery
• #8 – Do not steal
• #9 – Do not bear false witness
• #10 – Do not covet

The Catholics merge the introduction with the first commandment:
• #1 – I am the Lord your God, worship no god but me
• #2 – Do not to take the name of the Lord in vain
• #3 – Observe the Sabbath and keep it holy
• #4 – Honor your father and mother
• #5 - Do not kill
• #6 – Do not commit adultery
• #7 – Do not steal
• #8 – Do not bear false witness
• #9 – Do not covet your neighbor’s wife
• #10 – Do not covet your neighbor’s goods.

And the Protestants number them like this:
• #1 – “I am the Lord your God: - Worship no god but me
• #2 - Do not make for yourselves images of anything in heaven or on earth or in the water under the earth
• #3 - Do not to take the name of the Lord in vain
• #4 - Observe the Sabbath and keep it holy
• #5 - Honor your father and mother
• #6 - Do not kill
• #7 – Do not commit adultery
• #8 – Do not steal
• #9 – Do not bear false witness
• #10 – Do not covet

After the commandments are given, the people again ask Moses to “go back . . .and listen to all that the Lord, our God, says. Then return and tell us what He said to you. We will listen and obey” (5:27).

Matthew 24:1-28 - Jesus comes out of the Temple and the disciples are showing him something about the buildings. He responds that “not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down” (24:2). At the Mount of Olives he goes on talking about his next coming and the “end of the age” (24:3). Jesus speaks to warn them of the dangers there will be to be led astray. This phrase appears many times in the following discourse (5 or 6 times at least). Many will come claiming to be “Messiah” [or in MK and LK “him”]; there will be wars and rumors of wars, famines, earthquakes (“the beginning of the birthpangs”). They will be handed over to be torture: here in MT the torturers are generalized; in MK they may be councils, synagogues, governors or kings; in LK synagogues, kings or governors. There will be people falling away, betraying others, hating one another; false prophets will come; the love of the brothers will in some cases grow cold because of the increase in lawlessness; the “desolating sacrilege” spoken of in Daniel [9:27; 11:31; 12:11] will occur and those in Judea must flee to the mountains—it will be a time of great suffering. Matthew then repeats lines about false Messiahs in a part that does not appear to be taken from MK [it does not appear in LK either].

Thursday, January 19, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Deuteronomy 4:32-49 and Matthew 23:23-39

Deuteronomy 4:32-49 - “Search the past. . . all the way back to the time when God created human being on the earth. Search the entire earth. Has anything like this ever happened before?” (4:32). God has spoken to them from a fire; He has freed them from captivity and defeated powerful kings to give them a place to settle. They did not win from strength but only with the help of God. You must obey the laws given to you through Moses.

Then Moses sets up three cities of refuge, one for each of the three tribes given land (Bezer for the Reubenites; Ramoth in Gilead for the Gadites; and Golan in Bashan for the tribes of Manasseh). Interesting that he should do this. It was a way of getting around the requirement for vengeance if a person was killed. Acknowledging that some killings were not intentional or malicious was probably a step forward.

Matthew 23:23-39 - Jesus goes on and on reprimanding the Pharisees and teachers of the Law for all the ways they are blind, self-righteous and superficial. The are “full of greed and self-indulgence” (23:25); “like white-washed tombs, which on the outside look beautiful, but inside they are full of the bones of the dead and of all kinds of filth” (23:27); they build tombs for the prophets and decorate the graves of the righteous and tell everyone if you had been alive you would not have taken part in shedding their blood, but “you testify against yourselves” (23:31) by killing and crucifying the prophets, sages and scribes “I send”. It does seem that Jesus is explicitly stepping into the voice of God here.

Then his anger turns to pain: “Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the city that kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to it! How often have I desired to gather your children together as a hen gathers her brood under her wings, and you were not willing! See, your house is left to you, desolate. For I tell you, you will not see me again until you say, ‘Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord’” (23:37-39).

This also seems as in Luke 19:41 to be a specific reference to the kind of rejection of the Christians in the synagogues in Jerusalem that made Peter cry out against them and made them see in the destruction of the Temple a rebuke and punishment from God. I asked my theology teacher, Fr. Luttenberger, what common source Luke and Matthew had for these angry anti-Pharisee diatribes. He agreed that they sounded too angry to have been a part of “Q” if “Q” is a collection of “saying.”. They also seem to be most like in an environment in which there is struggle between the synagogue and the Jesus believer.

Reflection: The overall theme of this teaching is that pride, and particularly pride in being righteous, is death to those who really seek to please God. The key is not to know everything God wants but to do it – obedience is the key and obedience not only in a superficial way, but obedience that runs up from a rooted sense of God’s voice being part of one’s experience inwardly. As Isaac Penington says, “Keep to the sense, keep to the feeling; beware of the understanding [part], beware of the imagining, conceiving mind.” In the gospel, Jesus also extends his teaching to condemn those very ordinary human practices, which build up pride in people – the way we relish in status, titles, positions, honors. These are things Quakers took very much to heart, refusing even titles such as Mr. And Mrs. Certainly titles such as are common in the Catholic Church were considered anathema. I do not think the hierarchical organization of the church is per se inconsistent with this teaching of Jesus, but the outward etiquette seems to me problematic. What a witness it would be for the Pope to lay it down! I can dream can’t I?

Wednesday, January 18, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Deuteronomy 4:1-31 and Matthew 23:1-22

Deuteronomy 4 – Moses reminds the people of the commands he was given by God.”. . .that you may have life and may enter and take possession of the land.” They are told not to add anything to these laws. This is interesting, especially in light of the fact that Deuteronomy does add onto and change things given earlier in the Torah, but the Schocken editors think these new things are worked in here under "the bringing together of the tradition." This is all a revised retelling of the original story. It is interesting that now the people are entering not as Abraham entered—as strangers, but as conquerors. Abraham and his whole clan were not numerically able to conquer the land. Their claim in the land even at the time of Joseph (three generations passed Abraham) was only the burial site at Hebron, which Abraham had bought to bury Sarah; but now things are different. The Lord gives them leave to go in and take the lands he wants them to have, not buy them. The laws and precepts he gives are witness to God’s closeness and his justice. In part they are to be a light to other nations because of the wisdom and justice of the statues and way of life they represent. He reminds his people “not to forget the things which your own eyes have seen, nor let them slip from your memory as long as you live. . .”(4:9)

Recalling Horeb (Mt. Snai) where the people had gathered to hear God’s words before the fiery mountain - “Then Yahweh spoke to you from the midst of the fire; you heard the sound of words but saw no shape, there was only a voice”(4:12) - and where He gave them the commandments and the covenant that bound them. No image of God appeared to them at that time; so, he remarks, “do not act perversely, making yourself a carved image in the shape of anything . . .” Yahweh “is a consuming fire, a jealous God” (4:24). The interesting thing is that the Lord tells them idolatry of the kind he warns them against “degrades” the people — not Him (4:16). If they are not faithful, God will scatter them and he even predicts this. But then they will repent. “But you will seek Yahweh. . .from there [exile], and if you seek him with all your heart and with all your soul, you shall find him. . .” (4:29) “at the end of the day you will return to Yahweh your God and listen to His voice” (4:30).

Matthew 23 – Jesus tells the crowds that the teachers of the Law and the Pharisees occupy “Moses’ seat” so they have a right to interpret the Law of Moses; the problem is not with what they teach – it is that they do not DO what they preach. They are hypocrites. They are great “sayers” of the truth, as early Friends might have said, but abysmal “doers”. And when they DO pious things, they do it for the praise, position and power it gives them in the community. Jesus warns his followers not to seek titles of respect, even the titles of “Teacher” or “Father” or “Leader “(23:8-10). Have the goal of “serving” others – this is what the Lord really wants.

These hypocritical leaders stop people from entering the “kingdom of heaven”; they cross land and sea to convert people but make them worse than they are; they don’t even use common sense in interpreting the tradition—telling people that if the swear by the sanctuary they are not bound, but if they swear by the gold of the sanctuary they are. Which is more precious? They act as if they were blind.