Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Jeremiah 15-19 and 2 Corinthians 1-2

Jeremiah 15 – The Lord tells Jeremiah that things have gotten so bad, even Moses and Samuel would not be able to convince Him to take these people back.  “I will make them an object of horror to all the kingdoms of the earth because of what Manasseh, son of Hezekiah, king of Judah, did in Jerusalem” (15:4).

In 2 Kings 21, Manasseh was 12 when he become king and reigned 55 years.  He rebuilt the high places his father had destroyed; he erected altars to Baal and a sacred pole, altars in the temple for the whole host of heaven.  He immolated his own son by fire, practiced soothsaying and divination, reintroduced the consulting of ghosts and spirits. His son Amon did more of the same for two years.  But then Josiah came to the throne at the age of eight. 

It is more obvious from the passages in this chapter that, though the disgraces and sufferings brought upon Judah are seen as from the Lord -- “I was weary of sparing you” 15:6 -- there is definitely a sense here that these are sufferings that have come about “naturally” as we would say, “historically” from the wrong choices and stupidity of a people who have lost their way morally. 
The prophet is in anguish: “Woe to me, mother, that you gave me birth! A man of strife and contention to all the land! I neither borrow nor lend, yet all curse me” (15:10). “Why is my pain continuous, my wound incurable, refusing to be healed?  You have indeed become for me a treacherous brook, whose waters do not abide!” (15:18) The Lord tells Jeremiah that he too must repent and be a pure “mouthpiece.” (15:19).

Jeremiah 16 - The prophet is told he should not marry, for the “sword and famine will make an end” of the children of this generation.  And Jeremiah is told he must not grieve for his people because “I have withdrawn by peace from this people” (16:5).
He must not rejoice with them either, for God will stop their joy.  When they ask why, he is to tell them it is because both previous generations and this generation too have forsaken the Lord.  But Jeremiah also prophesies a restoration that will be equated with Israel’s first redemption from the slavery of Egypt. The restoration of the people when they repent will be a new story of liberation like the one of Moses (16:14-15).

Jeremiah’s prophesy extends also to the “heathen.”  Someday they too will realize the gods they worship are “empty idols of no use” (16:19), and they too “shall know that my name is Lord” (16:31).

Jeremiah 17 - Jeremiah tells them they will be enslaved. “A curse on the man who puts his trust in man, who relies on things of flesh, whose heart turns from Yahweh.  He is like a dry scrub in the wastelands: if good comes, he has no eyes for it, he settles in the parched places of the wilderness, a salt land, uninhabited. A blessing on the man who puts his trust in Yahweh, with Yahweh for his hope, he is like a tree by the waterside that thrusts its roots to the stream: when the heat comes it feels no alarm, its foliage stays green; it has no worries in a year of drought, and never ceases to bear fruit” (JB 17:5-8)
Then more deep words: More tortuous than all else is the human heart, beyond remedy; who can understand it? I, the Lord, alone probe the mind and test the heart, to reward everyone according to his ways. . .” (NAB 17:9-10)

The man who puts his trust in human beings, into the kind of shallow values and pursuits that are characteristic of human striving, shall be like a barren bush.  But the man who trusts in God, in things of the spirit, he shall be like a tree planted beside the waters.  For the life of the person rooted in the stream will endure hardship.  As far as why the human heart seems so inclined to put his trust in superficial, material and passing things, this is a mystery “beyond remedy” he says.

 “Heal me, Yahweh, and I shall be really healed; save me and I shall be saved. . .” (17:14).

The chapter ends with prayers for justice (as between Jeremiah and his enemies) and reminders about the importance of the Sabbath.

Jeremiah 18 - Yahweh is likened to a potter who finds flaws with his work and refashions it to perfect his creative intention.  God does change his mind if people repent and changes his mind too if we enter apostasy.  “Sometimes I threaten to uproot and tear down and destroy a nation or a kingdom.  But if that nation . . .turns from its evil, I also repent of the evil which I threatened to do” (18:7-8). Blessings are not guaranteed. The passage is interesting for its universality; it is not directed to Israel alone.  Yahweh says, “my people have forgotten me!  They burn their incense to a nothing.  They have lost their footing in their ways, on the road of former times, to walk in tortuous paths, a way unmarked.  They will make their country desolate.” (JB 18:15).

The men of Judah plot against Jeremiah, seeking to destroy him by using his own words against him (perhaps those words which could be interpreted as disloyal to the nation – his advice on surrender, for example).  Jeremiah looks to God to keep him in mind (JB v18:8-20).

Jeremiah. 19 – He continues preaching his message of doom. A plot is devised to silence Jeremiah.  He calls God’s wrath down on them.  He uses the breaking of the jug as a symbol of what God, the potter, will do.

2 Corinthians 1 - In his opening and thanksgiving, Paul refers to God as the “God of all encouragement, who encourages us in our every affliction, so that we may be able to encourage those who are in any affliction with the encouragement with which we ourselves are encouraged. . .” (1:3).  We are strengthened by God that we may be equipped to pass on that strength to others, to make them feel that there is a source of strength and comfort for every affliction in our God. He tells them something they apparently already know—that he had to pass through some severe affliction in Asia, an affliction that “utterly weighed” him down; but he was delivered.

He speaks of knowing that he has conducted himself toward them “with the simplicity and sincerity of God” through God’s grace (1:12).  He had planned to come to them on his way to Macedonia and then to return through Corinth again back to Judaea.  But apparently he had to change plans and go from Troas (NW Anatolia]; they are disappointed, but he isn’t coming so as not to inflict pain on them.  He wrote scolding them, not to cause them pain but to show his love. 

2 Corinthians 2 - He urges them to show love to “wrong-doers” they may have in their community. He will not argue with them for having forgiven them (2:10). He speaks of the opportunities that are created for the gospel - just by the “odor” or aroma believers give off—“an odor of life that leads to life” (2:16). 

George Fox refers to this as wellsee page 27 of his Journal where he says, “All things were new, and all the creation gave another smell unto me than before, beyond what words can utter.”  Everything that touches the salvation work of God has this aroma.

Saturday, February 25, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Jeremiah 14 and 1 Corinthians 16

Jeremiah 14 – Judah suffers a terrible drought: “The wild asses stand on the bare heights, gasping for breath like jackals; Their eyes grow dim, because there is no vegetation to be seen” (14:6).  Jeremiah tries the same kind of intercession Moses successfully used with the Lord, trying to get His help by pointing out that Judah’s difficulties involve YHWH’s honor and reputation in some way. 

There is a poignant sense here of God’s very real absence and silence at a time of great need: “O Hope of Israel, O Lord, our savior in time of need!  Why should you be a stranger in this land, like a traveler who has stopped but for a night?  Why are you like a man dumb-founded, a champion who cannot save? You are in our midst, O Lord, your name we bear: do not forsake us!” (14:8-9). For a minute here, the people are depicted almost like a forsaken spouse, bearing the name of one who has deserted her mysteriously.  There is an acknowledgment of sin (14:7), there is a sense that that doesn’t fully explain God’s absence.
The Lord tells Jeremiah not to try to intercede for the people, but he reminds God that it is the prophets who have told the people continually that the Lord would always be with them, favor them, preserve them from their foes—now, having believed that even to the point of becoming careless in their own behavior and faithfulness, the people do not know what to make of God’s promises.  The Lord insists these prophets never spoke for him, because there is reciprocity in the covenant.  It was never meant to be a one-sided thing.

The prophet suffers great pain.  He wonders is God has “cast Judah off completely” (14:19). He begs the Lord to remember His covenant, for only the Lord is the source of life for them.

1 Corinthians 16 – Paul says to the Corinthians that the collections for the church in Jerusalem should go on weekly. He tells them he plans to come after he passes through Macedonia and is thinking of staying the winter with them to sort out some of the problems he has addressed He plans to stay in Ephesus until Pentecost because his work there has been very productive.  Timothy is traveling and might come as well.  Apollos was asked to go to them, but cannot.  He urges them to do everything they do in love.

Friday, February 24, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Jeremiah 13 and 1 Corinthians 15

Jeremiah 13 - The Lord compares the linen loincloth, which he instructs Jeremiah to get, with his people. He is to get it, then hide and neglect it, then fetch it again—it is close to him, then distant, then spoiled and useless to him. This is definitely a very curious image—sexual to a degree, like the spouse-image in some ways, very personal.  A last warning is given.  It is hard to tell if the words are meant to be Jeremiah’s or the Lord’s: “Give glory to the Lord, your God, before it grows dark; before your feet stumble on darkening mountains; before the light you look for turns to darkness, changes into black clouds” (13:16). When the conquerors descend on Israel from the North, you will ask, “Why has all this happened to me?”  It is because of your wickedness. “This your share, the wages of your apostasy.  This comes from me. . . because you have forgotten me and put your trust in a delusion” (13:25 JB).

1 Corinthians 15 – Paul repeats to them the very heart of the gospel teaching, which he “received” and which he passed on to them: that “Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures; that he was buried; that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures; that he appeared to Kephas, then to the Twelve.  After that, he appeared to more than five hundred brothers on once. . [and] after that he appeared to James, then to all the apostles.  Last of all, as to one born abnormally, he appeared to me” (15:3-8). 

Christ’s dying must be seen in the context of the scripturesthe scripture's redemption narrative. The NAB note refers us to the following OT texts specifically: Psalms 2:7 and 16:8-11; Is 52:13-53; Hosea 6:2 and the OT references made in Acts 2:27-31; 13:29-39.
  • Ps. 2:7 – The Lord speaking: “I myself have installed my king on Zion, my holy mountain,” I will proclaim the decree of the Lord who said to me, “you are my son; today I am your father.  Only ask it of me, and I will make your inheritance the nations, your possession the ends of the earth.  With an iron rod you shall shepherd them, like a clay pot you will shatter them."

  • Ps. 16:10 - For you will not abandon me to Sheol, nor let your faithful servant see the pit.  You will show me the path to life, abounding joy in your presence, the delights at your right hand forever.

  • Is. 52:13 – See, my servant shall prosper, he shall be raised high and greatly exalted.  Even as many were amazed at him—so marred was his look beyond that of man, and appearance beyond that of mortals. . .He grew up like a sapling before him, like a shoot from the parched earth; There was in him no stately bearing to make us look at him, nor appearance that would attract us to him. . .Yet is was our infirmities that he bore, our sufferings that he endured. . .

  • Hosea 6:2 - He will revive us after two days; on the third day he will raise us up, to live in his presence.  Let us know, let us strive to know the Lord; as certain as the dawn is his coming, and his judgment shines forth like the light of day!  He will come to us like the rain like spring rain that waters the earth.

  • [Acts]  Ps. 27:13 – I believe I shall enjoy the Lord’s goodness in the land of the living.

The disputed points of this gospel Paul addresses are the following:
The "resurrection of the dead," which Paul argues must be general and applicable to all if it is to be applied to Christ (15:13-16).  If there is no resurrection, then Paul says their “faith. . .is empty” (15:14); they are still in their sins (15:17). This seems to put a lid on an exclusively “realized” eschatology.  But Christ has been raised.  Paul gives an archetypal argument, comparing Christ to Adam: “For just as in Adam all die, so too in Christ shall all be brought to life. Paul’s vision of the end times is that Christ will come (15:23), the end will come and reign “until he has put all his enemies under his feet,” destroying every sovereignty and power death included.  Then Christ will hand over his kingdom to His father.

Paul goes into a great deal of detail, trying to make sense to his readers of this “resurrection of the dead” idea.  Having assured them of its centrality, he now tries to find a way of making it sound reasonable: he argues that death is always necessary for birth.  Things must be sown in the ground before they can come forth in new life.  He argues that there are different kinds of flesh, and the kind we will have may be very different from the kind we now have (15:39).  The seed of this new life is the corruptible flesh we now inhabit, but it can be changed from being “natural” to being “spiritual.” His belief is that the end will come very soon, even before the end of his own generation (15:51). Then death will be “swallowed up in victory” (15:54-55). It is only faith that gives us the “knowledge” that the work we do now for the gospel will not be “in vain” (15:58).

I can related to the idea that the bodies we live in now might be a kind of seed for the springing forth of some kind of existence that we cannot imagine, an existence that will even be bodily—just as any seed thrown into the ground may issue forth in a kind of new life that looks nothing like the seed from which it came; but the limitations of my own experience, the limits imposed by my senses and my imagination, make me wonder if we might have it really all wrong—that maybe our continued existence will only be real to the extent we retain a vision of our interconnected lives, our unity with all people—past, present and future.  What we are and do today, in our lives, could make the human life that comes forth in the future far different and better than it could be if we live only for ourselves.  But that is all so this-worldly, that sometimes I wonder if that is what Christ meant; or maybe all I am supposed to do is be obedient and not worry about what I cannot understand.  It is more likely that.

Thursday, February 23, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Jeremiah 12 and 1 Corinthians 14:26-40

Jeremiah 12 - Jeremiah puts on the hat of an attorney here and argues his case at the dock, even knowing that he cannot win: “Yet I must question you about matters of justice. Why are the wicked so prosperous? Why do dishonest people succeed? You plant them, and they take root; they grow and bear fruit. They always speak well of you, yet they do not really care about you. But, Lord, you know me; you see what I do and how I love you” (12:1-3). Jeremiah doesn’t berate God for the suffering he has endured for His sake, but it is implied. He does pray that God will punish the hypocritical ones at some point.  They are out to destroy him (Jeremiah). 

God also seems to complain of the injustice done to Him and to His heritage: aments the loss of his heritage: “Many shepherds have ravaged my vineyard, have trodden my heritage underfoot; the portion that delighted me they have turned into a desert waste” (12:10). God insists He will make their harvest, “the flaming anger of the Lord” (12:13). But even in the midst of this tirade, the Lord reveals His willingness to pity them and “bring them back” (12:15).

1 Corinthians 14:26-40 - Paul’s concern is that those who come into the Church will encounter there a testimony that can bring them to God.  

The kind of service Paul describes in this chapter is interesting to think about.  He imagines that a person coming in would see one person reading a psalm, another giving an instruction, revelation or speaking and interpreting of tongues, prophets speaking—two or three at a meeting.  The way he describes it, it sounds more or less like a Quaker Meeting. Would that Friends really saw themselves as exercising this gift of prophesy. The admonition about women not being free to speak in the church is very hard to deal with. I think, in light of what we read earlier in chapter 11, that women speaking and prophesying in worship, should be wearing something to cover their heads, puts doubt on the idea that both passages were written by the same person. Some attribute this strict silencing of women to be an addition by someone else. I think this sounds very possible.

George Fox clearly saw that the Church in Christ should be a place where the “redeemed” should gather without the burdens of “the fall.” I love Paul. He is amazing in this letter. 

Wednesday, February 22, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Jeremiah 11 and Corinthians 14:1-25

Jeremiah 11 – A curse lies over the heads of those who do not observe the terms of God’s covenant, the Lord says to Jeremiah.  “Urgently and constantly I warned your fathers to obey my voice, from the day I brought them up out of the land of Egypt even to this day” (11: 7). He tells Jeremiah not to try to intercede for them.  It is too late.  Outward observance alone is not enough: “Can vows and sacred meat turn away your misfortune from you?” (11:15). Jeremiah then learns that people from his own city, Anathoth, are out to kill him, so that no one will listen to his message.

1 Corinthians 14:1-25 - Prophecy is preferable to “tongues” in Paul’s estimation. Tongues or “glossolalia” is an emotionally-driven vocalization of sounds that was common in the early church and still very central to many Christian believers - Pentacostals: if you have never seen it practiced, check it out at http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NZbQBajYnEc]. I say “emotionally-driven” instead of “spiritual” as Paul calls it. I confess it is just my “take” on it, having never experienced it. Paul believed that prophecy was important because it edified and built up the church. He thought of prophecy as an “intellectual” gift.  It is best, Paul says, to have a unity of spiritual and intellectual gifts.  The personal, emotionally satisfying gift is not as good as the gift exercised for the building up of the community. Tongues are more a sign to those outside the faith, like miracles. 

We are asked to exercise our MINDS as well as our SPIRITS in God’s service. Paul seems to say even for the unbeliever, the gift of understanding is to be preferred, for the unbeliever will have his spiritual condition addressed and not come away thinking believers are crazy.

It is interesting here too to read this passage in light of what Paul says about the cross in 1 Corinthians 1:18-20, which many use as a justification for anti-intellectualism in the Church: “For the message about Christ’s death on the cross is nonsense to those who are being lost; but for us who are being saved it is God’s power. The scripture says, ‘I will destroy the wisdom of the wise and set aside the understanding of the scholars.’ So then, where does that leave the wise? Or the scholars? Or the skillful debaters of this world? God has shown that this world’s wisdom is foolishness!” Here he seems to be saying that the intellectual gift is not one that will necessarily lead one to truth, so he isn’t completely dismissing “spiritual” or more emotional ways of comprehending the gospel. I think he is encouraging a balance.

Paul says here, “[For] if I pray in a tongue, my spirit is at prayer but my mind is unproductive.  So what is to be done? I will pray with the spirit, but I will also pray with the mind.  I will sing praise with the spirit, but I will also sing praise with the mind. . I give thanks to God that I speak in tongues more than any of you, but in the church I would rather speak five words with my mind, so as to instruct others also, than ten thousand words in a tongue” (14:14-19).

Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Jeremiah 10 and 1 Corinthians 13

Jeremiah 10 - People’s idols are not worth worshipping. The natural phenomena they are fascinated with, “unusual sights in the sky” and such-like things, these are not things they should fear or worship. The idols they craft are “like scarecrows.”  They cannot speak; they must be carried about. They “can do no harm, neither is it in their power to do good” (10:5).  “The Lord is true God, he is the living God, the eternal King. . .He who made the earth by his power, established the world by his wisdom, and stretched out the heavens by his skill” (10:10-12).  A lot in this chapter sounds like passages from Job, which apparently was written sometimes after Jeremiah, and continued to examine the life of the faithful servant who must suffer. As for idols, “Every man is stupid, ignorant; every artisan is put to shame by his idol: He has molded a fraud, without breath of life, Nothingness are they, a ridiculous work” (10:14-15).

The misery of the prophet’s personal life is overwhelming: “Woe is me! I am undone, my wound is incurable; yet I had thought: if I make light of my wound, I can bear it. My sons have left me, they are no more, no one to pitch my tent, no one to raise its curtains” (10:19-20). He blames the leaders of the people: “Our leaders are stupid; they do not ask the Lord for guidance” (10:21). The nation “to the north” (Neo-Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar) will turn them “into a desert.” Jeremiah ends with a prayer to God to turn His anger “on the nations that do not worship you and on the people who reject you” (10:25); I detect some anger in him here.

1 Corinthians 13 – Paul’s discourse on love.  Nothing is higher—not prophesy, not knowledge, not self-sacrifice, not faith, not even martyrdom.  Love is patient, kind, not jealous, not pompous, not inflated, not rude, not self-seeking.  It does not brood over injury or rejoice over wrong-doing.  It rejoices in the truth.

When we are spiritually immature, we think like children. But now we must put away “childish things” – “What we see now is like a dim image in a mirror; [but soon] we shall see face-to-face” (13:11-12).

Monday, February 20, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Jeremiah 7:21 through 9:26 and 1 Corinthians 11:17 through 12:30

Jeremiah 7:21-34 - Jeremiah tells them that God’s message to him is that when He brought them out of Egypt, He did not give them any commands concerning “holocausts or sacrifices” (7:22). But what about Leviticus? There were incredibly detailed rules there for the various offerings and sacrifices they were instructed to make. I think what Jeremiah is trying to convey is that at the HEART of all God laid out for them was the command to obey God, to “live the way [He] commanded them” (7:23). Their hearts were HARD then and they continued to be for Jeremiah’s message: “they will not listen to you; you will call them, but they will not answer . . . Faithfulness is dead. No longer is it even talked about” (7:27-28).

The people of Judah have placed idols in the Lord’s Temple, and they have even adopted the practice of child sacrifice in Hinnom Valley [location of this disputed according to Wikipedia]. All of this is so far from what God wants. Jeremiah says, “This rather is what I commanded them: Listen to my voice; then I will be your God and you shall be my people.  Walk in all the ways that I command you, so that you may prosper” (7:23).

This is a terribly important line of prophecy, one Catholics especially should think about; for we more than any other church point to particular promises we rely upon, sometimes perhaps over-rely on.  We say our church was founded on a special commission and that it carries a special promise – that the gates of hell will never prevail against it – but we have not been better than the Jews.  We too have been corrupt, unfaithful.  We too have forgotten the mandate to be servants, to walk humbly, to be not of the world. If we neglect the truth, if we presume upon God’s favor and go off and violate the trust God placed in us, we too can be set aside as Shiloh was.  Probably a good many Protestants think we already have been.  But I continue to hope our repentance and at least partial reform may have saved us from that.

Also, the theme of this chapter is a Quaker theme: Listen to God’s voice – this line appears so often in scripture, you would think people would take it seriously, but I don’t find that people really take the idea seriously, as if the idea of listening to God’s voice is really something only mentally ill people ever claim they can do.  Here is some more Isaac Penington and Howgill, my hero saints, on the voice of God:  “There is no raising of a dead soul to life, but by the immediate voice of Christ.  Outward preaching, reading the Scriptures, &c.[and I would add sacraments] may direct and encourage men to hearken after and wait for the voice; but it is the immediate voice of Christ in the soul, which alone can quicken the soul to God: and till the light of life shine immediately from Christ in the heart, the true knowledge is never given. 2 Cor. 4:6.” (241, Penington, Works)

Another Penington quote: “All, therefore, that see the darkness that you live in, return home, that which is low mind, the meek spirit; and be not forward nor rash, but stand still in quietness and meekness, that the still voice you may hear, which till you come down within, you cannot hear. . .So be low and still, if you will hear his voice, and wait to hear that speak which separates between the precious and the vile, now that which you must wait in is near you, yes, in you” (Howgill, EQW, 176).

Jeremiah 8 - The destruction the Lord will bring is terrible.  The bones of the dead will lie out “before the sun and the moon and the whole army of heaven, which they loved and served, which they followed, consulted, and worshiped” (8:2). Some of the gods they worshiped were the stars and other heavenly bodies. God cannot fathom why the people who have so obviously gone astray refuse so obstinately to right themselves.  “Why do they cling to deceptive idols, refuse to turn back. . .Everyone keeps on running his course, like a steed dashing into battle?” (8:6) This is like modern man who is so caught up in scientific reductionism and psycho-babble that you wonder why it is they simply cannot turn away from it. In the case of the Jews, apparently the mis-interpretation of the scribal leaders provides some excuse—the people are being actively misled. “’Peace, peace!’ they say, though there is no peace” (8:11). Yahweh would like to gather their fruit but there are no grapes on the vine, no figs on the fig tree. . .” (8:13). 

This one is important in understanding Jesus and the poor little fig tree.  He is not just withering the tree.  He is referring to the fruit he hoped to find among his people and didn’t.  Similarly the previous chapter – on the tendency of Israel to presume on God’s favor toward them – even when everything in daily life is far from what it should be – I think this is the image behind Jesus’ anger in the temple and his threats to tear the Temple down.  These are just similar indications that He is come expecting to find faithfulness and responsiveness among his people; but is not finding it.  His words about the Temple and his actions with the fig tree are symbolic acts that say God is very unhappy with the Jews and will punish them – withdraw his favor.

The prophet’s “grief is incurable, my heart within me is faint” (8:18).  The suffering of his people fills him with sadness “Is there no balm in Gilead, no physician there?” (8:22).

Jeremiah 9 - Jeremiah wishes that he had in this wilderness he is in a place to lodge, a place he might go to be separate from his people, but there is not.  [The is the true prophet’s situation.  He is a faithful man in the midst of an unfaithful people.  But he is still part of them; and I think both “covers” them with his faithfulness and “suffers” with them even in his innocence.  This is the great disappointment of the reformation prophets—that they found a lodge in the desert provided by the nation-builders of Holy Roman Empire and did, to some extent, manage to separate from the people].  The marks of the idolatry the people engage in are lying tongues, evil-doing, being untrustworthy, deception, perversity, violence and inability to repent.  Therefore God must “smelt them and test them” (9:6) “I will turn Jerusalem into a heap of ruins, a haunt of jackals; The cities of Judah I will make into a waste, where no one dwells.” (9:10). They follow the dictates of their own stubborn hearts.  “Let the sage boast no more of his wisdom. . . But if anyone wants to boast let him boast of this: of understanding and knowing me.  For I am Yahweh, I rule with kindness, justice and integrity on earth; “ (9:23) “I am going to punish all who are circumcised only in the flesh:. . .” [Many echoes of Paul here – the boasting theme—see 2 Cor—and the idea of fleshly circumcision]

1 Corinthians 11:17-34 - He addresses the problem of factions among them.  When they meet together it ought not to be for simple eating and drinking but rather to all be equal before God and to share in the sacred memorial of Christ’s Last Supper with them. He warns them that communion is not just eating.  It involves “discerning” Christ’s presence in the bread (11:29). Ordinary eating should be done at home.

1 Corinthians 12 – Paul addresses the question of spiritual gifts.  Among those he mentions are wisdom, knowledge, faith, healing, mighty deeds, prophecy, discernment of spirits, tongues, interpretation of tongues; but as long as they all serve the body, they are of the same Spirit.  The parts of the Body cannot be in competition with each other.  One cannot lord it over another and have the body remain coherent and sound.  We take cognizance of the less “distinguished” parts by granting them honors that compensate for whatever “worldly” humiliations they may have to endure (12:24).  The parts of the body of Christ, his Church, are apostles, prophets, teachers, doers of might deeds, healers, assistants, administrators, speakers in tongues—and this list is not a completely exhaustive one. 

Saturday, February 18, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Jeremiah 7:1-20 and Corinthians 11:1-16

Jeremiah 7:1-20 - Jeremiah goes to the Temple to urge the people entering to truly reform and not to put their trust in ancient mantras of God’s favor: “Stop believing those deceitful words, ‘We are safe! This is the Lord’s Temple, this is the Lord’s Temple, this is the Lord’s Temple’” (7:4) The promises of the Lord are not meant to make the people feel that their behavior doesn’t matter, that they can always be sure of the Lord’s favor no matter what they do. The leaders have used God’s promises to build up a spirit of presumptuousness that God had no intention of inspiring. “Do you take this Temple that bears my name for a robbers’ den?’” (JB 7:11) They are reminded of what happened to Shiloh—the first place set up as a place of worship between the time of Joshua to the time of Samuel.  God abandoned it when people became unfaithful.  He can do the same with Jerusalem if people don’t shape up.

He warns Jeremiah that the people will not listen to him either. They are all involved in worshipping alien gods like “the queen of heaven” and other gods. (7:18). Who was this “Queen of Heaven”? At the time of Jeremiah, it was a Semitic goddess called Astarte or Ashtoreth or Ishtar. She was worshipped throughout the Mediterranean region and into the Middle East. The Greeks incorporated her into their pantheon as Aphrodite. She was a goddess of love, fertility, and war. That the same title should be attached to Jesus’ mother is difficult to explain. It is no doubt partly a process of religious evolution and cooptation of earlier devotions that could be fused with Christian associations. There is also direct Christian language in Revelation 12 that could be seen as justifying the use of the term for Mary. I think it was pretty established by the 5th century. Protestants felt uncomfortable with it, believing that the practice of fusing earlier pagan holidays with Christian celebrations was not a good practice. Certainly Quakers were extremists in that phobia – abandoning even the names of the months and days of the weeks as having pagan roots.

1 Corinthians 11:1-16 - Paul uses the prevailing cultural norms as ways of bringing out how Christ can be understood by the people of Corinth.  As a man is head over his wife in marriage, so Christ now is head over the man.  Women should not act like men—if she doesn’t wear the customary veil, she should logically have her head shaved like a man, but this she does not want to do. Women are to be veiled as a sign of submission – and for propriety’s sake.  These are all just customs, but people should not be rebellious in Paul’s view (11:16). It’s important to give this passage closer scrutiny, however; it’s VERY important to see these words: “[A]ny woman who prays or proclaims God’s message in public worship with nothing on her head disgraces her husband” (11:5). Later in the letter, we will see words that basically forbid women to speak in these public meetings (14:34). Scholars have speculated that these words forbidding female messages in worship were added later by someone even more conservative than Paul. Certainly the two passages are contradictory.

Friday, February 17, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Jeremiah 6 and 1 Corinthians 10:14-33

Jeremiah 6 - Destruction threatens immediately from the North, and the Lord encourages it; for Jerusalem has become full of violence and oppression.  There is no one in her to whom the Lord can appeal.  “[T]heir ears are uncircumcised, they cannot give heed; See, the word of the Lord has become for them an object of scorn, which they will not have. Therefore my wrath brims up within me, I am weary of holding it in” (6:10-11). It will be poured out on all—men, women and children—“small and great alike, all are greedy for gain; prophet and priest, all practice fraud” (6:13).

The prophets [the ones people LIKE to listen to] say, “Peace, peace,” but there is not peace, and the people feel no shame (6:14). “Put yourselves on the ways of long ago; enquire about the ancient paths; which was the good way?  Take it then and you shall find rest” (JB 6:16).  But they will not.  The evil the Lord brings on here is “the fruit of their own schemes, because they heeded not my words, because they despised my law” (6:19). He does not want their sacrifices (6:20).

Commentary: An interesting commentary on Jeremiah is on the web. It’s called “Messengers of God: A Theological and Psychological Perspective” by Moshe Reiss (moshereiss@moshereiss.org). There are many good insights and bits of information that can help us appreciate Jeremiah more in the article posted there.
·       While most sources list Jeremiah’s birth at 650 or 655 BCE, he cites an authority, W. L. Holladay, who thinks his birth was closer to 622. That would make him a mere 18 years old when he gives his first prophetic pronouncement, in 609, the year of the reformer Josiah’s death.
·       A big question is if Josiah’s reign was one of reform based on the discovery of the Book of Deuteronomy, then why was Jeremiah so very critical of what was going on around him as he was growing up and why is there no mention of Josiah in Jeremiah?
·       Reiss does not really answer this, but having just finished Deuteronomy, I am struck by the fact that some of what I found most difficult in Deuteronomy – the harshness of the Law presented there and the constant pushing of people to remember it, obey it, obey it, may have struck Jeremiah as too legalistic and NOT what was needed to reform people’s hearts.
·       Reiss DOES point out that “Jeremiah marks the beginning of the possibility of an inward and personal relationship with God – independent of Jerusalem and the Temple. . . . The rituals of the Temple – when unaccompanied by appropriate faith and ethical behavior appeared empty to him and he therefore rejected them” (1).
·       Jeremiah learned in the course of his life that the reforms Josiah tries to institute were not adequate, were not reflective of the New Covenant he believed God was revealing through him.

1 Corinthians 10:14-33 - Christians face the same choices as the people of Israel and Judah did—we must not fall into idolatry (10:14).  We must accept the idea that we too may be tested; we too may be punished by God for our hard-headedness and unfaithfulness. We will not be “tested beyond [our] power to remain firm,” Paul reassures us. When I think about what these early Christians faced, and I use my imagination to “feel my way” back to the dangers and persecutions they endured, I realize how important Paul’s words are.

The Lord has given us amazing resources. “The cup we use in the Lord’s Supper . . . when we drink from it, we are sharing in the blood of Christ. And the bread we break: when we eat it, we are sharing in the body of Christ” (19:16). These are pretty unequivocal words. We are given “freedom” from all the old rules, but we must be aware that our freedom cannot be exercised thoughtlessly. When you eat of food sacrificed to demons [in the religious feasts of the pagan people of Paul’s day], you are seen by those who believe in those idols/demons as acknowledging and worshipping those demons. This is destructive to those who may be encouraged by your actions to believe in them. So, even though we may know that these “gods” are “really” nothing, we must not do that. We must remember that what we want to do is “build up” the body of Christ, not bring it into disrepute. 

Chapter 10 of 1 Corinthians presents in a very unequivocal way the idea that things in the Old Testament narrative are to be seen as “types” and “figures” of events and lessons from Christ’s life. No one in my experience focused more on this than George Fox:

“. . .as man comes through by the Spirit and power of God to Christ who fulfils the types, figures, shadows, promises, and prophecies that were of him, and is led by the Holy Ghost into the truth and substance of the Scriptures, sitting down in him who is the author and end of them, then are they read and understood with profit and great delight.” George Fox, Journal, 32

Catholic Perspective on This: This is an idea that has meant a great deal to me, but I have also come to see more in it than Fox and early Friends saw. They saw the types and figures as “shadows” of the substance – Christ – that preceded his ascendance into the world we live in. But Fox never considered that the time that was to come AFTER Christ’s time here on earth would also be a time when we would need the physical presence of some “shadows” to remind us of him. Like the sun rising and setting, shadows are cast on both sides of the noon of His Presence. And I think I see those sacramental “types” and “figures” as still playing a significant role in reminding us of the eternal spiritual substance, which is Christ.

Thursday, February 16, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Jeremiah 5 and 1 Corinthians 10:1-13

Jeremiah 5 - We are dealing here with what the writer insists is universal corruption. God just looks for one righteous man.  It isn’t a matter of not “knowing” what they are supposed to do—God could forgive not knowing.  But even those you expect to know, “the great ones”—they too have “[broken] the yoke, torn off the harness” (5:5) Their faithlessness leaves them prey to the wolf, the lion and the leopard (5:6--images Dante uses in the Divine Comedy). They openly refuse to take God into account, and the prophets “have become wind . . . the word is not in them” (5:13). For these reasons, God tells Jeremiah, “I will make my words a fire in your mouth, and make this people wood. . .” (5:14).  God will bring a brave nation against them to reek devastation.  But He will not permit their total destruction—the point of the destruction will be for people to ask, “Why has the Lord done all these things to us?” (5:19) Like so much that is part of the life of Israel, the Lord sets it there so that people will be moved to ask probing questions, questions that will lead to knowledge of God or repentance.  The Lord is infinitely great and powerful“should [we] not fear [Him]?” (5:22)

We modern people seem to feel it some kind of offense if something in God’s revelation to us implies that we should feel awe or fear before God--heaven forbid that we should tremble before the creator of the universe!—how absurd is that?

Jeremiah also bemoans the way the wicked seem to prosper. They have no fear of God, no respect for justice. “Monstrous, horrible things are happening in the land: the prophets prophesy falsely, the priests teach whatever they please.  And my people love it! [irony – they don’t challenge it]” (5:30-31)

1 Corinthians 10:1-13 – Paul expounds on the lessons Christians can learn from the OT narrative. As Christians enter into Christ through baptism, the Israelites were “baptized into Moses” in their water passage. Similarly they “ate the same spiritual bread and drank the same spiritual drink. They drank from the spiritual rock that went with them; and that rock was Christ himself” (10:3).  The rock that nourished the Jews in the wilderness was Christ typologically present in the water from the Rock, and in the manna.

This Christian lens through which all the Old Testament narrative is seen is so rich; it is the reason we must continue to keep the stories alive in the Church.