Saturday, June 9, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: 2 Kings 22-23 and Luke 16

2 Kings 22 – Josiah is just eight years old when he comes to the throne.  He will serve 31 years (640-609), and he will do “what [is] right in the sight of the Lord” (22:2). He begins another restoration of the temple (the last was done by Joash of Judah during his reign about two hundred years earlier). Hilkiah reports that (in the process of restoration?) they have found in the Temple the book of the law. 

This is almost certainly the book of Deuteronomy, or at least that part of it that recites the law.  It had either been lost or forgotten during Manasseh’s reign according to The Jerusalem Bible note. Judging from what is in the narrative, however, it sounds as if they had been without it for most of the time the monarchy existed, for about 500 years. 

It says they hadn’t celebrated the Passover since the time of the judges, some 400 years earlier!!!

Shaphan, the king’s secretary tells Josiah about the find. When he learns of it, the king “tears his clothes” and commands Hilkiah to inquire of the Lord on behalf of him and all the people, what they should do. So the king’s men go to Huldah, a prophetess, in the Second Quarter in Jerusalem; and she declares that the Lord will indeed bring disaster on Jerusalem as it says in the book they have found, but that “because [the king’s] heart was penitent, and [he] has humbled [himself] before the Lord. . .I also have heard you. . .Therefore, I will gather you to your ancestors, and you shall be gathered to your grave in peace; your eyes shall not see all the disaster that I will bring on this place” (22:19-20). The fact that it is a “prophetess” who authenticates this amazing find is very interesting to me – it seems an unusual role of authority for a woman at this time.

2 Kings 23 – The king gathers all the elders and people, “small and great,” before the house of the Lord, and there he reads “in their hearing all the words of the book of the covenant that had been found. . .The king stood by the pillar and made a covenant before the Lord to follow the Lord, keeping his commandments, his decrees, and his statutes, with all his heart and all his soul, to perform the words of this covenant that were written in this book.  All the people joined in the covenant” (23:2-3).
After this, the king goes throughout the land removing all the offensive sites and remnants of idol worship that have plagued the land: he removes the vessels made for Baal and Asherah and “all the host of heaven”; he deposes the idolatrous priests who made offerings on the high places in the cities of Judah and around Jerusalem; those who made offerings to Baal, the sun, moon and constellations; he destroys the image of Asherah; breaks down the houses of the male temple prostitutes that were in the Temple where the women did weaving for Asherah; he brought the priests out of the towns of Judah and defiled the high places; he defiles Topheth in the valley of Ben-hinnom “so that no one would make a son or a daughter pass through fire as an offering to Molech” (23:10). He “removed the horses that the kings of Judah had dedicated to the sun, at the entrance” to the Temple; burned the chariots of the sun.  He took down altars the kings of Judah had made; he defiles the high places east of Jerusalem, south of the Mount of Destruction, which King Solomon had built for Astarte, Chemosh, and Milcom; he burns the sacred poles and covers the sites with human bones.  All the idolatrous worship sites and practices he uproots and destroys. The Jerusalem Bible notes that it was Josiah who completely centralized the worship, eliminating the Yahwist high places entirely.

The king then commands that all the people begin to keep the Passover. It had not been observed since the time of the judges in Israel. They begin again in the 18th year of King Josiah. “Before him there was no king like him, who turned to the Lord with all his heart, with all his soul, and with all his might, according to all the law of Moses; nor did any like him arise after him” (23:25). “Still, the Lord did not turn from the fierceness of his great wrath, by which his anger was kindled against Judah, because of all the provocations with which Manasseh had provoked him. . .’I will remove Judah also out of my sight, as I have removed Israel; and I will reject this city that I have chosen, Jerusalem, and the house of which I said, My name shall be there’” (23:26-27).
During Josiah’s reign, Pharaoh Neco went up to the king of Assyria, and King Josiah went to meet him. The Pharaoh killed Josiah at Megiddo; he is carried back to Jerusalem and Jehoahaz (609), his son becomes king. He reigns only three months and does what is evil. The Pharaoh confines him at Riblah in Hamath and imposes tribute on the land.  Then he makes Eliakim, son of Josiah, king and changes his name to Jehoiakim. He takes Jehoahaz away to Egypt where he dies. Jehoiakim pays tribute to Pharaoh and taxes the people to pay it. Jehoiakim reigns eleven years, but he does what is evil.

Luke 16 – Another puzzling parable—the manager of a rich man’s property is accused of “squandering his property” (16:1).  The master demands an accounting.  The manager, seeing he will lose his job, ponders how he will live without it.  Suddenly he realizes he may have to depend on the charity of people he knows, so he considers how he could change his relations with them.  He will reduce the debt burden each owes to him and in this way secure the “friendship” of each one.  The master commends him for his shrewdness.

And Jesus concludes by saying “the children of this world are more astute in dealing with their own kind than are the children of light” (16:8). The available translations of Jesus’ next words are all difficult to understand. He says, “I tell you this: use money, tainted as it is, to win you friends, and thus make sure that when it fails you, they will welcome you into the tents of eternity. The man who can be trusted in little things can be trusted in great; the man who is dishonest in little things will be dishonest in great. . . No servant can be the slave of two masters: he will either hate the first and love the second, or treat the first with respect and the second with scorn. You cannot be the slave both of God and of money’” (16:10-13). I’m not sure I want my politicians to live by this advice!

Reflection: Challenged by this reading every time I have to tackle it, and doing a little research on it with “google,” it occurred to me that Jesus is responding to the shrewdness of this servant the same way I responded to an experience I had in Rome back in the spring of 2000. I had just arrived in Rome and gotten my first Italian money out of an ATM machine. I broke one of the large bills to buy a subway token and put the money in a small, traveler’s purse I wore that hung from a string around my neck and under a fleece I had, so it would be secure. On the very crowded subway I got onto, I found myself approached by a woman with a baby, and I – of course -- was completely attracted to the adorable child for the entire subway ride. When I got out and later went to get more money out of my purse, I discovered I had been robbed. While I was distracted, someone had gone under my fleece, unclipped the purse, unzipped the slot where the money was, taken out ONLY the large, unbroken bills AND my airline ticket and left the small bills behind. The purse was zipped, clipped and under my fleece when I finished my ride.  My reaction was just like Jesus’ – wow!! I had to admire the cleverness involved even though I had been robbed. If we could just be as SMART about spiritual things as we are about worldly things!
You may be incredibly intelligent and shrewd, but you have to choose the “master” you serve. You cannot serve both God and money” (16:13). The Pharisees are said here to be lovers of money and not happy at this teaching. They look for external and present rewards—not inward, invisible or eternal things. “You are those who justify yourselves in the sight of others; but God knows your hearts; for what is prized by human beings is an abomination in the sight of God” (16:15).
On the Law: Jesus says, “The Law of Moses and the writing of the prophets were in effect up to the time of John the Baptist; since then the Good News about the Kingdom of God is being told, and everyone forces their way in. But it is easier for heaven and earth to disappear than for the smallest detail of the Law to be done away with” (16:17). Why are Jesus’ parables uses to teach us SO HARD TO PENETRATE? Is Jesus saying that the Law is no longer important? Or he is just saying that it’s the legalistic Pharisaic approach that is outdated? He seems to be saying that the Law can no more be done away with than “heaven and earth,” but then what is it that’s changed with the coming of John the Baptist?
Jesus’ teaching on divorce is given briefly and without putting it in the context of Genesis as in Mark.
The parable of the rich man and Lazarus follows: A rich man lives side by side with a very poor man who lays at his gate “covered with sores” (16: 21). He “longed to satisfy his hunger with what fell from the rich man’s table; even the dogs would come and lick his sores” (16:21). These lines in the parable open a little light on the difficult story of Jesus and the Samaritan woman who also tells him that she will readily live on the crumbs that fall from the table set for the Jews.  She is like Lazarus too and will get her reward at the heavenly banquet.  When they die, however, it is Lazarus—the poor man—who is at the side of Abraham, not the rich, important man.  The rich man is the beggar there, begging Father Abraham to have mercy on him.  Abraham tells him it is Lazarus’ time to be comforted. “Between you and us a great chasm has been fixed, so that those who might want to pass from here to you cannot do so, and no one can cross from there to us” (16:26). The rich man begs Abraham to send Lazarus to his five brothers still alive so that we may warn them. But Abraham says, “’They have Moses and the prophets; they should listen to them.’ He said, ‘No, father Abraham; but if someone goes to them from the dead, they will repent.’ He said to him, ‘If they do not listen to Moses and the prophets, neither will they be convinced even if someone rises from the dead’” (16:27-30).

Here the lesson of the earlier readings is extended to the situation where the punitive justice of God is extended not only to the active evil-doer but the careless and selfish who go through life seeking or accepting their own material comfort and never thinking about the needs of their fellow men, especially those in their path whose needs are visible to them on a daily basis.  The overall lesson is that if we want to do the will of God and plant our lives by the streams of living water, which God offers us, we must not only avoid doing evil and persecuting the righteous but we must care for our brothers and sisters in need.  Also the scope of blessing and curse are seen to run beyond death into an eternal dimension we may not reckon with in our day-to-day calculations.

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