Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Tobit 3-4 and Luke 19

Tobit 3 – There follows a lovely ode on his unworthiness and desire for God’s forgiveness – here is some of it:
                                       You are just, O Lord,
                                       And just are all your works,
                                       All your ways are grace and truth,
                                       And you are the Judge of the world.

                                       Therefore, Lord,
                                       Remember me, look on me,
                                       Do not punish me for my sins
                                       Or for my heedless faults
                                       Or for those of my fathers

                                       . . . we have neither kept you commandments
                                       nor walked in truth before you;
                                       so now, do with me as you will;
                                       be pleased to take my life from me;
                                       I desire to be delivered from earth
                                       And to become earth again.
                                       For death is better for me than life (3:2-6).

Toward the end, he seems to fall back into a sadness over being insulted – I am not sure if this has to do with the reproaches he suffers from the wider community for being such a staunch defender of the dignity of his people or because his wife insulted him by accusing him of lacking charity in relation to her.
Next the story of Sarah, daughter of Raguel, the man in Media [now Iran] with whom Tobit once left a stash of silver when he was conducting business for Shalmaneser V. She is presented as a kind of parallel to Tobit. Sarah is reproached by one of her father’s maids because she’s been been harsh with them and because she has a demon in her – Asmodeus, who has made her infertile and dangerous to marry. She’s been married seven times, and all the husbands have died before consummating the marriage. Her maid denigrates her, and she is tempted to hang herself, but she doesn’t (for her father’s sake). She complains here in a tone very similar to Tobit’s. She prays to God that He might take her rather than leave her to hear these reproaches.
God hears the prayers of them both and sends his man, the angel Raphael, “to heal both of them: Tobit, by removing the white films from his eyes, so that he might see God’s light with his eyes; and Sarah, . . .by giving her in marriage to [Tobit’s son] Tobias . . . and by setting her free from the wicked demon Asmodeus.” (3:16)

Tobit 4 – Tobit then remembers the silver he left with Gabael and decides he should talk to his son Tobias about it. He calls Tobias and tells him how he should deal with things in the event of his (Tobit’s) death. He tells him to take care of his mother and to bury her next to him when she dies.

He tells him to “be faithful to the Lord all your days. Never entertain the will to sin or to transgress his laws. Do good works all the days of your life, . . . for if you act in truthfulness, you will be successful in all your actions” (4:5-6). “Never turn you face from any poor man and God will never turn his from you. Measure your alms by what you have; if you have much, give more; if you have little, give less, but do not be mean in giving alms” (4:7-8).

Avoid “all loose conduct” (4:12), and when you marry, do not marry outside the tribe (4:12).

“Do not keep back until next day the wages of those who work for you; pay them at once” (4:14). “Be careful, my child; in all you do, well-disciplined in all your behavior. Do to no one what you would not want done to you” (4:15). And then, at the end, he also tells him about the ten talents of silver he left in trust with Gabael in Media.

Luke 19 – In Jericho, a man named Zacchaeus, a tax collector, tries to see Jesus.  He is short and has to climb a tree to see him.  When Jesus sees him, he tells him to come down, for he “must stay at [his] house today” (19:5). Again, Jesus is criticized again for hanging around with sinners.  Zacchaeus, however, is a man ready to change.  He promises he will give half of his possessions to the poor and pay back anyone he may have defrauded.  Jesus praises him, “Today salvation has come to this house, because he too is a son of Abraham” (19:9).

This is another Lucan doublet—the first one is the story of his disciple Levi at 5:29.  It is hard to tell if Luke planned to include these doublets (for emphasis) or just did because he was selecting stories from several sources and put in stories that had the same point even if there were small differences in them in his sources. 

They are nearing Jerusalem, and his disciples think the “kingdom of God” is going to “appear” when they get there.  So Jesus tells them another parable – the parable of the gold coins or talents:  A nobleman nobody likes goes to a distant country “to get royal power for himself and then return” (19:12).  He gives each of his ten servants some money and tells them “See what you can earn with this while I am gone” (19:13).  The people this man has authority over cannot stand him, and they send a message to the effect that they really do not want him to be made a king (19:14). The man does get the title of king, however, and when he comes back he asks each of the servants what they did with the money he gave them while he was gone. As they tell him, he rewards them with “cities” to rule if they had a good return on their investment.  But the one who feared him and did nothing but stash the money away is punished.  The nobleman/king takes the money from him and gives it to the one who made the most. Then to punish all those who hated him and did not want him to rule over them, he orders them brought in and “slaughter[ed] . . .in my presence” (19:27).

Here is another place where the Lucan “edge” gets a little hard to take.  He more than any other gospel writer has these places; and he also depicts God – by analogy - in his parable in a puzzling way—here as a hated ruler; in the parable of the widow (18:1-8) as the unresponsive, lazy judge; in his teachings about the “day of the Lord” as the thief breaking into the house at night (12:39). Is he using such analogies because he thinks these mean people are the only kind of people we worry about enough to ponder deeply? He does want us to THINK THINGS THROUGH more than we usually do. I know he is trying to tell us that we need to work as hard on our spiritual “resources” with as much passion and commitment as worldly people – people who love power and money above all – work on multiplying their resources, but I do find the parable style a little off-putting – I confess I do. I think it is important to remember that this moment in Jesus’ life is a time of GREAT ANXIETY AND CRISIS.

They arrive at the Mount of Olives.  Jesus sends two of his disciples to get a colt for him to ride.  As he enters the city, people spread their cloaks, and his disciples praise God with a loud voice “for all the deeds of power that they has seen, saying, ‘Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord! Peace in heaven, and glory in the highest heaven!’” (19:38) The Pharisees object, but Jesus says, “I tell you, if these were silent, the stones would shout out” (19:40).

Jesus weeps over the fate of the city and delivers a prophecy: “If you . . .had only recognized on this day the things that make for peace!  But now they are hidden from your eyes.  Indeed, the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up ramparts around you and surround you, and hem you in on every side.  They will crush you to the ground, you and your children within you, and they will not leave within you one stone upon another; because you did not recognize the time of your visitation from God” (19:41-44). This has to be a reference to the assault of the Romans and their destruction of the Temple. The tone of it also puts into relief the harsh tone and import of much of Luke’s gospel—and the tears Jesus sheds reflect the underlying sorrow in which the anger is rooted. 

The psychology of the moment—the man Jesus coming into the city with royal power and looking for his faithful people to bring him evidence of righteousness (fruit worthy to be praised) is reflected in the series of passages in both Mark and Luke.  In Mark you have the entry (11:8) followed by Jesus encounter with the fig tree and his displeasure with the commercialization of the Temple. Surrounding Jesus’ moment of hoped-for reception are passages that reflect the doubts and acts of unfaithfulness - the vineyard owner sending his son instead of servants, leaders questioning his authority, etc. In Luke you have the returning lord that the citizens are conspiring to reject, the failure of men to make a return on the blessings this same ruler has given them and a direct reference to the opportunity for salvation rejected by the people of Jerusalem. This is the climax moment of Luke.

Jesus drives out the merchants from the Temple, and begins several days of teaching there.  But the leaders of the community are out to kill him.

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