Sunday, July 15, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Sirach [Ecclesiasticus] 11 and Acts 6

Sirach 11 – “Do not praise a man for his good looks, nor dislike anybody for his appearance” (11:2)

“. . .the Lord’s deeds are marvelous, though hidden from mankind” [11: 4 note translates: “unseen and unforeseeable. One turn of the wheel and all conditions are reversed”]. The lives of the very important and the lives of the lowly are all impossible to predict, but the writer encourages us to believe that all things flow from the hand of God.

“Do not find fault before making thorough inquiry; first reflect, then give a reprimand. Listen before you answer, and do not interrupt a speech in the middle” (11:7-8).

“My son, do not take on a great amount of business; if you multiply your interests, you are bound to suffer for it; hurry as fast as you can, [you will not achieve, if you do not seek, you will not find—Hebrew translation from footnote d]” (11:10).

“Good and bad, life and death, poverty and wealth, all come from the Lord” (11:14). Still we must trust in the Lord and keep doing what we know we must do. Some of these verses seem very apropos in our times of economic uncertainty and arguing over who is responsible for the hardships so many endure and the windfall profits that seem to go to the few.

“In a time of profit, losses are forgotten, and in a time of loss, no one remembers profits . . .Call no man fortunate before his death; it is by his end that a man will be known” (11:25-28).

The section ends with warnings against trusting too liberally. There are evil-doers and scoundrels in the world. We must be somewhat cautious in trusting others.

Acts 6 – A rift develops between Hellenists (Jews from the diaspora who read the scriptures in Greek) and the Hebrews (from Jerusalem who spoke Aramaic but read Hebrew Scriptures). A Jerusalem Bible note says that the missionary movement was to come from the Hellenists.  The Hellenists complain that their widows are being neglected in the daily distribution of food (6:1).

The 12 have a meeting, worried that staying involved with such details will take them away from preaching the word (teaching and elaborating the gospel) and praying. Stephen, Philip, Prochorus, Nicanor, Timon, Parmens and Nicholaus of Antioch are named (by laying on of hands) to do this work. These names are all Greek.
Many continue to be attracted to the community, even many priests. Stephen, “full of grace and power, did great wonders and signs among the people” (6:8). Some in the Synagogue of Freedmen begin to challenge him. “But they could not withstand the wisdom and the Spirit with which he spoke” (6:10). The Freedmen are probably descendants of Jews who had been carried off to Rome by Pompey in 63 BC, who were sold into slavery and later released. It was a Hellenistic synagogue from the list of peoples who worshipped there. 

They instigate some to accuse Stephen of blaspheming against Moses and God. They stir up people against him and then seize him, bringing him before the council. They send in false witnesses who claim they have heard him say that Jesus will destroy the temple and change the customs that Moses handed on to them. His face, we are told, “was like the face of an angel” (6:15).

Ray Brown tries to make a case for the proposition that the Jerusalem Church and the apostles, in particular, had a period during which they did not have to deal with persecution, from about 41 to 62, when James was martyred in Jerusalem. But this would put Stephen’s martyrdom outside the circle in a way I don’t feel comfortable with. I don’t think the church would have experienced itself as not persecuted when Christians of the Hellenistic branch were suffering.  He does point out that there were frictions between Hellenistic and Hebrew members of the Church. Twelve men are appointed leaders of the Greek-speaking Christians, including Stephen. And it is true that these Christians did not seem to place as much emphasis on the Temple as the others did, hence Stephen’s remarks before his martyrdom. But Jesus had said these same things.

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