Monday, August 6, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Sirach [Ecclesiasticus] 38-39 and Acts 18

Sirach 38 – On the Balance of Faith in God and Faith in the Knowledge of Men: “The Lord has brought medicines into existence from the earth, and the sensible man will not despise them. . . He uses them to heal and to relieve pain” (38:4-6).

“My son, when you are ill, do not be depressed, but pray to the Lord and he will heal you . . . The let the doctor take over—the Lord created him too—and do not let him leave you, for you need him. Sometimes success is in their hands, since they in turn will beseech the Lord to grant them the grace to relieve and to heal, that life may be saved” (38:9-14).

On Mourning: “Let grief end with the funeral; a life of grief oppresses the mind. Do no abandon your heart to grief, drive it away, bear your own end in mind . . . Remember my doom, since it will be yours too; yesterday was my day, today is yours” (38:20-22).

On Leisure’s Role in Productive Crafts: The Jerusalem Bible note says this is similar to an Egyptian text called Satire on Trades. It is the fact that some people have leisure time that makes the search for wisdom possible. The ploughman’s “mind is fixed on the furrows he traces” (38:26). 

Sirach 39 – On Scholars: “[T]he man who devotes his soul to reflecting on the Law of the Most High” (39:1).  He studies the ancient writings, he serves the princes and travels, and he “has experienced human good and human evil” (39:5).  He prays and if God determines it, “He will be filled with the spirit of understanding . . . and in prayer give thanks to the Lord” (39:6-7).

Praise to God and His Works: “As his blessing covers the dry land like a river and soaks it like a flood, so wrath is his legacy to the nations, just as he has turned fresh waters to salt” (39:22-23).

All the bad things are made by God to punish. Here I struggle. Too many good people suffer terrible crosses. It is not all so simple. Still I can say “yes” to these words: “All the works of the Lord are good, and he will supply every want in due time. You must not say, ‘This is worse than that’, for everything will prove its value in its time. So now, sing with all your heart and voice, and bless the name of the Lord!”(39:34-35).

Acts 18 – From Athens, Paul goes on to Corinth, and meets Aquila whose family is from Pontus on the Black Sea. Previously in Italy, Aquila and wife Priscilla fled because of the edict of Claudius expelling Jews from Rome. Like Paul, they are tentmakers, so he stays and works with them. Sabbath days are times for debate in the synagogues. Paul and Timothy arrive and Paul spends all his time proclaiming the gospel of Christ.

When the Jews reject him, he feels free to go to the pagans. A great many are converted including the head of the synagogue – Crispus – and Paul stays on for 18 months. Ray Brown notes that Paul writes I Thessalonians from Corinth; it is “the oldest preserved Christian writing” (311). Corinth is the capital of Achaia, and when Gallio becomes proconsul, the Jews try to bring Paul before the tribunal, accusing him of promoting a worship that is against the law. Gallio ultimately refuses to involve himself in this internal conflict. The reference to Gallio permits us to date Paul’s stay in Corinth to the years 51-52 AD.

Paul leaves for Syria along with Aquila and his wife. They arrive in Ephesus and go their separate ways. Paul debates in the synagogue but does not stay. He promises to return and leaves, sailing to Caesarea. I think the geography here is messed up. It talks about him sailing to Caesaria but then going through Galatia to Antioch. He couldn’t have done both.

The story goes back to Ephesus and says that Apollos came there and preached about Jesus – accurately apparently – but somehow he “had only experienced the baptism of John” (18:25). Aquila and Priscilla give him further instruction “about the Way” (18:26). He then goes over to Achaia  [Corinth] where he “helps the believers considerably by the energetic way he refuted the Jews in public and demonstrated from the scriptures that Jesus was the Christ” (18:28).

The blacksmith, the potter and other workers “put their trust in their hands, and each is skilled at his own craft” (38:31). But for all their hard work and the necessity of having them to build our towns, they “are not remarkable for culture or sound judgment, and are not found among the inventors of maxims. But they give solidity to the created world, while their prayer is concerned with what pertains to their trade” (38:34).

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