Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Daily Bible Reading: Judith 8 and Hebrews 9

Judith 8 - Judith, model of all things Jewish, is a widow. Her husband, Manasseh died some years ago of sunstroke. She is beautiful, virtuous and quite wealthy. When she hears of what the elders told the people about waiting five days, she calls them in and rebukes them, saying that God cannot be manipulated or coerced in this way. We must trust that God will not desert his nation. We must give thanks to God and allow him to test us as he tested Abraham and all our ancestors.

They praise Judith’s wisdom and virtue but ask her to pray that there may be a downpour to fill their empty cisterns. She tells them “God is not to be coerced as man is , . . Rather, as we wait patiently for him to save, let us plead with him to help us. He will hear our voice if such is his good pleasure” (8:17). She thinks the people have been faithful in recent days and that she feels they “may hope he will not look on u s disdainfully or desert our nation” (8:20).

She says to her people, “let us set an example to our brothers, since their lives depend on us and our most sacred possessions—Temple and altar—rest on us” (8:24).  They should remember how he treated Abraham and all the patriarchs. They too must be willing to be tested. Judith, who is recognized by Uzziah and the people for her wisdom tells them her plan: “I shall make my way out with my attendant. Before the time fixed by you for surrendering the town to our enemies, the Lord will make use of me to rescue Israel. You must not ask what I intend to do” (8:34). 

Hebrews 9 – The Old Covenant was a covenant of outward worship, sanctuary, map-stand, table, loaves, Holy of Holies, incense, and golden items. Priests performed “acts of worship” and once a year offered “blood . . . for his own faults and the people’s” (9:7). But none of these things could “possibly bring any worshipper to perfection in his inner self” (9:9). They were “rules about the outward life . . .intended to be in force only until it should be time to reform them” (9:10). 

I must note here an experience I had when I first returned to the Catholic Church back in 1991 – the plan being to bring what I had learned of the “Inward” Gospel of Christ to Catholics and appreciation for the imperfect but continuous traditions of the Church to Friends – that I spoke to Catholics about the “outwardness” of their rituals. I can’t tell you how strongly they pushed back, telling me that if I thought their sacraments and practices were merely “outward” I had another think coming. And I have found this to be quite true myself. The things Friends see as “outward” in traditional Christian worship or back in the apostles’ day in traditional Jewish worship were most likely quite “real” and authentic and inward too to the people who were serious about their faith. And sitting in silent worship, observing the rules for speaking in Meeting, being “Quakerly” in everything you do can also be “outward.”

But returning to Hebrews - now that Christ has come, “He has passed through the greater, the more perfect tent, which is better than the one made by men’s hands because it is not of this created order” (9:11).  He has “entered the sanctuary once and for all” (9:12), taking not the blood of a sacrificial animal but his own blood and has “won an eternal redemption for us” (9:12). He “offered himself as the perfect sacrifice to God through the eternal Spirit , . . [to] purify our inner self from dead actions so that we do our service to the living God” (9:14).

He compares the death of Christ to the death of a “testator” whose “will” becomes effective only after he has died. So with Christ, his death brings to man the “will” he made for our benefit – a will that makes the “new covenant” our gift. Once is enough. He need never offer himself again (9:25). He “has made his appearance once and for all” (9:26).  When he next appears, it will be not “to deal with sin but to reward with salvation those who are waiting for him” (9:28). And they call John the Quaker gospel!

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