Saturday, October 19, 2013

Daily Old Testament: 2 Maccabees 7 and My Own Article on "Friends' Testimonies" (Part 5)

2 Maccabees 7 – Seven brothers are also models of the kind of Jewish revival the Maccabees seek. They refuse to comply when the king orders them to eat pig’s flesh. To punish them, he orders one of the seven – the spokesman – to be tortured and killed. He is cut up and fried. Both mother and other brothers look on but only encourage one another in accepting martyrdom. “Inhuman fiend, you may discharge us from this present life, but the King of the world will raise us up, since it is for his laws that we die, to live again for ever.” (7: 9)

This is the first time in scripture that belief in bodily resurrection is expressed. The note says the “doctrine of immortality [is] developed in the atmosphere of Greek thought and without reference to the resurrection of the body . . .For Hebrew thought however, which makes no distinction between soul and body, the notion of survival implied a physical resurrection . . .” Ironic that a book so dedicated to rejecting Greek influence would import such a Greek-influenced notion!!

It is the mother who is most highly praised. She says, “I do not know how you appeared in my womb; it was not I who endowed you with breath and life, I had not the shaping of your every part. It is the creator of the world, ordaining the process of man’s birth and presiding over the origin of all things, who in his mercy will most surely give you back both breath and life, seeing that you now despise your own existence for the sake of his laws” (7: 22-23).

A hard thing to understand is that all of these martyrs ascribe their sufferings not to the evil of the king but to the punishment of God for sins they have presumably committed: “We are suffering for our own sins; and if, to punish and discipline us, our living Lord vents his wrath upon us, he will yet be reconciled with his own servants.”

Everyone dies in the end here – and all are honored by both Jews and Christians for their faithfulness to the traditions of our faith.

“Friends’ Testimonies”
Part 5
Simplicity, Integrity, and Plainness of Speech

The idea of looking solely to God for one’s direction, of turning one’s gaze from all the pressures and preoccupations of the “world” one was living in, led to a kind of radical simplicity about what was important in life. For me it is especially hard to tease apart the testimonies of high importance to me, so I will deal with them here together.

Simplicity for Friends involved a turning away from the two things human beings are most likely to worship in place of God—the self and the world. The “world” in this context is not the “world of John 3:16,

“For God so loved the world, that he gave his only Son, so that everyone who belies in him may not perish but may have eternal life.”

but the “world” of 1 John 2:15-16.

“Do not love the world or the things in the world. The love of the Father is not in those who love the world; for all that is in the world—the desire of the flesh, the desire of the eyes, the pride in riches—comes not from the Father but from the world.”

The good “world” was the creation and humanity made in God’s image and likeness, the world that God’s love “was toward” as early Friends put it. It was the world God’s love went out to in spite of all the problems man’s disobedience brought. The “fallen” or bad “world” was the unjust and tawdry world of things that fed human pride and sparked human lust: superfluous possessions, customs and traditions that set one person or class or race up over another, transient and unimportant things that people loved instead of loving God. As people came into a sense of God’s real presence in them, however, the vanities and attractions of the “world” lost their allure:

“. . . we received the gospel with a ready mind, and with broken hearts, and affected spirits; and gave up to follow the Lord fully, casting off the weights and burdens. . . . Oh, the strippings of all needless apparel, and the forsaking of superfluities in meats, drinks and in the plain self-denying path we walked. . . . Our words were few and savory, our apparel and houses plain, being stripped of superfluities; our countenances grave. . . . .Indeed we were a plain, broken-hearted, contrite spirited, self-denying people; our souls being in an unexpressible travail to do all things well pleasing in the sight of God, for our great concern night and day was to obtain through Jesus Christ the great work of salvation, and thereby an assurance of the everlasting rest and Sabbath of our God” (Charles Marshall, Early Quaker Writings, Barbour and Roberts, eds. 81).

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