Monday, October 21, 2013

Daily Old Testament: 2 Maccabees 8 and My Own Article on "Friends' Testimonies" (Part 6)

2 Maccabees 8 – Judas Maccabaeus gathers together a group of 6000 men who are ready to fight. They “called upon the Lord: to look upon his people, who were down trodden by all; and to take pity on the temple, which was defiled by the impious; and even to take pity on the city by utter destruction, for it was willing to be immediately leveled to the ground; and to hear the voice of the blood that was crying out to him, so that he would remember also the most iniquitous deaths of the innocent little ones, and the blasphemies brought upon his name; and to show his indignation over these things” (8:2-4).

They fight guerilla style and are successful, the author says not so much because of their strength but because “the wrath of the Lord had turned into mercy” (8:5).

Philip the Phrygian writes to Ptolemy, the governor of Coelesyria and Phoenicia, to send help and he does. He sends Nicanor and 20,000 men, “to wipe out the entire race of the Jews” (8:9). Nicanor raises 2000 talents in money to be given by the king to the Romans as “tribute” by promising Jewish captives to willing supporters.

Some of the Jewish people with Judas Maccabaeas become so afraid of what is coming, they run away. Others pray that the Lord might rescue them “for the sake of the covenant which was made with their fathers” (8:15). Judas says to them, “these [fighters] trust in their weapons, as well as in their boldness; but we trust in the Almighty Lord, who is able to wipe out both those coming against us, and even the whole world, with one nod” (8:18). His words give them courage and confidence.

They meet the Maccabaean divisions led by the four brothers – Judas, Simon, Jonathan and Joseph – and are beaten by them. The brothers take the money given for their purchase.  The booty is divided in half – half for the fighters and half for the victims of the anti-Jewish persecutions. Nicanor, bereft of position and troops, escapes to Antioch “like a runaway slave.”

“Friends’ Testimonies”
Part 6
There was an eagerness to deny self not only by denying oneself things but by denying self-inflating impulses and expressions of every kind. Early Friends wore somber looks and refrained even from superficial conversation lest it proceed from a worldly, frivolous spirit rather than from God. They spoke slowly and with much deliberation. They avoided what we usually think of as simple distractions—games, sports, plays, and shows of all kinds because they believed that these things “trained up people to vanity and looseness and led them from the fear of God . . .” (Fox, Journal, 37).

Their suspicion of worldly customs and manners was profound, especially those that led away from the recognition of Christ’s centrality, such as religious holidays or festivals that Friends thought had corrupted the church—even day and month names that retained a trace of pagan influence. Friends stopped celebrating religious holidays they considered tarnished with pagan worship such as Easter and Christmas, much as evangelical Christians today are troubled by our modern celebration of Halloween.

But mostly they challenged secular customs that fed people’s pride or sense of self-importance—customs of class or social order that marked one person’s superiority or mastery over another. The contemporary custom of using the pronoun “you” to address social superiors and “thee” to address equals and social inferiors came under attack. Friends addressed everyone in the familiar form as a testimony against this distinction of persons. Similarly the custom of doffing one’s hat to social superiors (“hat honor”) or using common titles such as “Your Honor”, “Your Excellency”, “Your Highness”, or “Sir”—even Mr. and Mrs.—all these things were abandoned by early Friends.

Modern Friends continue certain practices that flow out of these testimonies but not all. They do not celebrate Christmas or Easter in a “liturgical” way any more than they celebrate Sunday (First Day) liturgically. But they do not challenge observance of the day of Christmas the way they once did, keeping their shops open. Friends are more like everyone else with respect to these holidays, trimming trees and going on Easter egg hunts with children. They do retain the use of nonpagan-based names for days of the week and months of the year—calling them by their number rather than any name; but their observance of this venerable Quaker custom is formal only. The offense taken to pagan cultural remnants is no longer there. Even among Christian Friends, the offense to such small remnants seems not to have endured over the years.

The main thing with respect to the simplicity testimony that has changed over the years is the loss of any deep or radical concern about either “the self” or “the world” as early Friends understood them. Indeed, the modern infatuation with “self” (self-esteem, self-actualization, self-determination, etc.) seemed fully to have captured Friends by the 1980s as it had captured most Americans. There is little sense among modern Friends that the self needs to turn from death to life or from “fall” to “restoration”. The only really negative talk you hear of “the world” is the world of capitalist enterprise—the materialism promoted by Madison Avenue, the manipulations of industrialists or manufacturers, or “Big Money”. In this, modern Friends are virtually indistinguishable from politically left-wing critics of American business.

The world is never the things that we are part of, that we are tempted by. As Fox once wrote, the problem is always “they”, “they”, “they”, never “I”, “I”, “I”.

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