I'm taking a break from reflecting on the Revised Common Lectionary. Instead, I'm reading the Apocrypha for a while.

Thursday, October 8, 2015

Refusal to disobey religious requirements, a reflection on 4 Maccabees 5

King Antiochus increased pressure on the Hebrews. If they weren't willing to eat pork and food sacrificed to idols, they would be tortured and killed. An elderly man of a priestly family, Eleazar, was brought before the king, who tried to reason with him to eat pork, "Why are you rejecting the excellent gift that Nature has given us. Consider this: if there is some power watching over this religion of yours, it will excuse you from any transgression that arises out of compulsion."

Eleazar refused to transgress the law that his religion held. "Get your torture wheels ready and fan the fire!" I will not renounce the law. You shall not dominate my religious principles either by words or through deeds."

Wednesday, October 7, 2015

An attempt to destroy Judaism, a reflection on 4 Maccabees 4:15-26

King Seleucus died and was succeeded by his son Antiochus, an arrogant and terrible man, who, in turn, replaced the noble and good man, Onias, as high priest with Onias' brother, Jason, who agreed to pay the king a large sum every year.

Note: a foreign king had decided who would be the high priest for the Jews.

Jason violated Jewish law; e.g., he allowed a gymnasium to be constructed. issued a decree that any  Jews found observing the Jewish law would be executed. Even so, the Jews disregarded his command and kept being Jews. In response, he had women who had circumcised their sons executed along with their infant sons. He instituted torture so as to compel everyone to eat foods they considered defiling and to renounce Judaism.

Tuesday, October 6, 2015

Saving the Treasury, a reflection on 4 Maccabees 4:1-14

Simon was a political opponent of the high priest Onias. When his attempts to slander Onias failed, Simon went to Apollonius, governor of Syria, Phoenicia, and Cilicia, to get help in overturning Onias.

Simon told the governor that the Jerusalem treasure had huge deposits that belonged to King Seleucus. When he was informed of this, the king authorized Simon to seize those funds.

The people protested the raid of what they considered a sacred treasury. Apollonius persisted. The priests together with women and children prayed to God to shield the holy place. Angels on horseback sent lightning bolts, knocking him half-dead. He stretched out his hands toward heaven and begged the Hebrews to pray for him that the heavenly army would leave him alone. In his prayer, he admitted his sin but said that if he were spared, he would protect the temple.

Moved by these words, Onias, with some doubts, also prayed that Apollonius be spared.

Monday, October 5, 2015

Reason, a reflection on 4 Maccabees 3

Reason can provide a way to keep us from being enslaved by desire and can help us deal with anger. Reason doesn't eliminate our emotions but does fight against them.

Sunday, October 4, 2015

Law and Reason, a reflection on 4 Maccabees 2

Reason can rule over every desire; e.g, by reason, a habitual glutton or drunkard can learn a better way. A lover of money can learn to lend without interest to the needy and to cancel debts after seven years.

Reason rules the emotions for the law prevails in relationship with parents, one's wife, children, and friends. The law can prevail even over treatment of enemies and violent emotions; e.g., lust for power, arrogance, malice, and even anger.

In summary, "Now when God fashioned human beings, he planted in them emotions and inclinations, but at the same time he enthroned the mind among the senses as a sacred governor over all" (21-22).

The NISB cites Biblical references for the examples of law in this passage, including Gen 39:7-12; Ex 20:17; Ex 22:25; Lev 25:35-37; Deut 23:19-20; Det 15:1-3; Lev 19:9-10: Dt 20:19)

Saturday, October 3, 2015

Thesis: Devout wisdom is sovereign over emotions, a reflection on 4 Maccabees 1

The intention of 4 Maccabees is to discuss whether devout wisdom is sovereign over emotions. Assumption: the highest virtue is rational judgment. Thus, if reason rules over over those emotions that hinder self-control; e.g., gluttony and lust. it can also master the emotions that hinder justice and courage; e.g., malice, anger, fear, and pain.

Definitions: Reason is the mind that with sound logic prefers the life of wisdom. Wisdom is the knowledge of divine and human matters and the causes of these. The kinds of wisdom: national judgment, justice, courage, and self-control. Rational judgment is supreme over all of these kinds of wisdom, since by means of it, reason rules over the emotions.

The two most comprehensive types of the emotions are pleasure and pain. Desire precedes pleasure and delight follows it. Fear precedes pain and sorrow comes after. Anger is an emotion that embraces both pleasure and pain.

Pleasure is complicated because in it is a malevolent tendency; e.g., in the soul: boastfulness, covetousness, thirst for honor, rivalry, and malice, and in the body, gluttony.

Reason is the guide of virtues, but over emotions, it is sovereign. Self-control is dominance over desires. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

Promise of Deliverance (with a caveat), a reflection on 2 Esdras 16:68-78

This passage begins with the warning that "The burning wrath of a great multitude is kindled over you. There will be a great uprising against those who fear the Lord." and continues,  "They shall be like maniacs, sparing no one, but blundering and destroying."

"The Lord says, 'Listen, my elect ones, the days of tribulation are at hand, but I will deliver you. Do not let your iniquities prevail over you."

The New Interpreter's Study Bible commentary points out that the description of destruction may well reflect real events in the 3rd century CE. Even so, we can reflect on the inevitable consequences of our sinning and the opportunity to be forgiven.

Thursday, October 1, 2015

Listen! a reflection on 2 Esdras 16:35-67

Listen, understand. Calamities are drawing near. They will not be delayed.

Do not be like sinners. In a short time, iniquity will be removed from the earth, and righteousness will reign over us.

Sinners must admit their sins. The Lord knows everything that people do their imaginations and their thoughts and their hearts.

God is the judge. Be afraid.

Cease sinning so God will lead you forth and deliver you from all tribulation.

Are we frightened or relieved to hear the prophecy that we can be saved if we would just stop sinning?

Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Inevitability of destruction, a reflection on 2 Esdras 16:1-34

Can you turn back an arrow shot by a strong archer? The Lord God sends calamities, and who will be able to drive them away? The Last Days will begin with lamentation, fame, wars--all sent for correction of humankind. Yet humans won't pay attention, won't quit sinning.

What would it take to get us humans to want to change? to change?

Tuesday, September 29, 2015

You'll get what you deserve, a reflection on 2 Esdras 15:46-63

Woe to Asia (the Roman province of Asia Minor):
You have made yourself like Babylon (translate, as Rome); therefore, God will send evils on you: widowhood, famine, sword, and pestilence. You shall be weakened like a wretched woman (the worst metaphor the writer could come up with). You will get what you deserve: hunger, slaughter, handed over to your enemies. They shall destroy your cities, your land, your forests. They shall kidnap your children, steal your wealth, and mar the glory of your countenance.

As I read the assertion their punishments would be deserved, I wondered if we look at hunger, destruction, damaged cities, and think "Well, if things are this bad for them, they must have done something wrong."