It took a year to read the Bible, then almost 9 months to read the Apocrypha. Now, I'm going to try to offer reflections on the Narrative Lectionary. But, I won't be posting daily--at least, for a while.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Seeking Substitute for Loss of Temple, 1 Kings 12:25-29

Jeroboam was in residence in Israel, but didn't feel safe. The place of worship for them was still in Jerusalem. If the Israelites continued to travel to Jerusalem, they might transfer their loyalty to Rehoboam.

He felt his own rule and life were in danger. On advice, he had two gold calves constructed. He said, "Now you don't have to go all the way to Jerusalem to worship. Look, here are your gods that brought you out of Israel." Read Exodus 32:1-8 for background of how this was really a bad idea.

When any of us feel the loss of God, do we seek tangible substitutes?

Friday, October 30, 2015

Split, a reflection on 1 Kings 12:18-24

When all Israel (that is, the northern tribes) saw that Rehoboam wasn't going to listen to their request to moderate work demands, the response was, "Why should we care about David? We have no stake in Jesse's son!" The workers then stoned the work gang leader to death. King Rehoboam fled to Jerusalem.

Israel sent for Jeroboam and crowned him king of all Israel. Rehoboam assembled the house of Judah and Benjamin (the southern tribes) to fight against the north in order to restore his right to rule the whole kingdom.

However, a prophet was told by God to tell Rehoboam and the rest of his people not to make war against the Israelites, "Go home every one of you, because this is my plan." They went home.

These verses are omitted from the lectionary, but I think they help understand the ones that are included. Further, they raise a question of how we decide (realize?) to attribute events to the plan of God.

Thursday, October 29, 2015

Rehoboam's first decision as king a reflection on 1 Kings 12:1-17

When Jeroboam heard that King Solomon was dead, he left Egypt and returned to Israel. The people reminded Rehoboam that his father had imposed heavy workloads on them and asked if he would lighten what was demanded of them. Rehoboam asked for three days to think over their request. When he asked his advisors how he should respond to the demand, they told him that if gave in on this, the people would support him forever.

[The former leader made great achievements and imposed great demands of others. How does a successor duplicate success without duplicating the demands? How does a new leader choose which of the predecessors ways to repeat and which to modify? How should achievement be measured, anyway?]

On the other hand, his younger advisors told him to say he would make their workloads even heavier. He ignored the advice of the elders and went with the younger people. He told the workers, "My father made your workload heavy, but I'll make it even heavier! My father disciplined you with whips, but I'll do it with scorpions!" [Scorpions? Is that a metaphor?]

Rebellion followed. Rehoboam had to flee to Jerusalem.

Wednesday, October 28, 2015

Background to this week's reading, a reflection on 1 Kings 11

Jeroboam's repair work of the wall in Jerusalem impressed King Solomon so much that he sent him to oversee another job. On his way, Jeroboam met a prophet who told him that after Solomon died, God was going to split the kingdom. Solomon's son would be given only one tribe's portion of land but that tribe would always rule over Jerusalem. Note, Jerusalem is where the temple is. Further note, the temple was necessary for worship. The rest of Israel would be ruled by Jeroboam on the condition that he did what was right in the eyes of the Lord.

Solomon's mood changed. He tried to kill Jeroboam who fled to Egypt. After Solomon died, his son Rehoboam became king.

Tuesday, October 27, 2015

Promotion, a reflection on Mark 10:42-45

James and John went to Jesus and asked him to do something for them.

I'm pausing here to think about what usually prompts me to pray. 

Let's go back to James and John. They asked Jesus for glory, to sit next to him. Jesus informed them they had no idea what they were asking. "Do you really want to be next to me? Are you prepared to do what I am going to have to do? Besides, it's not my choice anyway."

The other disciples were upset when they heard that James and John had sought preferential status. Jesus called them together and informed them of what it took to be great. 

"Greatness is not lording over everybody; for us, greatness takes a different approach. To be great, you have to be the servant. Take me for example. What I came for is not to have everybody take care of me, but, instead, to serve, even to give up my life."

Then, and even now, we have church leaders who display similar attitudes to James and John. They want to be in charge, and they want everybody to know who is in charge. They display little appetite for devoting their efforts to the needs of others.

I'm trying to imagine an advertising campaign for a church that would use some of the language that Jesus used with his disciples--that drinking the cup that he was going to drink or being baptized what he was going to be baptized. He had already told them three times about his upcoming death.

Had the disciples not been listening? Have we been?

Friday, October 23, 2015

Whom the people want as king, a reflection on 2 Samuel 5:1-5

Saul is dead. His son Jonathon is dead. Although he was initially kept from battle, David turned a defeat into a victory. 

Eventually, the tribes of Israel conclude that David should be their king.

Or, am I supposed to be reading this as finally the people of Israel catch on to what the Lord has long planned?

Back to the king part. When the people had first wanted a king, the Lord had forecast for them what life with a human king would be like (see 1 Samuel 8), but they wanted one anyway. They just weren't able to trust the rule of the Lord unmediated by a human king.

Thursday, October 22, 2015

Welcoming a new leader, Mark 11:8-10

Imagine living in a land that once had been yours but now is under the control of a powerful overseer; imagine that your own political and religious leaders answer to this other force. This was life for the Jews in the time of Jesus.

They looked backwards to help them see forwards.

When Mark told of Jesus' triumphal entry into Jerusalem, he quoted from Psalms and from the prophets who had spoken to the people as they envisioned return from exile.
Rejoice greatly, O daughter Zion! Shout aloud, O daughter Jerusalem! Lo, your king comes to you; triumphant and victorious is he, humble and riding on a donkey, on a colt, the foal of a donkey. (Zechariah 9:9)
Mark's readers have known what came next: He will defeat the enemy and the prisoners will be set free (Read Zechariah 9:10-17).

We still are reading the Gospel of Mark. And we still are being held captive. For some Christians, the captors are actual human overseers. For others, they are powerful forces. As individuals, we may be worried about loss of health or loss of a specific loved one. Or, as a community, we have shared concerns.

And today, we can think of the economic strictures around the globe.
How much have we lost?
How much do we fear?
What will tomorrow bring?

Wednesday, October 21, 2015

Bitter and yet not bitter, a reflection on 4 Maccabees 18

The author addresses the Israelite children directly:

Obey the law. Exercise piety in everything. Remember the example of the family that sacrificed themselves for religion, and when the tyrant saw that he wasn't able to compel the Israelites to become pagans, he left Jerusalem.

The mother spoke to her sons, reminded them of her virtue and the examples from scripture that her husband had recounted to their sons.

The author describes the day that her sons were sacrificed as bitter--and yet not bitter: For these crimes divine justice pursued and will pursue the accursed tyrant, but the sons and their victorious mother have received immortal souls from God.

Does it make a difference if we read these words as being written to people suffering from a foreign tyrant? Do they help readers who are living in peace and in charge?

Tuesday, October 20, 2015

Lesson Learned, a reflection on 4 Maccabees 17

When she was about to be seized by the guards, she threw herself into the fire. The writer of 4 Maccabees writes an enconium lauding her for, with her sons, frustrating the evil plan of the tyrant to destroy their faith.  

Ironic outcome: After the lack of success in converting this family, the tyrant was so impressed with their courage, virtue, and endurance, he proclaimed them as examples for his troops. However, eventually Israel became independent from their Seleucid overlords.

Monday, October 19, 2015

Maternal advice, a reflection on 4 Maccabees 16

We are told what the mother said to her sons as they were watching the agonizing death of Eleazar, "It would be shameful if while this elderly endures such agonies for the sake of religion, you were to be afraid of such tortures. Remember that is through God that you have had a life in this world, and therefore you ought to endure any suffering for the sake of God."

They complied with her teachings.

Can you come up with an hypothetical situation in which you would concur with this maternal advice?

Sunday, October 18, 2015

How high a price is paid for religion, a reflection on 4 Maccabees 15

The mother had to choose between religion or her sons' lives. She chose religion. The writer of 4 Maccabees agrees with this choice, "O more noble than males in steadfastness, and more courageous than men in endurance are you. O guardian of the law, overwhelmed from every side by the flood of your emotions and the violent winds, the torture of your sons, endured nobly and withstood the wintry storms that assail religion."

Reading this, I can't imagine having to choose between my children or my religion. Then I wonder what I do sacrifice to protect religion.

Saturday, October 17, 2015

Example of Abraham and Isaac, a reflection on 4 Maccabees 14

Continuing the thesis that reason enabled them to face torture: The mother of the seven sons bore up under the rackings of each of her children. Sympathy for her children did not sway her; she was of the same mind as Abraham (Genesis 22).

I don't have a comment on this.

Friday, October 16, 2015

Reason conquering emotion, a reflection on 4 Maccabees 13

The writer of 4 Maccabees used the example of the seven brothers' choosing painful death as proof that reason is sovereign over emotion. He used a metaphor: Just as tall towers in harbors can hold back threatening waves, so did right reason in the youths fortify the harbor of religion and conquer the tempest of emotion.

Quote from one of the brothers: Let us not fear him who thinks he is killing us, for great is the struggle of the soul and the danger of eternal torment lying before those who transgress the commandment of God. Therefore let us put on the full armor of self-control, which is divine reason. For if we so die, Abraham and Isaac and Jacob will welcome us, and all the fathers will praise us."

Is 4 Maccabees equating reason with being afraid of the afterlife?

Thursday, October 15, 2015

The youngest brother, a reflection on 4 Maccabees 12

When the seventh and youngest brother was brought in, the tyrant felt compassion for him. "You see the results of your brothers' stupidity, dying in torment because of their disobedience. You have the choice of being tortured or of being my friend and a leader in the government of the kingdom."

Thinking she would persuade the boy to obey and save himself, the tyrant then sent for the mother.

She spoke to her son, her last remaining son, in Hebrew (see chapter 16 if you can't wait). The boy asked to be freed. Since they thought that he was going to do what they wanted, they freed him immediately. Instead of doing what they wanted, he said, "My brothers died nobly but you will suffer for killing them. God will take vengeance both in this present life and when you are dead."

He threw himself into the fire.

Wednesday, October 14, 2015

Holding out against repression, a reflection on 4 Maccabees 11

The fifth brother leaped up, "I  have come on my own accord so that by murdering me, you will be punished by heaven,"

He then asked them a question, "Why are you destroying us? Is it because we worship the Creator of all things and live according to his law?"

As he was tortured cruelly, gasping for breath, he said, "Tyrant, you're doing us a favor letting us show our endurance for the law."

When he had died, the sixth brother was led in. He too chose dying over eating the forbidden food.
While being tortured, he said to the tyrant, "We six boys have paralyzed your tyranny. Since you have not been able to persuade us or force us to eat defiling foods, is this not your own downfall? Your violence is powerless. The law is unconquered. We hold fast to reason."

Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Holding fast, a reflection on 4 Maccabees 10

After the second brother died, the third was led in. Many urged him to save himself by eating meat. He answered them, "I have the same father they did and the same mother, I was brought up on the same teachings."

They tortured him but could not break his spirit. When he was about to die, he said, "We are suffering now, but you, because of your bloodthirstiness, will undergo unceasing torments."

When he died, the fourth brother was brought in and given the same choice. He responded, "You do not have a fire hot enough to make me play the coward."

The king got tired of hearing this kind of talk and ordered that his tongue be cut out. The brother responded, "Even if you remove my organ of speech, God hears also those who are mute; therefore, you will not make our reason speechless."

Do holders of the majority religion feel that holders of minority religion are heretics? How is heresy a threat to the nation?

Monday, October 12, 2015

The first two brothers face a choice, a reflection on 4 Maccabees 9

The brothers assert, "We'll die before we would transgress our ancestors' commandments. You're threatening us with death. Didn't you learn anything from Eleazar? Put us to the test. And remember, if you take our lives because we won't reject our religion, we'll have the prize of being with God. You, because of your treatment of us, will undergo the divine justice of eternal torment by fire."

When the eldest was tortured, he called out, "Imitate me. Fight the battle for religion."

After he died, the second brother was tortured. He exclaimed, "How sweet is any kind of death for the religion of our ancestors," then added, to the tyrant, "You will not escape the divine wrath."

Sunday, October 11, 2015

Choice of peace or faithfulness, a reflection on 4 Maccabees 8

When the tyrant finally gave up on forcing the old man to eat forbidden food, he angrily demanded that other Hebrew captives be given the choice either to eat defiling food and be freed or to be tortured.

Seven brothers, along with their mother, were brought before the tyrant. He said to them, "I advise you to make a different choice from the one that old man did. Renounce your religion and I'll give you a position of authority in my government. Adopt the Greek life or be tortured."

When they saw the dreadful torture instruments, they were not afraid. Relying on their own philosophy and by right reasoning, they rejected the tyrant's offer. They never considered accepting the king's offer.

Saturday, October 10, 2015

Only the wise, a reflection on 4 Maccabees 7

Arguing that reason enabled Eleazar to endure any suffering for the sake of virtue, the author of 4 Maccabees  concludes, "Only the wise and courageous are masters of their emotions."

Friday, October 9, 2015

A life offered in exchange for others', a reflection on 4 Maccabees 6

After refusing the king's insistence to break Jewish law, Eleazar was tortured. He bore the pain showing a courageous spirit. Partly out of pity for his old age, partly out of admiration for his endurance, one of the king's men asked him why was he letting this happen and offered him a way to escape further punishment: "We'll cook you some meat and pretend that it is pork so you can satisfy the king and your conscience."

Eleazar refused the offer. They burned him. As he was dying, he prayed to God, "Be merciful to your people and take my life in exchange for theirs."

The writer of 4 Maccabees uses this example to prove that reason prevailed over emotion.

Questions raised: How do we decide which religious laws to obey and under what circumstances?

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?