This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
1 Samuel 5:1-12
5When the Philistines captured the ark of God, they brought it from Ebenezer to Ashdod; 2then the Philistines took the ark of God and brought it into the house of Dagon and placed it beside Dagon. 3When the people of Ashdod rose early the next day, there was Dagon, fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of the Lord. So they took Dagon and put him back in his place. 4But when they rose early on the next morning, Dagon had fallen on his face to the ground before the ark of the Lord, and the head of Dagon and both his hands were lying cut off upon the threshold; only the trunk of Dagon was left to him. 5This is why the priests of Dagon and all who enter the house of Dagon do not step on the threshold of Dagon in Ashdod to this day.
6 The hand of the Lord was heavy upon the people of Ashdod, and he terrified and struck them with tumours, both in Ashdod and in its territory. 7And when the inhabitants of Ashdod saw how things were, they said, ‘The ark of the God of Israel must not remain with us; for his hand is heavy on us and on our god Dagon.’ 8So they sent and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines, and said, ‘What shall we do with the ark of the God of Israel?’ The inhabitants of Gath replied, ‘Let the ark of God be moved on to us.’ So they moved the ark of the God of Israel to Gath. 9But after they had brought it to Gath, the hand of the Lord was against the city, causing a very great panic; he struck the inhabitants of the city, both young and old, so that tumours broke out on them. 10So they sent the ark of the God of Israel to Ekron. But when the ark of God came to Ekron, the people of Ekron cried out, ‘Why have they brought across to us the ark of the God of Israel to kill us and our people?’ 11They sent therefore and gathered together all the lords of the Philistines, and said, ‘Send away the ark of the God of Israel, and let it return to its own place, that it may not kill us and our people.’ For there was a deathly panic throughout the whole city. The hand of God was very heavy there; 12those who did not die were stricken with tumours, and the cry of the city went up to heaven.
The narrators of this story have fun with the black comedy of the Lord’s Ark. The Israelites have abused it by using it as an auxiliary weapon and have been defeated by the Philistines who have captured the Ark. But now the victors find that it is no more comfortable as a trophy than as a weapon. God does not consent to be used in a “war of Gods”, that is, in competing Jihads, a message which is very relevant to certain Islamic and Christian war-lords today. We should not imagine the issue addressed here has gone away. If the God worshipped is really just an idol representing national values and interests, it can only bring death.
I wouldn’t be surprised to hear of an outbreak of tumours in Teheran or Texas.
Luke 21: 29-36
29 Then he told them a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
34 ‘Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.’
Did Jesus, did Luke, expect the “Kingdom” to come soon? The answer depends on how we gauge the accuracy of the gospel writers in reporting actual words of Jesus, and then on how we interpret the words themselves. My own judgement is that at any rate some of the words about the imminence of the kingdom were spoken by Jesus, and that certainly Luke interpreted them as applying to the near future of his own time. Mark, however, hints that the words about the coming of the kingdom are fulfilled in the death and resurrection of Jesus. The gospel of John sees the judgement of the world happening in the cross. The author of the Revelation sees the suffering of the Lamb and his followers on earth as already a heavenly judgement on the powers of evil. The New Testament seems to tell us that already the kingdom has arrived but its complete establishment is still to come.
My concept of the universe, of space and time, necessarily affects my view of the kingdom of God, and many interpretations are possible, but there is no denying the united witness of the New Testament that human existence and earthly powers are in God’s hand and that the unmediated will of God may intersect with our universe at any time. So I’d better be on guard. Yelena Bonner wife of the late Andrei Sakharov was not, as far as I know, a Christian, but she lived her life in the conviction that there is a justice which calls each one of us, no matter how insignificant, and every state, no matter how mighty, to account