bible blog 525

THE POPE IN SPAIN: HOLY PRESENCE OR WHOLLY IRRELEVANT? 

This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news

1 Kings 5:1-6:1,6:7

5Now King Hiram of Tyre sent his servants to Solomon, when he heard that they had anointed him king in place of his father; for Hiram had always been a friend to David. 2Solomon sent word to Hiram, saying, 3‘You know that my father David could not build a house for the name of the Lord his God because of the warfare with which his enemies surrounded him, until the Lord put them under the soles of his feet. 4But now the Lord my God has given me rest on every side; there is neither adversary nor misfortune. 5So I intend to build a house for the name of the Lord my God, as the Lord said to my father David, “Your son, whom I will set on your throne in your place, shall build the house for my name.” 6Therefore command that cedars from the Lebanon be cut for me. My servants will join your servants, and I will give you whatever wages you set for your servants; for you know that there is no one among us who knows how to cut timber like the Sidonians.’

7 When Hiram heard the words of Solomon, he rejoiced greatly, and said, ‘Blessed be the Lord today, who has given to David a wise son to be over this great people.’ 8Hiram sent word to Solomon, ‘I have heard the message that you have sent to me; I will fulfil all your needs in the matter of cedar and cypress timber. 9My servants shall bring it down to the sea from the Lebanon; I will make it into rafts to go by sea to the place you indicate. I will have them broken up there for you to take away. And you shall meet my needs by providing food for my household.’ 10So Hiram supplied Solomon’s every need for timber of cedar and cypress. 11Solomon in turn gave Hiram twenty thousand cors of wheat as food for his household, and twenty cors of fine oil. Solomon gave this to Hiram year by year. 12So the Lord gave Solomon wisdom, as he promised him. There was peace between Hiram and Solomon; and the two of them made a treaty.

13 King Solomon conscripted forced labour out of all Israel; the levy numbered thirty thousand men. 14He sent them to the Lebanon, ten thousand a month in shifts; they would be a month in the Lebanon and two months at home; Adoniram was in charge of the forced labour. 15Solomon also had seventy thousand labourers and eighty thousand stonecutters in the hill country, 16besides Solomon’s three thousand three hundred supervisors who were over the work, having charge of the people who did the work. 17At the king’s command, they quarried out great, costly stones in order to lay the foundation of the house with dressed stones. 18So Solomon’s builders and Hiram’s builders and the Gebalites did the stonecutting and prepared the timber and the stone to build the house.

The arts of peace are insufficiently celebrated in the Bible. Here a God-given peace allows Solomon to build a temple and an alliance with the neighbouring nation and its king. We are used to the idea of conscription for war; here is conscription of a peaceful project which honours the Lord by giving Him a temple like those of other nations’ gods. The national shrine in Israel was honoured by the “second law” movement In Israel which promoted it as the one place for sacrifice to the one God, as against the many shrines of local deities; but it was criticised often by the prophets as offering a kind of token obedience to God rather than the justice He required. In the Christian tradition it was honoured as a place of worship by the first Christians, but became irrelevant as the church expanded and developed theologies of Jesus Christ as the place of God’s holy presence in the world. Nevertheless the image of the temple has continued to inspire the construction of Christian places of worship and their liturgies throughout history without any authorisation in the New Testament. Are church buildings places of holy presence, as many believe, or are they mere “steeple-houses” as George Fox, founder of the Quakers, used to call them? The jury is still out on this one. (I tend to side with G Fox.) It’s good to note that the argument begins in the Bible.  

George Fox

 

 Mark 14:27-42

27And Jesus said to them, ‘You will all become deserters; for it is written,

“I will strike the shepherd,

and the sheep will be scattered.”

28But after I am raised up, I will go before you to Galilee.’ 29Peter said to him, ‘Even though all become deserters, I will not.’ 30Jesus said to him, ‘Truly I tell you, this day, this very night, before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ 31But he said vehemently, ‘Even though I must die with you, I will not deny you.’ And all of them said the same.

32 They went to a place called Gethsemane; and he said to his disciples, ‘Sit here while I pray.’ 33He took with him Peter and James and John, and began to be distressed and agitated. 34And he said to them, ‘I am deeply grieved, even to death; remain here, and keep awake.’ 35And going a little farther, he threw himself on the ground and prayed that, if it were possible, the hour might pass from him. 36He said, ‘Abba, Father, for you all things are possible; remove this cup from me; yet, not what I want, but what you want.’ 37He came and found them sleeping; and he said to Peter, ‘Simon, are you asleep? Could you not keep awake one hour? 38Keep awake and pray that you may not come into the time of trial; the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.’ 39And again he went away and prayed, saying the same words. 40And once more he came and found them sleeping, for their eyes were very heavy; and they did not know what to say to him. 41He came a third time and said to them, ‘Are you still sleeping and taking your rest? Enough! The hour has come; the Son of Man is betrayed into the hands of sinners. 42Get up, let us be going. See, my betrayer is at hand.’

Jesus, the only One awake

This is a beautifully constructed narrative. Firstly we should note that it has links with Jesus’ prophecy about the “time of trial (Mark 13) where he tells his followers to “watch and pray”. Here they are asked to “stay awake” and fail to do so, three times. The significance of the three times is evident in Jesus’ words of warning to Peter, and it may have a subterranean connection with the three days’ death of Jesus. The disciples are depicted as almost frivolous before the time in the garden, where they are utterly overcome by their human weakness.

Jesus’ prayer, with its use of the Aramaic word Abba, and his agony, reveal him as the intimate son of God who can protest against his suffering while accepting the father’s will. He like all human beings has to trust God while walking into the darkness but he enters the place of evil and death as the one who will go before his disciples into Galilee: he is always the crucified and risen Lord.

No theology does justice to the profound Gospel narratives of Jesus’ suffering, death and resurrection. They are the only words we would dare offer to people who are undergoing great suffering. The truth is in the story-telling rather than any abstractions from it. We should read them again and again.

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