bible blog 527


gentle Jesus no more

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

2 Chronicles 6:32-7:7
32 ‘Likewise when foreigners, who are not of your people Israel, come from a distant land because of your great name, and your mighty hand, and your outstretched arm, when they come and pray towards this house, 33may you hear from heaven your dwelling-place, and do whatever the foreigners ask of you, in order that all the peoples of the earth may know your name and fear you, as do your people Israel, and that they may know that your name has been invoked on this house that I have built.
34 ‘If your people go out to battle against their enemies, by whatever way you shall send them, and they pray to you towards this city that you have chosen and the house that I have built for your name, 35then hear from heaven their prayer and their plea, and maintain their cause.
36 ‘If they sin against you—for there is no one who does not sin—and you are angry with them and give them to an enemy, so that they are carried away captive to a land far or near; 37then if they come to their senses in the land to which they have been taken captive, and repent, and plead with you in the land of their captivity, saying, “We have sinned, and have done wrong; we have acted wickedly”; 38if they repent with all their heart and soul in the land of their captivity, to which they were taken captive, and pray towards their land, which you gave to their ancestors, the city that you have chosen, and the house that I have built for your name, 39then hear from heaven your dwelling-place their prayer and their pleas, maintain their cause and forgive your people who have sinned against you. 40Now, O my God, let your eyes be open and your ears attentive to prayer from this place.’

holy of holies

Chronicles is a revised edition of Kings, produced to represent the earlier history of Israel for the generations who occupied the land after the “return from exile”, when a new temple had been built in Jerusalem. This passage sets out the authors’ view of what the “house of God” should be. It’s a generous view, including gentiles drawn to Israel’s God, as well as the armies of Israel. It is a house even for a sinful and defeated Israel who in repentance can pray “towards it”. The prayers of all can be directed to the Temple which bears God’s name and his holy “presence” but they are heard “in heaven your dwelling place”. The temple is thus an outpost of God’s goodness on earth, but the Holy One has another abode.
The phrase, “Maintain their cause and forgive your people who have sinned against you” is important. Even a sinful people of God has a right to justice, which God should maintain as well as offering forgiveness. This profound concept of the sinner’s cause surfaces again in the ministry and teaching of Jesus.

Mark 14:53-65
53 They took Jesus to the high priest; and all the chief priests, the elders, and the scribes were assembled. 54Peter had followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest; and he was sitting with the guards, warming himself at the fire. 55Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for testimony against Jesus to put him to death; but they found none. 56For many gave false testimony against him, and their testimony did not agree. 57Some stood up and gave false testimony against him, saying, 58‘We heard him say, “I will destroy this temple that is made with hands, and in three days I will build another, not made with hands.” ’ 59But even on this point their testimony did not agree. 60Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus, ‘Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?’ 61But he was silent and did not answer. Again the high priest asked him, ‘Are you the Messiah, the Son of the Blessed One?’ 62Jesus said, ‘I am; and
“you will see the Son of Man
seated at the right hand of the Power”,
and “coming with the clouds of heaven.” ’
63Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, ‘Why do we still need witnesses? 64You have heard his blasphemy! What is your decision?’ All of them condemned him as deserving death. 65Some began to spit on him, to blindfold him, and to strike him, saying to him, ‘Prophesy!’ The guards also took him over and beat him.
Mark or his source imagined that the mere claim to be Messiah would be viewed as blasphemous. There is nothing in the history of Judaism to justify that view. Claiming falsely to be Messiah would be a serious sin, in some cases verging on “taking the name of the Lord in vain” but each case would require detailed proof. Christian retelling of the death of Jesus tended to move responsibility from the actual killers, Rome, to the Jewish religious establishment. Certainly the witness of Mark is that Jesus the Son of God was rejected by his own religion as a Messianic pretender because he did not conform to its expectation of what a Messiah should be. According to him Jesus used the language of the book of Daniel to affirm that his death would nevertheless lead to the triumph of the “Son of Man”, that is, of Jesus-and-his-people. My guess is that Mark saw these words as fulfilled in the resurrection of Jesus.
Although Christian believers may want to say that the power of Mark’s story of Jesus is not dependent on its historicity, they should admit, especially in relation to the death of Jesus, that historicity is far from a being negligible issue. Was Jesus killed on a cross? Who was responsible for his death? Did his own actions contribute to his condemnation? Believers must give clear answers to these questions not only for the coherence of their own faith but also for a just history of their origins. In spite of the clarity of the creed “suffered under Pontius Pilatus” the church, led by Rome, fixed responsibility for Jesus’ death on his own people, with catastrophic consequences for the Jewish people over two millennia.
My own uncomfortable conclusion is that the gospel accounts of Jesus’ death are already skewed towards excusing the Roman governor, because it would have been very difficult for the early church if their main documents showed the sort of hostility to Rome that they do towards the Jewish religious leaders. This conclusion may be viewed as speculative and unfaithful to scripture. With great seriousness I would argue that both fundamentalism which says that all scripture is factual and liberal theology which says we can’t know whether it’s factual and it doesn’t matter anyway, have helped maintain an inaccurate historical claim which has stigmatised a whole people. Perhaps much of what is hateful in the present policies of Israel is linked to this stigma and the suffering it brought upon Jews.

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