bible blog 528

CHINA JAILS MONK WHO HID BROTHER MONK AFTER HE TRIED TO BURN HIMSELF AS PROTEST

Aba in China where the monk burned himself

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

1 Kings 9.1-9:9

9When Solomon had finished building the house of the Lord and the king’s house and all that Solomon desired to build, 2the Lord appeared to Solomon a second time, as he had appeared to him at Gibeon. 3The Lord said to him, ‘I have heard your prayer and your plea, which you made before me; I have consecrated this house that you have built, and put my name there for ever; my eyes and my heart will be there for all time. 4As for you, if you will walk before me, as David your father walked, with integrity of heart and uprightness, doing according to all that I have commanded you, and keeping my statutes and my ordinances, 5then I will establish your royal throne over Israel for ever, as I promised your father David, saying, “There shall not fail you a successor on the throne of Israel.”

6 ‘If you turn aside from following me, you or your children, and do not keep my commandments and my statutes that I have set before you, but go and serve other gods and worship them, 7then I will cut Israel off from the land that I have given them; and the house that I have consecrated for my name I will cast out of my sight; and Israel will become a proverb and a taunt among all peoples. 8This house will become a heap of ruins; everyone passing by it will be astonished, and will hiss; and they will say, “Why has the Lord done such a thing to this land and to this house?” 9Then they will say, “Because they have forsaken the Lord their God, who brought their ancestors out of the land of Egypt, and embraced other gods, worshipping them and serving them; therefore the Lord has brought this disaster upon them.” ’

banner in USA classroom

The connection between the welfare of the nation and its allegiance to God is not as obvious to us as it was to the writer of Kings. He would however have been astonished by the very idea that the connection would hold for any nation other than Israel. “You only I have chosen from all the nations of the earth, says the Lord, therefore you only will I punish for your sins” (Amos). As far as the writers of the Jewish Bible were concerned the covenant is only made between God and his people Israel. It may ultimately be for the blessing of all nations but it is the glory and trial of Israel alone. Historical analysis may show that this theology is an invention of the “post exilic” Jewish community (500-200 BC) which rewrote the religious traditions of their ancestors to reflect their ideal of a theocratic state, but it remains the dominant theology of the Old Testament-even the story of human origins begins with disobedience and exile. It is a hugely powerful influence on Christian politics: one only needs to think of the 17th century Covenanters in Scotland and the 21st century Christian Right in the USA: if the nation holds to the Covenant, it will prosper; if it does not, it will be punished.

Christian believers who interpret the Bible as witness to Jesus Christ, and therefore re-interpret the Old Testament from this standpoint, cannot accept this theology. For a start, they recognise, with the same astonishment as the disciple Peter, that God’s favour may entail suffering rather than success. They will also recognise with St. Paul that there are other strands in the Old Testament which have gotten obscured by the dominant theology, especially the Covenant of Trust between Abraham and God. And certainly they will derive their political theology from the Messiah who rules from the cross rather than from the Book of Kings.

I would like to think that a creative use can be made of the covenant theology of Israel, but I am unconvinced by any that I’ve seen so far. Such an attempt might start however, with the subtle and profound stories of the books of Samuel (with which this blog has been concerned overt the last month) rather than the more programmatic material in Kings.

 Mark 14:66-72

66 While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant-girls of the high priest came by. 67When she saw Peter warming himself, she stared at him and said, ‘You also were with Jesus, the man from Nazareth.’ 68But he denied it, saying, ‘I do not know or understand what you are talking about.’ And he went out into the forecourt. Then the cock crowed. 69And the servant-girl, on seeing him, began again to say to the bystanders, ‘This man is one of them.’ 70But again he denied it. Then after a little while the bystanders again said to Peter, ‘Certainly you are one of them; for you are a Galilean.’ 71But he began to curse, and he swore an oath, ‘I do not know this man you are talking about.’ 72At that moment the cock crowed for the second time. Then Peter remembered that Jesus had said to him, ‘Before the cock crows twice, you will deny me three times.’ And he broke down and wept.

unfaithfulness of Peter

If Judaism is the covenant between God and faithful people, Christianity is the covenant between God and unfaithful people like Peter: “While we were still sinners, The Messiah died for us.”

That states the contrast in a provocatively exaggerated form: after all Israel does sin and is forgiven; Peter is forgiven and becomes faithful; and there is a convergence of the two faiths in that unfaithfulness and disobedience are crucial elements of their foundational stories. But we can’t imagine Moses or Elijah weeping for his own sins.

There seems to me to be an unspoken connection between the three denials of Peter and the resurrection of Jesus on the third day. John gospel uses this connection in its story of Peter’s forgiveness, when Jesus asks him three times if he loves him. Mark wants to bind Jesus’ death to the unfaithfulness of Peter and the other disciples, so that they are clearly numbered with the “many” (the Gentile peoples) for whom Jesus’ blood is poured out and for whose forgiveness he is raised from death.

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