bible blog 567

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

THE END OF SUPREME POWER

Gadaffi

Revelation 4:1-11

4After this I looked, and there in heaven a door stood open! And the first voice, which I had heard speaking to me like a trumpet, said, ‘Come up here, and I will show you what must take place after this.’ 2At once I was in the spirit, and there in heaven stood a throne, with one seated on the throne! 3And the one seated there looks like jasper and cornelian, and around the throne is a rainbow that looks like an emerald. 4Around the throne are twenty-four thrones, and seated on the thrones are twenty-four elders, dressed in white robes, with golden crowns on their heads. 5Coming from the throne are flashes of lightning, and rumblings and peals of thunder, and in front of the throne burn seven flaming torches, which are the seven spirits of God; 6and in front of the throne there is something like a sea of glass, like crystal.

Around the throne, and on each side of the throne, are four living creatures, full of eyes in front and behind: 7the first living creature like a lion, the second living creature like an ox, the third living creature with a face like a human face, and the fourth living creature like a flying eagle. 8And the four living creatures, each of them with six wings, are full of eyes all around and inside. Day and night without ceasing they sing,

‘Holy, holy, holy,

the Lord God the Almighty,

who was and is and is to come.’

9And whenever the living creatures give glory and honour and thanks to the one who is seated on the throne, who lives for ever and ever, 10the twenty-four elders fall before the one who is seated on the throne and worship the one who lives for ever and ever; they cast their crowns before the throne, singing,

11 ‘You are worthy, our Lord and God,

to receive glory and honour and power,

for you created all things,

and by your will they existed and were created.’

blasphemous parody of divine power

This is a vision of the heavenly court which is modelled on earthly courts such as the Persian or the Roman where rulers are praised by assembled bands of courtiers and are given extravagant titles such as “King of Kings” or “Lord and God”. The Christian version of God’s court emphasises that only the one God is to be offered such glory. All other glorification is idolatry. The poetic imagery of heaven emphasises its beauty, light and clarity; while the elders and the living creatures offer the liturgy of creation to its creator. The imagery itself is taken from Ezekiel and Isaiah but its meaning is changed: the elders probably number two 12’s because of the twelve tribes and the twelve apostles; and the living creatures number four representing the four “corners” of the earth, ie. they stand for all living things. Their worship implicitly rejects the cult of earthly powers: “YOU are worthy”. Only the creator should receive human adoration. Robert Burns, the Scottish poet not noted for his theology, once said, “No words speak more of the dignity of Man than these: ‘Let us worship God’” The human head should be bowed to no one other than the Creator. This vision establishes at the outset the firm message of The Revelation that true power, and therefore true glory, belongs only to God and that unjust earthly powers are idolatrous parodies of heaven. God’s power, as we are about to learn, works in a way which is utterly different from unjust power.

The Revelation, written as it is in response to the injustices of Roman Imperialism, is one of the clear sources of the political theology of the Christian church, as it directly deals with issues of political power, injustice, persecution. Even this passage encouraged the “great refusal” of the first Christians to burn incense to the Emperor, a refusal which sometimes cost them their lives.

 Matthew 13:1-9

13That same day Jesus went out of the house and sat beside the lake. 2Such great crowds gathered around him that he got into a boat and sat there, while the whole crowd stood on the beach. 3And he told them many things in parables, saying: ‘Listen! A sower went out to sow. 4And as he sowed, some seeds fell on the path, and the birds came and ate them up. 5Other seeds fell on rocky ground, where they did not have much soil, and they sprang up quickly, since they had no depth of soil. 6But when the sun rose, they were scorched; and since they had no root, they withered away. 7Other seeds fell among thorns, and the thorns grew up and choked them. 8Other seeds fell on good soil and brought forth grain, some a hundredfold, some sixty, some thirty. 9Let anyone with ears listen!’ 

By Matthew’s time this parable had been inextricable merged with the parable of the soils, and was understood in terms of the human response to God’s word. We can still discern, however, in the parable itself an earlier meaning which is focused on the sower and the seed, rather than the soil. The sower is not dismayed by the apparently wasted seed; no farmer stops sowing because some seed falls on poor soil, because he knows that what he sows will be amazingly fruitful when it lands in good soil. Jesus’ original emphasis was on the confidence of the sower and the fruitfulness of the seed. Those who are dismayed by the apparent failures of God’s rule in the world, need to think about the sower. Those who expect instant and overwhelming rule by God expect Him to use the methods of earthly power. They are wrong, Jesus says: God has the patience and confidence of the farmer.

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