bible blog 596

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

Portugese protest against impoverishment 

AMOS CH 2: 6-16

This is what the Lord says:

Because of outrage after outrage committed by Israel

I will not relent!

For they have sold the innocent for a handful of silver,

And needy men for a pair of shoes.

They grind the faces of the poor into the dust,

And force the humble out of his rightful path.

Father and son use the same temple-girl,

And so defile my holy name.

Beside every altar they lounge on garments which they

took in pledge,

And in the houses of their gods they drink away the

money they imposed in fines.

Yet it was I who destroyed the Amorite before your eyes,

A man as tall as cedar and strong as oak.

7 But I destroyed his fruit above the ground, and his roots

below.

And that you might inherit the land of the Amorite,

10 It was I who brought you up out of the land of Egypt,

And led you in the wilderness for forty years.

It was I, too, who raised up some of your sons to be

prophets,

And some of your young men to be Nazirites.

Is this not true, you children of Israel?

This is the Lord himself speaking to you.

12 But you forced the Nazirites to drink wine,

And forbade the prophets to prophesy.

13 Look, I will make you groan in your tracks beneath my

weight,

As the sheaf-covered earth groans beneath the weight of

the loaded cart!

14 Swiftness of foot will prove no escape,

The strong man’s strength will avail him nothing,

And the fighting man will not escape alive,

The archer will not stand his ground,

And the fleet of foot will not run clear,

Nor will the horseman make his escape.

16 In that day the bravest warrior will take to his heels,

And run away, stripped and unarmed!

This is the order of the Lord.

 

16th century etching of Amos at the door of a rich house

I’ve used the great translation by JB Philips in “Four Prophets” which is hard to find these days. It successfully renders the crackling poetry of the prophets of the 8th century BC. Amos especially created splendid rhetorical devices for miming the justice of God. This passage is just the (unexpected) culmination of a series of God’s judgments on Israel’s neighbouring states. Naturally Israel’s God will not relent from punishing them. Even when Amos speaks of a judgment on Judah, a part of the chosen people, the Israeli listener (the judgments were declaimed publicly) may not have guessed the outcome. Then it pours out, the invective of God’s anger, his outrage at the social injustice, greed and idolatry of the rich of Israel. Amos tells his hearers that he is not a professional religious prophet but a herdsman from rural Tekoa. The dry passion of his language becomes a characteristic of Hebrew prophecy. His metaphors often come from the countryside: God’s wrath will crush his people as a full-laden cart crushes the ground. Something of Amos’ grasp of God’s anger is found even in the very different language of Jesus eight centuries later. The excessive greed, frivolity, meanness and amorality of Israel’s rich are memorably delineated; and stand as an image of such people throughout history, as we’ve seen in the U.K. today.

Does Amos simply attribute the rage of the poor to his God? Not quite. He believes that a God of justice must feel even more outrage than the victims of injustice, not only on their behalf but on behalf also of his own insulted holiness. This theology remains a central element in the Christian faith and requires as vigorous expression now as then.

Matthew 21:1-11

21When they had come near Jerusalem and had reached Bethphage, at the Mount of Olives, Jesus sent two disciples, 2saying to them, ‘Go into the village ahead of you, and immediately you will find a donkey tied, and a colt with her; untie them and bring them to me. 3If anyone says anything to you, just say this, “The Lord needs them.” And he will send them immediately.’ 4This took place to fulfil what had been spoken through the prophet, saying,

5 ‘Tell the daughter of Zion,

Look, your king is coming to you,

humble, and mounted on a donkey,

and on a colt, the foal of a donkey.’

6The disciples went and did as Jesus had directed them; 7they brought the donkey and the colt, and put their cloaks on them, and he sat on them. 8A very large crowd spread their cloaks on the road, and others cut branches from the trees and spread them on the road. 9The crowds that went ahead of him and that followed were shouting,

‘Hosanna to the Son of David!

Blessed is the one who comes in the name of the Lord!

Hosanna in the highest heaven!’

10When he entered Jerusalem, the whole city was in turmoil, asking, ‘Who is this?’ 11The crowds were saying, ‘This is the prophet Jesus from Nazareth in Galilee.’

"..ears like errant wings/ the devil's walking parody/ on all fourfooted things. (Chesterton)

Matthew’s commitment to the fulfilment of prophecy is such that when he misunderstands the poetic parallelism of Zechariah’s words to mean two beasts, he actually envisages Jesus mounted on a donkey and a colt. It’s possible nevertheless that Jesus himself, knowing the prophecy arranged to enter Jerusalem on a donkey, and possible also that some people understood his meaning: the claim to be Messiah –of a sort! He comes in peace and humility to create peace. Eventually all Christian writing speak of Jesus as “the Christ (Messiah), but it’s clear from the gospel stories of Jesus’ reluctance to broadcast this title, that either he or his disciples or his compatriots felt it didn’t fit him comfortably. In this story Jesus seems to have found a scriptural role he could play with enthusiasm and perhaps, humour. His entry to the city is an acted parody of a Roman triumph and undermines conventional ideas of power. The profundity and wit of Jesus’ public statement are a model for how his 21st century followers should represent his cause. Just shouting about injustice is better than silence but it’s not Jesus’ way. His demonstration illustrates an alternative while putting himself in real danger.

2 comments

  1. MIke,

    Hope you and your family are well at this time. As ever I find your daily meditations enlightening and challenging.

    A couple of things going on for me at this time:

    1. You say that when Jesus speaks of the Son of Man that this means Jesus and his followers. Yet when he speaks of the Son of Man having to be killed yet rise again after three days, this seems to me to be quite personal rather than communal.

    2. You have noted on a number of occasions how following Jesus can lead to division within families. Yet for example when he encounters the rich man, as we saw in one of last week’s readings, he highlighted the commandment to honour father and mother. Again for me an apparent contradiction.

    Hope this makes sense.

    All the best,

    Steve

    1. Thanks Steve, good to hear from you. We’re all well. Eleanor graduates B.D on Wednesday!
      As to the “Son of Man”. If I could solve the problem of Jesus’ reprted use of this term, I’d be famous as a scholar.

      Firstly, in the book of Daniel chapter 7, where Jesus learned the language of the Son of Man, there is no doubt that the Son of Man seen in the vision is identified with the “holy ones of the most high” who are to rule the earth. The one figure “represents” the many.

      Secondly, you say that when Jesus refers to the Son of Man dying and rising after three days, this is clearly personal and therefore descriptive of Jesus alone. Well yes, we know that Jesus went alone to his cross, but did he know that in advance? Or might he not have expected one or two disciples to suffer with him, and to rise with him? And even if He had a shrewd notion that they’d run away at that point, he also explixcitly says they will drink the cup of suffering that he drinks, and sit on twelve thrones to guide the people of God.

      Thirdly, it helps to distinguish the three days of Jesus’ prophecy from the literal three days of gospel narrative. In Jesus’ language the “third day” is simply the day when God acts.

      Fourthly, although I can’t prove it, it seems to me that even when Jesus acted alone he did so in consciousness of acting as the pioneer for his people. His suffering and his resurrection are ultimately communal: we all share them as the Son of Man.

      As regards the command to love parents, we have to set it against Jesus words about “hating” parents. I’m sure he held to the commandment and taught others to do so. We should honour our parents. But just as he found it necessary to be harsh to his mother and brothers, when he refused to see them, we may have to insist that parental love must let go of children; and that in extreme instances our parents may force us to choose between them and Christ. When that is so, we must have the courage to honour parents by our disobedience.

      That doesn’t however deal with the other issue, which is abusive parents. In that case it seems to me, that command is lifted, and we are left with Jesus’ sombre warnings to those who harm the little ones.

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