This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
Sun Storms threaten earth’s systems of protection
10And as Aaron spoke to the whole congregation of the Israelites, they looked towards the wilderness, and the glory of the Lord appeared in the cloud.11The Lord spoke to Moses and said,12‘I have heard the complaining of the Israelites; say to them, “At twilight you shall eat meat, and in the morning you shall have your fill of bread; then you shall know that I am the Lord your God.” ’
13 In the evening quails came up and covered the camp; and in the morning there was a layer of dew around the camp.14When the layer of dew lifted, there on the surface of the wilderness was a fine flaky substance, as fine as frost on the ground.15When the Israelites saw it, they said to one another, ‘What is it?’* For they did not know what it was. Moses said to them, ‘It is the bread that the Lord has given you to eat.16This is what the Lord has commanded: “Gather as much of it as each of you needs, an omer to a person according to the number of persons, all providing for those in their own tents.” ’17The Israelites did so, some gathering more, some less.18But when they measured it with an omer, those who gathered much had nothing over, and those who gathered little had no shortage; they gathered as much as each of them needed.19And Moses said to them, ‘Let no one leave any of it over until morning.’20But they did not listen to Moses; some left part of it until morning, and it bred worms and became foul. And Moses was angry with them.21Morning by morning they gathered it, as much as each needed; but when the sun grew hot, it melted.
Old legends of the desert march recorded by the earliest bible writers were edited into a strict narrative many hundreds of years later. Probably the quails and the manna belong to the old stories although wild life experts tell us that the manna, made by the excretions of insects that live in the Tamarind tree, is harvested in May-June, whereas the exhausted migrating quails don’t appear until September. The clear message is that God feeds his people, not least by forcing them to learn how to gather, use and share his gifts. The nourishment is given each day and cannot be hoarded. It is for all and nobody gets more than others. Some scholars say this event teaches dependence on God. That’s not quite right. Of course the Creator has provided; but the people must find, gather and share. The manna encourages a sort of ideal economy in which everyone works and receives equally. Secret hoarding of the common resource results in nothing more than a bad smell. In this profound old story we find enacted a theology of God’s provision through nature and human effort which in turn teaches an ethic of responsible sharing and strict equality. The fact that we owe the story in its present form to the priestly editors of the Jewish scriptures (3rd/2nd Century BCE) who lived in a much more complex society than the one depicted here, is evidence that they thought it as relevant to their society as it had been to their forefathers. I’m sure Jesus was thinking of this story when he invited his disciples to pray, “Give us this day our bread for today.” In the immensely complex economy in which we live, the story challenges us 1.) to discover God’s good provision for his creatures 2) to gather it (make it, produce it, manufacture it) and 3) share it so that nobody has too much and nobody too little. 4) Not to get too far ahead of ourselves into the unknown future. Such hoarded wealth (as we have lately seen) may turn out to be no more than a bad smell. Aeflheah, an Anglo -Saxon Archbishop of the 11th century, whom the Church remembers today, was murdered by the Danes because he refused to allow his people to use their precious livelihood to pay the ransom demanded by his captors.
12 ‘This is my commandment, that you love one another as I have loved you.13No one has greater love than this, to lay down one’s life for one’s friends.14You are my friends if you do what I command you.15I do not call you servants* any longer, because the servant* does not know what the master is doing; but I have called you friends, because I have made known to you everything that I have heard from my Father.16You did not choose me but I chose you. And I appointed you to go and bear fruit, fruit that will last, so that the Father will give you whatever you ask him in my name.17I am giving you these commands so that you may love one another.<!– 18 –>
The World’s Hatred
18 ‘If the world hates you, be aware that it hated me before it hated you.19If you belonged to the world,* the world would love you as its own. Because you do not belong to the world, but I have chosen you out of the world—therefore the world hates you.20Remember the word that I said to you, “Servants* are not greater than their master.” If they persecuted me, they will persecute you; if they kept my word, they will keep yours also.21But they will do all these things to you on account of my name, because they do not know him who sent me.22If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not have sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin.23Whoever hates me hates my Father also.24If I had not done among them the works that no one else did, they would not have sin. But now they have seen and hated both me and my Father.25It was to fulfil the word that is written in their law, “They hated me without a cause.”
26 ‘When the Advocate* comes, whom I will send to you from the Father, the Spirit of truth who comes from the Father, he will testify on my behalf.27You also are to testify because you have been with me from the beginning.
We have allowed Jesus beautiful words about laying down one’s life for a friend to be appropriated by the military. It is not right that the words of the crucified should be automatically used of people who in the first instance are themselves trained killers. We don’t like to think of our armed forces in that way, but anyone who has watched their training knows that it is a patient, disciplined lesson in how to kill others with the least danger to yourself or your comrades. Of course there is courage amongst them, and acts of self-sacrifice, but it’s important not to let the words Jesus used to describe his own self- sacrifice to be used carelessly to dignify death in war or to conceal its horror.
(Jesus would have understood soldiers and certainly would not have stood in judgment upon them. He would have clearly seen that the automatic use of the langauge of sacrifice for those who are killed in war is a device of the politicans who cause wars and never have to fight in them)
Daily in our world there are people who pour out their lives for others: women who risk their lives giving birth; mothers living amidst famine and drought who give all the available nourishment to their children; men who work in filthy and dangerous conditions to support their families; children who scavenge huge and poisonous rubbish tips to take back a saleable treasure to their families; peaceful protesters in dictatorships who risk their lives for democratic rights; live organ -donors who give part of their own bodies to a dear one or maybe even a stranger; forest peoples who face armed thugs paid by those who want to destroy the forest and those who live in it. All these and many others are worthy of Jesus’ words.
If this sounds harsh to some Christian people, they should remember that their first allegiance is not to their nations but to their Lord. All worldly people will applaud patriotism and the cult of war. But those who belong to Jesus do not belong to the world. Worldly people who hate him, will hate them. Everyone should take Jesus’ warning seriously: those who hate him, hate God. There are worldly people, violent in their words and deeds towards those they despise, who should acknowledge openly that they hate Jesus. That would be more honest than presenting their prejudices as a form of Christianity.
Wilfrid Owen the poet-soldier of the First world War saw the issue of sacrifice clearly. His poor conscript soldiers fighting the deadliest of wars, had no hate for the enemy and laid down their lives while politicians and patiotic clergymen safe at home espoused a vicious patriotism.
He came across stone crucifix from Jesus’ arm had been blown off.
On a Calvary near the Ancre
One ever hangs where shelled roads part;
In this war he too lost a limb;
But his disciples hide apart,
And now the soldiers bear with him.
The Scribes on all the people shove
and bawl allegiance to the state;
But they who love the greater love
lay down their lives; they do not hate.