THis blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
CHINA STRUGGLES WITH FLOOD RECOVERY
5 Why should I fear in times of trouble, when the iniquity of my persecutors surrounds me,
6 those who trust in their wealth and boast of the abundance of their riches?
7 Truly, no ransom avails for one’s life,* there is no price one can give to God for it.
8 For the ransom of life is costly, and can never suffice,
9 that one should live on for ever and never see the grave.*
10 When we look at the wise, they die; fool and dolt perish together and leave their wealth to others.
11 Their graves* are their homes for ever, their dwelling-places to all generations, though they named lands their own.
12 Mortals cannot abide in their pomp; they are like the animals that perish.
13 Such is the fate of the foolhardy, the end of those* who are pleased with their lot. Selah
14 Like sheep they are appointed for Sheol; Death shall be their shepherd;
straight to the grave they descend,* and their form shall waste away; Sheol shall be their home.*
15 But God will ransom my soul from the power of Sheol, for he will receive me.
This “wisdom” psalm speaks in traditional language about the frailty of human life and the uselessness of human wealth. This is a kind of wisdom that Israel shared with neighbouring cultures. Similar thinking can be found in Babylon, Egypt and Greece. Nevertheless the Jewsish tradition adds its distinctively moral note which emphasises goodness and justice as worthwhile because they are pleasing to God, who alone can ransom souls from the shadowy realm of Sheol. There is grim humour in this passage which tells the wealthy that paying a ramsom to free their lives from the power of death is a bit expensive even for them. The humour expresses a fundamentally egalitarian view: whatever the inequalities in life, these are erased by death. Even the very wisdom which allows the psalmist to see the truth will not survive. Only God gives hope.
Jesus before the High Priest
57 Those who had arrested Jesus took him to Caiaphas the high priest, in whose house the scribes and the elders had gathered.58But Peter was following him at a distance, as far as the courtyard of the high priest; and going inside, he sat with the guards in order to see how this would end.59Now the chief priests and the whole council were looking for false testimony against Jesus so that they might put him to death,60but they found none, though many false witnesses came forward. At last two came forward61and said, ‘This fellow said, “I am able to destroy the temple of God and to build it in three days.” ’62The high priest stood up and said, ‘Have you no answer? What is it that they testify against you?’63But Jesus was silent. Then the high priest said to him, ‘I put you under oath before the living God, tell us if you are the Messiah,* the Son of God.’64Jesus said to him, ‘You have said so. But I tell you,
From now on you will see the Son of Man seated at the right hand of Power and coming on the clouds of heaven.’
65Then the high priest tore his clothes and said, ‘He has blasphemed! Why do we still need witnesses? You have now heard his blasphemy.66What is your verdict?’ They answered, ‘He deserves death.’67Then they spat in his face intand struck him; and some slapped him,68saying, ‘Prophesy to us, you Messiah!*Who is it that struck you?’
The trial of Jesus reveals a typical religious intolerance of any opposing view. The supposed holiness of the “cause” justifies lies, abuse and injustice. Jesus’ words about the “son of man” refer to an image from the book of Daniel, which would have been known to his prosecutors, where it stands for the true kingdom of God. It’s not at all clear why this reference is considered blasphemous by the High Priest-indeed even a claim to be the Messiah would not have been so in law. Perhaps Matthew is reading back into the trial of Jesus the decision of the post AD 70 rabbis to expel believers in Messiah Jesus from the Jewish community. All the gospel writers place the main blame for Jesus’ death on the religious leaders of Israel; and characterise the Roman adminstration as duped or pressurised. We should be careful about accepting the gospel picture uncritically. Nevertheless, the heart of the tradition -that Jesus was rejected by the religious establishment of his own people- seems solid enough and is the basis of all the Gospel narratives. Sometimes religion provides a motive for the worst human behaviour.This is happening in Russia at present where the corrupt establishment of the Orthodox Church is persecuting a group of young women, who call themselves, “Pussy Riot” and have been imprisoned for “hooliganism” because they sang a song to Mary, in Moscow Cathedral, which asked her to get rid of President Putin. In standing up for democratic values against the might of Putin and his henchmen, they were surely doing the job the Church should have been doing in God’s name. But no, the Church authorities have called them blasphemers (as the Sanhedrin called Jesus) although here is no evidence that any blasphemy, other than disrespect for corrupt religious authority, took place. In spite of their provocative name, these young women are “speakers of truth” and the Russian “high priests” are purveyors of lies and malevolence, especially in their demands that the women and their helpers should be punished by the state. If we are members of Christian churches w should ask our chuch authorities to remonstrate with the Russian hierarchy. If we have Russian Orthdox chuches in our town or city we should let them know that the actions of their hierachy are damaging the reputation of all churches. Yes, there are many isues which demand our attention but this is one which is the direct responsibility of a Christian Church