bible blog 1107

This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline form world news:


Burmese monk turns blind eye to ethnic violence

Burmese monk turns blind eye to ethnic violence

2 Samuel 4:1-12

New English Translation (NET)

Ish-bosheth is killed

4 When Ish-bosheth the son of Saul heard that Abner had died in Hebron, he was very disheartened, and all Israel was afraid. Now Saul’s son had two men who were in charge of raiding units; one was named Baanah and the other Recab. They were sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, who was a Benjaminite. (Beeroth is regarded as belonging to Benjamin, for the Beerothites fled to Gittaim and have remained there as resident foreigners until the present time.)

Now Saul’s son Jonathan had a son who was crippled in both feet. He was five years old when the news about Saul and Jonathan arrived from Jezreel. His nurse picked him up and fled, but in her haste to get away, he fell and was injured. Mephibosheth was his name.

Now the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite—Recab and Baanah—went at the hottest part of the day to the home of Ish-bosheth, as he was enjoying his midday rest. They entered the house under the pretense of getting wheat and mortally wounded him in the stomach. Then Recab and his brother Baanah escaped.

They had entered the house while Ish-bosheth was resting on his bed in his bedroom. They mortally wounded him and then cut off his head. Taking his head, they traveled on the way of the Arabah all that night. They brought the head of Ish-bosheth to David in Hebron, saying to the king, “Look! The head of Ish-bosheth son of Saul, your enemy who sought your life! The Lord has granted vengeance to my lord the king this day against Saul and his descendants!”

David replied to Recab and his brother Baanah, the sons of Rimmon the Beerothite, “As surely as the Lord lives, who has delivered my life from all adversity, 10 when someone told me that Saul was dead—even though he thought he was bringing good news—I seized him and killed him in Ziklag. That was the good news I gave to him! 11 Surely when wicked men have killed an innocent man as he slept in his own house, should I not now require his blood from your hands and remove you from the earth?”

12 So David issued orders to the soldiers and they put them to death. Then they cut off their hands and feet and hung them near the pool in Hebron. But they took the head of Ish-bosheth and buried it in the tomb of Abner in Hebron.

Mark 7:1-23

New English Translation (NET)

Breaking Human Traditions

7 Now the Pharisees and some of the experts in the law who came from Jerusalem gathered around him. And they saw that some of Jesus’ disciples ate their bread with unclean hands, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they perform a ritual washing, holding fast to the tradition of the elders. And when they come from the marketplace, they do not eat unless they wash. They hold fast to many other traditions: the washing of cups, pots, kettles, and dining couches.) The Pharisees and the experts in the law asked him, “Why do your disciples not live according to the tradition of the elders, but eat with unwashed hands?” He said to them, “Isaiah prophesied correctly about you hypocrites, as it is written:

harediThis people honors me with their lips,
but their heart is far from me.
They worship me in vain,
teaching as doctrine the commandments of men.’

Having no regard for the command of God, you hold fast to human tradition.” He also said to them, “You neatly reject the commandment of God in order to set up your tradition. 10 For Moses said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever insults his father or mother must be put to death.’ 11 But you say that if anyone tells his father or mother, ‘Whatever help you would have received from me is corban’ (that is, a gift for God), 12 then you no longer permit him to do anything for his father or mother. 13 Thus you nullify the word of God by your tradition that you have handed down. And you do many things like this.”

14 Then he called the crowd again and said to them, “Listen to me, everyone, and understand. 15 There is nothing outside of a person that can defile him by going into him. Rather, it is what comes out of a person that defiles him.”

17 Now when Jesus had left the crowd and entered the house, his disciples asked him about the parable. 18 He said to them, “Are you so foolish? Don’t you understand that whatever goes into a person from outside cannot defile him? 19 For it does not enter his heart but his stomach, and then goes out into the sewer.” (This means all foods are clean.) 20 He said, “What comes out of a person defiles him. 21 For from within, out of the human heart, come evil ideas, sexual immorality, theft, murder, 22 adultery, greed, evil, deceit, debauchery, envy, slander, pride, and folly. 23 All these evils come from within and defile a person.

The narrative in this passage from Samuel is unusually tentative; it limps along, adding a detail here and there. But it’s good enough to show once more David’s canny skill at uniting what is right with what will help his long-term prospects. A pair of ambitious thugs come to him with head of his supposed enemy, the son of Saul. They see their action as simply an episode in a political game which will put them in favour with the new power in the land. David sees it for what it is: the murder of an innocent man in his bed; and he has no hesitation in dispatching the perpetrators. He has exposed them as evil men in spite of their fair words. The reader does not doubt David’s sincerity, nor however his awareness that an obstacle to his advancement has been removed. But David would have waited patiently for the advancement to happen. He knows that Ish-bosheth is not merely an obstacle but “an innocent man sleeping.” He recognises the humanity of those who stand in his way as well as the evil of those who want to help him.

Jesus, in the argument recorded by Mark, is faced with a very different sort of hypocrisy. Pharisees asked ordinary people to keep the law of holiness set out in the Torah, as interpreted by the teachers of their movement. They considered that although the 10 words or commandments were most important, the rules for ritual cleanliness were also important and should be observed by all Jews. Accordingly they criticised the disciples for not observing the ritual hand-washing before meals.  

How did this become so complicated?

How did this become so complicated?

Jesus allies himself with the prophet Isaiah in denouncing what he sees as a trivial formalism masquerading as true obedience. In his view “clean” and “unclean” are issues of moral character rather than ritual.  The food that goes into a person cannot make them unclean; the real filth is the behaviour that comes out of an evil heart. He, like David would have judged the killers of Ish-bosheth as unclean even if they’d washed their bloody hands. But so would the Pharisees. Jesus’ argument is that by adding a whole set of subsidiary practices to the requirements of the Torah, they have made trivial matters as important as fundamental ones, and sometimes as in his example of Corban, more important. He sees that once faith is in the hands of self-appointed experts, it becomes “religious” and is weighed down by all manner of additions that favour those who want to be known as holy.

It would be unfair however not to note that it was precisely the Pharisaic mixture of moral and ritual religion that has enabled Judaism to survive as a diaspora faith for 2000 years; or to ignore the fact that the faith of Jesus has in turn become a religion with all manner of additional duties and pious customs.

Jesus’ teaching, like that of the author of Samuel, is that cleaning the corrupt human heart is much more important than any ritual purification. Those who imagine that what is done with bread and wine, or with the words of the Holy Bible is of first importance should maybe check out this strand of Jesus’ teaching.

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