This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news:
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Common English Bible (CEB)
26 You must not make any idols, and do not set up any divine image or sacred pillar. You must not place any carved[a] stone in your land, bowing down to it, because I am the Lord your God. 2 You must keep my sabbaths and respect my sanctuary; I am the Lord.
3 If you live according to my rules, keep my commands, and do them, 4 I will give you rain at the proper time, the land will produce its yield, and the trees of the field will produce their fruit. 5 Your threshing season will last until the grape harvest, and the grape harvest will last until planting time. You will eat your fill of food and live securely in your land. 6 I will grant peace in the land so that you can lie down without anyone frightening you. I will remove dangerous animals from the land, and no sword will pass through it. 7 You will chase your enemies, and they will fall before you in battle. 8 Five of you will chase away a hundred, and a hundred of you will chase away ten thousand, and your enemies will fall before you in battle. 9 I will turn my face to you, will make you fruitful and numerous, and will keep my covenant with you. 10 You will still be eating the previous year’s harvest when the time will come to clear it out to make room for the new! 11 I will place my dwelling[b] among you, and I will not despise you. 12 I will walk around among you; I will be your God, and you will be my people. 13 I am the Lord your God, who brought you out of Egypt’s land—who brought you out from being Egypt’s slaves. I broke your bonds and made you stand up straight.
14 But if you do not obey me and do not carry out all these commands— 15 if you reject my rules and despise my regulations, not doing all my commands and breaking my covenant— 16 then I will do the following to you:
I will bring horrific things:[c] wasting diseases and fevers that make the eyes fail and drain life away.
You will plant seed for no reason because your enemies will eat the food.
17 I will turn my face against you: you will be defeated by your enemies; those who hate you will rule over you; and you will run away even when no one is chasing you.
18 If, despite all that, you still do not obey me, I will punish you for your sins seven more times: 19 I will destroy your prideful power. I will turn your sky to iron and your land to bronze 20 so that your strength will be spent for no reason: your land will not produce its yield, and the trees of the land won’t produce their fruit.
This passage promises material blessings for the people when they obey the Lord’s commands and material deprivations for when they do not. This materialism is based on the land as the Lord’s gift to his people: it will be fruitful if they observe their covenant with God and barren if they do not. The blessings of health, peace and victory over enemies derive from the land which God has given, as the culmination of his making Israel a free people, able to stand on their own feet. All these blessings can be summed up in the Hebrew word “shalom”, meaning health, fruitfulness, peace and goodness. I have called them “material” to distinguish them from what pious people regard as “spiritual” gifts; they represent genuine prosperity. But as part of this prosperity there is something totally different: “I will place my dwelling amongst you; I will not despise you; I will walk around amongst you.” This law-abiding, peaceful prosperous people will be God’s dwelling place.
Of course the curses on disobedient people are real and devastating deprivations: the very land they have been given will turn against them, creating drought and famine.
The passage contains much ancient material edited and expanded in the 5th/4th centuries BCE after return of Jewish exiles from Babylon. It expresses the faith of Israel’s priests in God’s covenant with Israel and his precious gift of the land of promise. It encourages its readers to interpret past disasters as the result of disobedience to God’s Law and to expect blessings as result of their obedience. The greatest blessing will be God’s holy presence amongst his people.
It is a passionate and beautiful expression of a faith which I do not share.
I see no evidence in this world that obedience to divine justice is rewarded and disobedience punished. Rather I see that millions of decent, God-fearing people have never had a chance, living in perpetual poverty, whereas others have seen their fragile blessings washed away by calamitous floods or brutal oppression. By contrast I see many wicked people living in wealth and security served by paid lackeys and protected by paid thugs.
Jesus of Nazareth also had no faith that obedience to God would bring prosperity; he knew it would bring a cross. But he did tell his disciples that there would be rewards in this life: they would be part of a great family who would share the blessings and the curses of life together and look forward to eternal life with God.
With regard to this eternal life Jesus expected a new world in which the unjust rich would sizzle in the cosmic frying pan while the obedient poor would enjoy the best of stuff. Perhaps his story of the Rich Man and the Poor Man was not meant to be taken too literally but if I were one of the unjust rich, I wouldn’t count on it.
As for the greatest blessing, God’s presence with his people, Jesus promised that to all who keep his way: “When that day comes you will know that I am in my Father, and you in me, and I in you.” He was saying that the life he shared with God the Father would be open to human beings. I’ve not lived a very obedient life, but I’ve tried, and at times I have felt that the holy presence was walking in my shoddy shoes.