The readings are from the catholic lectionary for daily mass while the headline is meant to keep my thinking real:
U.S. LATINOS PRAISE OBAMA’S IMMIGRATION MEASURES
Apocalypse 14:1-5 ©
In my vision I, John, saw Mount Zion, and standing on it a Lamb who had with him a hundred and forty-four thousand people, all with his name and his Father’s name written on their foreheads. I heard a sound coming out of the sky like the sound of the ocean or the roar of thunder; it seemed to be the sound of harpists playing their harps. There in front of the throne they were singing a new hymn in the presence of the four animals and the elders, a hymn that could only be learnt by the hundred and forty-four thousand who had been redeemed from the world; they follow the Lamb wherever he goes; they have been redeemed from amongst men to be the first-fruits for God and for the Lamb. They never allowed a lie to pass their lips and no fault can be found in them.
I must begin today’s blog by asking readers to note the danger of translation. Would you ever imagine that the last sentence above reads literally, “These are men who have kept themselves chaste and have not defiled themselves with women.”? Now as it happens I agree with the translator (The Grail translation here) that these words are not intended literally. But that’s what they say and any translator should give the modern readers the words of the text, and leave them to interpret. The 144,000 is a symbolic number based on the 12 tribes of Israel; it stands for all God’s people. The servants of the beast and the servants of the Lamb are both marked with a sign. Sometimes slaves in the ancient world were branded, like sheep in the modern world, with the mark of their owners.
The new hymn can only be sung by God’s servants, a) because they have been faithful even to the point of suffering and b) because they have been given new life. True worship is not lip service. Only those who are faithful to God’s goodness-although faithfulness can include failure- know how to honour God. That’s true of worship here and now in the world. But this rext also notes that the new song can only be sung by those who lives have been completely renewed by God. None of us alive in the world can really sing that song yet altough we are allowed to mumble our way into it when we sing Holy, Holy, Holy, in the sacrament of communion. In that moment we are lifted by the faithfulness of those who have gone before us. and especially by the “faithful and true witness” Jesus Messiah. Worship is a shared mystery because in God’s spirit, life is a shared mystery. We do not live by our own strength, we do not die alone, nor are we rescued by our own merits, but all in company with Jesus and our brothers and sisters. But yet we make our own offering of life and worship. As the hymn says, we bring to God our “peculiar honours.”
The words about chastity are I think, best intepreted here as a metaphor for faithfulness to God and refusal of idol-worship. It’s a common metaphor of the prophets of Israel. Women however may rightly ask how come they can be so often used as images of false Gods. Whatever justification there may be for the biblical language, we should criticise its evident prejudice, which is again seen in the image of the Roman Empire as a fat whore. (Revelation 17) The Bible can only become a word of God when A) it is submitted to the light of Jesus Messiah and B) treated like any human word, that is as an historical utterance.
Luke 21:1-4 ©
As Jesus looked up, he saw rich people putting their offerings into the treasury; then he happened to notice a poverty-stricken widow putting in two small coins, and he said, ‘I tell you truly, this poor widow has put in more than any of them; for these have all contributed money they had over, but she from the little she had has put in all she had to live on.’
Doubtless the contrast between rich donors and poor widows had been made by other teachers. Jesus however makes it a matter of true worship when he says, “She has given her whole “bios”, that is, her life or livelihood. She gives herself; the rich give their money. She is already singing the new song.
Jesus had very little sympathy with pious pretence; he wouldn’t go down well in many churches.