Category Archives: Daily Office readings

Background and color commentary on highlighted readings from the Daily Office Lectionary

Psalm 22 and the “Passion of Jesus”

Holy Week started with “Jesus riding on a donkey in his triumphal entry into Jerusalem …”

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Holy Week is upon us.  It’s the last week of Lent.  (Which started back on March 1, with Ash Wednesday, as shown at right).  And it’s the week that leads up to Easter Sunday.  (This year, April 16.) 

Holy Week begins with Palm Sunday and includes “Holy Wednesday (also known as Spy Wednesday), Maundy Thursday (also known as Holy Thursday), Good Friday (Holy Friday), and Holy Saturday.”

Which sets up the reference to Psalm 22.  It was a Daily Office Reading for Friday, April 7, and Psalm 22 is inextricably intertwined with the “Passion of Jesus.”  (A reference to the “2004 American biblical epic drama film directed by Mel Gibson,” alluded to in the post title.)

Scholars believe that Psalm 22 was written some 600 years before Jesus was born.  (That is, in the “pre-exilic period … before the Babylonian destruction of Jerusalem in 587.)  The first words of the Psalm – at least in the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible, shown at left – are “Deus, Deus meus.”  In English we know the verse better as “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”

We know that verse well because that’s the psalm Jesus quoted on the cross, as told in Matthew 27:46:  “About the ninth hour, Jesus cried out in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?'”  (See also Mark 15:34.)  

What most people don’t realize is that Psalm 22:1 goes on:  “Why are you so far from saving me, so far from my cries of anguish?”  (And that’s a thought many have had from time to time…)

Then there is Psalm 22, verse 16, which reads in part, “they pierce my hands and my feet.”

Which is pretty much what they did to Jesus at the Crucifixion.

In that historical method of capital punishment – as shown at right – “the victim is tied or nailed to a large wooden beam and left to hang for several days until eventual death from exhaustion and asphyxiation.”

(But see also 10 Misconceptions About Jesus: [He] was pierced through His hands.  The article noted among other things that there was a “translation difficulty” involving the original Greek word usually translated as hand:  “The word xeiros, which we translate to ‘hand’ has a wider semantic range.”  Then there is the fact that – anatomically speaking – the “bones and tendons of the hand simply do not have the strength to hold the weight of the body without the nail ripping through.  The easiest and strongest place to hammer a nail is through the wrist, between the ulna and radius bones.”

And finally comes Psalm 22:18.  In the NIV it reads:  “They divide my clothes among them and cast lots for my garment.”  That verse from Psalm 22 was mirrored in Matthew 27:35:  “When they had crucified Him, they divided up His garments by casting lots.”

So, in order, Matthew 27 tells first of Judas Iscariot hanging himself for betraying Jesus.  Then comes “Jesus Before Pilate,” followed by “The Soldiers Mock Jesus” and “The Crucifixion of Jesus.”  Finally there is “The Death of Jesus,” with its three references to Psalm 22.  

gospelgeeks.netThe first reference came with the Crucifixion (Matthew 27:32-44), when Roman soldiers nailed Jesus to the cross.  They fulfilled the prophecy in Psalm 22:16, which notes, “they pierce my hands and my feet.”  (Or feet and wrists, depending on the translation of the Greek wordxeiros.”)  Then came Matthew 27:35, “When they had crucified him, they divided up his clothes by casting lots.”

And finally, in Matthew 27:46 Jesus quotes Psalm 22:1, crying out “in a loud voice, ‘Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?’ which means, ‘My God, My God, why have you forsaken Me?’”

All of which is pretty depressing, at first blush.  But here’s a spoiler alert:  There is a happy ending, and we get to find out all about it next Sunday…

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Thepassionposterface-1-.jpg

Another hint: Good Friday leads to the happy ending…

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The upper image is courtesy of Palm Sunday (Wikipedia).  The full caption:  “Jesus riding on a donkey in his triumphal entry into Jerusalem depicted by James Tissot.”  I used the image in 2015’s On Holy Week – and hot buns.  See also On Holy Week – 2016.

The full readings for Friday April 7 were “AM Psalm 95 & 22;  PM Psalm 141, 143:1-11(12)
Jer. 29:1,4-13; Rom. 11:13-24; John 11:1-27 or 12:1-10.”

For further information on Psalm 22:16 see They have pierced my hands and my feet – Wikipedia.

The “crucifixion” image is courtesy of the Wikipedia article.  The caption:  “‘Crucifixion of Jesus’ by Marco Palmezzano (Uffizi, Florence), painting c. 1490.”

The lower image is courtesy of Passion of the Christ – Wikipedia.  The full caption for this theatrical release poster reads:  “This is a poster for the MOPTOP #1 The Passion of the Christ. The poster art copyright is believed to belong to the distributor of the film.”  Further provisos:  1) Under the heading Portion Used:  “The entire poster: because the image is poster art, a form of product packaging or service marketing, the entire image is needed to identify the product or service, properly convey the meaning and branding intended, and avoid tarnishing or misrepresenting the image.”  2)  Under Other information:  “Use of the poster art in the article complies with Wikipedia non-free content policy and fair use under United States copyright law as described above.”

On Moses and Paul “dumbing it down…”

In writing his Letter to the Romans, the Apostle Paul – like Moses – “had to really dumb it down…”

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I should note first that Friday March 25 was the Feast of the “Annunciation.”  That celebrates the day – nine months before Christmas – that the Virgin Mary “would conceive and become the mother of Jesus.”  (See last year’s Annunciation “gets the ball rolling,” and also An Annunciation-Good Friday anamoly, which noted that in 2016 the Annunciation was celebrated on Good Friday; thus the anomaly, an “odd, peculiar, orstrange condition, situation, quality, etc.”)

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Philippe de Champaigne - Moses with the Ten Commandments - WGA04717.jpgI ended the last post by observing that when he wrote the first five books of the Bible, Moses – at right – had to really dumb it down.

In plain words, when he wrote the Torah Moses was forced by circumstances “to use language and concepts that his ‘relatively-pea-brained contemporary audience’ could understand.’”

Moses was addressing an audience of the largely “unwashed” … illiterate men and women who had been trained since birth to be “mindless, docile slaves…”  Suppose Moses had mentioned dinosaurs in his writings.  Or how “we” revolve around that “big bright thing in the sky.”  The result would have been similar to what nearly happened [in] Exodus 17:4, “Moses cried out to the LORD, ‘What should I do with these people?  They are ready to stone me!’”

(See My “pain in the back.”)  Which is one good reason why Moses wouldn’t have mentioned dinosaurs, or said things like “the earth we live on actually revolves around that ‘big bright thing in the sky.'”  If he had told his contemporary audience such things he would have gotten stoned, burned at the stake or worse.  (See On Moses getting stoned.)

Which is another way of saying that all the people who wrote the Bible had to keep in mind the human limitations of their audience.  They were trying to put incomprehensible things into plain and simple language that even the most obtuse dolt could understand.  Or to paraphrase Sir Kenneth Clark, the people who wrote the Bible had to have the intellectual power to make God comprehensible.

Which is no mean trick.

And which brings up one main theme of this blog:  That reading the Bible means operating on at least two different planes.  The first is the literal plane, the literal story of Jesus – which is so simple that even a child can understand it.  But understanding the second plane requires more thought, more persistence, more work – and having more of an open mind.

Which is another way of saying that no one can ever know all there is to know about the Bible.

There will always be more to learn…

Which is pretty much the point the Apostle Paul – seen at right – was trying to make in Romans 6:19.  (From one of the Daily Office Readings for Saturday, March 25.)  In the New International Version the passage reads:  “I am using an example from everyday life because of your human limitations.”  In the International Standard Version:  “I am speaking in simple terms because of the frailty of your human nature.”

But either way you translate the passage, the point is that Paul – like Moses – “had to really dumb it down.”  But that was also pretty much the point of Isaiah 55:8-9:

“For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,”
declares the Lord.  “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts.

Then too, Paul made pretty much the same point in Galatians 4:21-5:1, one of today’s New Testament Daily Office Readings.  Specifically, in Galatians 4:24 he used an allegory.  (The image at left shows a “Christian allegorical map of The Journey of Life.”)

Paul used this allegory – in Galatians 4:21-5:1 – to illustrate the difference between salvation through faith in Jesus and – reasonably interpreted – trying to achieve salvation through following the “letter of the law:”

Now this is an allegory:  these women are two covenants.  One woman, in fact, is Hagar, from Mount Sinai, bearing children for slavery…  But the other woman [“Sarai,” or Sarah, the wife of Abraham] corresponds to the Jerusalem above;  she is free, and she is our mother.

See also the GOD’S WORD® Translation of Galatians 4:24, which has Paul saying, “I’m going to use these historical events as an illustration.  The women illustrate two arrangements.”

Which – you could say – is what the Bible does on a regular basis:  Use “historical events as an illustration.”  And then of course there’s the end of John’s Gospel, John 21:25:  “Now there are also many other things that Jesus did.  Were every one of them to be written, I suppose that the world itself could not contain the books that would be written.”

Or as it says in the Matthew Henry Commentary for John 21:25:

Only a small part of the actions of Jesus had been written…  Enough is recorded to direct our faith, and regulate our practice…  We may, however, look forward to the joy we shall receive in heaven, from a more complete knowledge of all Jesus did and said, as well as of the conduct of his providence and grace in his dealings with each of us.

Which seems to be a fact that many Biblical literalists seem to overlook.  You begin your process of Bible-reading and study by “learning the fundamentals.”  But then – after your spiritual boot camp – you’ll want to move on to more Advanced Individual Training, as noted below.  That way – using an open-minded approach – you can get a head start on gaining a “more complete knowledge” of all that Jesus did and said, as well as a knowledge of the whole Bible itself.

And which brings up one final point for today:

“It was never ‘contrary to Scripture’ that the earth revolved around the sun.  It was only contrary to a narrow-minded, pigheaded, too-literal reading of the Scripture…”

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Galileo facing the Inquisition, for saying the earth revolved around the sun…

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The upper image is courtesy of the Wikipedia article on the Apostle Paul.  The caption:  “‘Paul Writing His Epistles,’ painting attributed to Valentin de Boulogne, 17th century.”

The full Daily Office Bible readings for Saturday, March 25, include:  “AM Psalm 87, 90; PM Psalm 136Jeremiah 13:1-11; Rom. 6:12-23; John 8:47-59.”  See also The Annunciation:  “AM: Psalm 85, 87; Isaiah 52:7-12; Hebrews 2:5-10  PM: Psalm 110:1-5(6-7), 132;Wisdom 9:1-12John 1:9-14.”  See also The Lectionary – Satucket Software Home Page.

The Kenneth Clark paraphrase is from the hardcover book version of Clark’s Civilisation (TV series). On pages 84-85 of the book, Clark compared the poet Dante with the painter Giotto.  Then on page 85, Clark noted the differences between the two men, beginning with the fact that “their imaginations moved on very different planes.”  But in the film version – and only in the film or TV version – Clark said Dante had  “that heroic contempt for baseness that was to come again in Michelangelo.   Above all, that vision of a heavenly order and the intellectual power to make it comprehensible.”  Which is the phrase that drew my attention…  See also Wikipedia, for more on the TV series.

The “allegory” image is courtesy of Wikipedia’s Allegorical interpretation of the Bible, referring to the:

…interpretive method (exegesis) which assumes that the Bible has various levels of meaning and tends to focus on the spiritual sense (which includes the allegorical sense, the moral (or tropological) sense, and the anagogical sense) as opposed to the literal sense.  It is sometimes referred to as the Quadriga, a reference to the Roman chariot drawn by four horses.

The full caption for the map image reads:  “Christian allegorical map of The Journey of Life, or an Accurate Map of the Roads, Counties, Towns &c. in the Ways to Happiness & Misery, 1775.”

Re:  “Sarai,” or Sarah, the wife of Abraham.  Wikipedia noted that she was “the wife and also the half–sister of Abraham and the mother of Isaac…  According to Genesis 17:15, God ‘changed her name to Sarah as part of a covenant after Hagar bore Abraham his first son, Ishmael.'”

The lower image – Cristiano Banti‘s 1857 painting Galileo facing the Roman Inquisition” – is from a prior post (The latest from a “None“) and is courtesy of the article, Heresy – Wikipedia:

Galileo Galilei was brought before the Inquisition for heresy, but abjured his views and was sentenced to house arrest, under which he spent the rest of his life. Galileo was found “vehemently suspect of heresy,” namely of having held the opinions that the Sun lies motionless at the centre of the universe, that the Earth is not at its centre and moves, and that one may hold and defend an opinion as probable after it has been declared contrary to Holy Scripture.  He was required to “abjure, curse and detest” those opinions. (E.A.)

Note that Galileo almost got burned at the stake – for saying the earth revolved around the sun – almost 3,000 after Moses was trying to lead his people to “the Promised Land…”

The “Overlooked Apostle,” Ruth and Mardi Gras

The French term for Fat Tuesday is Mardi Gras – which is now a generic term for “Let’s Party!!

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St. Matthias, from a 1708 Book of Common PrayerIn case you missed it, last Friday, February 24, was the Feast Day for St. Matthias.  (The “Overlooked Apostle” – as seen at right – of which more anon.)   Then too, the end of the Book of Ruth came last Saturday, February 25, in the Daily Office Bible Readings.  And finally, Lent begins next Wednesday – March 1 – and that season of penance and fasting is preceded by Mardi Gras.

I wrote about St. Matthias in St. Matthias – and “Father Roberts.”

Briefly, Matthias was the apostle who took the place of Judas Iscariot.  (After Judas killed himself.)  Then too, Matthias is not to be confused with either St. Matthew – who wrote the first Gospel – or with Mattathias, who rebelled against the Roman Empire just before Jesus was born.  (And who in turn was the father of Judas Maccabeus, “the greatest guerrilla in Jewish history.”)

You can see more about this “substitute 12th Apostle” at St. Matthias, or in the post about him and “Father Roberts,” noted above.  But unfortunately we know so little about him that he is often referred to either as  “Unremarkable Matthias” or the “Overlooked Apostle.”

Turning to the Book of Ruth:  It’s about ”Ruth the Moabitess, the great-grandmother of David.”

 Also briefly, she – a foreigner – chose to accept the God of Israel as her God, and the Children of Israel as her people.  And this was despite the disasters that happened to her mother-in-law Naomi, as shown at left.  Naomi’s other daughter-in-law, Orpah, decided to leave Naomi, as also shown at left.  (And a BTW:  Oprah Winfrey was originally named “Orpah,” but people got confused.*)

But it was the words that Ruth used – in refusing to leave Naomi – that made her famous:

And Ruth said, “Intreat me not to leave thee, or to return from following after thee:  for whither thou goest, I will go;  and where thou lodgest, I will lodge:  thy people shall be my people,  and thy God my God:  Where thou diest, will I die, and there will I be buried:  the LORD do so to me, and more also, if ought but death part thee and me.”

And that of course was the highly-poetic King James Version.  (Which is of course “the Bible that God uses.”  And for more, see also Ruth (biblical figure) – Wikipedia.)

Finally, there’s the upcoming season of Lent to talk about.  I addressed the season last year in On Ash Wednesday and Lent – 2016.  That post noted that Lent is a season devoted to “prayer, penance, repentance of sins, almsgiving, atonement and self-denial.”  But it also noted that that season of self-denial is preceded by “Fat Tuesday.”  That’s the day before Ash Wednesday, which means that this year Fat Tuesday is February 28.

The French term for Fat Tuesday is Mardi Gras, and Mardi Gras is now a generic term for “Let’s Party!!”  Or as As Wikipedia put it, “Popular practices on Mardi Gras include wearing masks and costumes, overturning social conventions, dancing, sports competitions, parades, debauchery, etc.”  That “debauchery, etc.” has come to include “showing skin for beads” as part of an “alcohol-fueled, nudity-filled bacchanal.”  But because this party-time comes right before the beginning of Lent, there’s an object lesson here.  That lesson?  That “to every thing there is a season…  A time to weep, and a time to laugh;  a time to mourn, and a time to dance…*”

Have a happy and spiritually-fulfilling Season of Lent…

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mardi gras

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The upper image is courtesy of Mardi Gras Information & Updatesnola.gov.

The black-and-white image of St. Matthias is courtesy of St. Matthias, in the Satucket website listing the Daily Office readings.

Re:  St Matthias, Apostle.  The full set of Bible readings for his feast day are:  Acts 1:15-26Psalm 15Philippians 3:13-21 and John 15:1,6-16.  The Satucket website had this to add:

The man chosen [to replace Judas] was Matthias…  Apart from the information given in the first chapter of Acts, nothing is known of him…  [And a]bout most of the other apostles (those belonging to the original twelve and later ones like Matthias) we know little after Pentecost on an individual basis.

The caption for the image of Naomi, Ruth and Orpah:  “Naomi entreating Ruth and Orpah to return to the land of Moab by William Blake, 1795.”

“Note” also that an asterisk in the main text indicates a statement supported by a reference detailed further in this “notes” section.  Thus as to people getting confused about “Orpah” Winfrey, see Oprah Winfrey – Wikipedia:  “Winfrey was named ‘Orpah‘ on her birth certificate after the biblical figure in the Book of Ruth, but people mispronounced it regularly and ‘Oprah’ stuck.”  Also, the caption for the photo at left:  “Winfrey on the first national broadcast of The Oprah Winfrey Show in 1986.”

Re:  “To every thing there is a season.”  See Turn! Turn! Turn! – Wikipedia, referring to the song written by Pete Seeger in the late 1950s, which “became an international hit in late 1965 when it was covered by the American folk rock band The Byrds.”  In turn the lyrics were taken “almost verbatim from the book of Ecclesiastes, as found in the King James Version (1611) of the Bible,” at Ecclesiastes 3:1-8.  

The lower image is courtesy of A Brief History of Mardi Gras – Photo Essays – TIME, which noted that “Mardi Gras isn’t all nudity and drunken debauchery (though, yes, there is definitely nudity and drunken debauchery).  [Emphasis in original.]  The blurb below the lower image added:

Mardi Gras’ reputation as an alcohol-fueled, nudity-filled bacchanal is not completely unearned.  In 1973 … the tradition of showing skin for beads began.  Native New Orleanians despise the reputation, and rarely venture into the Quarter during Carnival season.

On the “creepy” end of Isaiah…

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Since November 27, 2016, all the Daily Office Old Testament readings have been from the Book of Isaiah.  (As illustrated at right.)  The final reading from the Book of Isaiah came today, Sunday, February 19, 2017.  (That works out to a total of 85 consecutive daily Bible readings from Isaiah.)  And which also could be translated:  That is one long book!  

That final reading was Isaiah 66:7-14.  And parts of that final Bible reading reminded me of the ending of a more-recent tome, John Steinbeck’s controversial Grapes of Wrath:

At the time of publication, Steinbeck’s novel “was a phenomenon on the scale of a national event.  It was publicly banned and burned by citizens, it was debated on national talk radio; but above all, it was read.”

One big reason the novel got banned and burned was its “surprise ending.”

Briefly, the ending features a grown woman breast-feeding a starving man.

That is, near the book’s end, the Joad family finds shelter in a barn from flooding rains.  There they find a boy and his starving father.  “Rose of Sharon,” one of the characters, has just miscarried; lost her baby.  But seeing the starving father, she feeds him from her breast:

Rose of Sharon loosened one side of the blanket and bared her breast.  “You got to,” she said. She squirmed closer and pulled his head close.  “There!” she said.  “There.”  Her hand moved behind his head and supported it.  Her fingers moved gently in his hair.  She looked up and across the barn, and her lips came together and smiled mysteriously.

JohnSteinbeck TheGrapesOfWrath.jpgSee Is This The Creepiest Ending Ever? | 101 Books.  Which pretty much gives away that blogger’s opinion.  For one thing, he started off the post by saying, “If you’ve read the novel, you know that last paragraph is just weird – and a little graphic.”

He ended by noting there was “all kinds of symbolism going on there” – in the book version, shown at left – but that nevertheless, Steinbeck wrote a “creepy, uncomfortable ending.”  He then asked,  “Am I wrong here?  Is that possibly the creepiest ending in all of literature?”

Well, not quite.  And that brings us back to Isaiah 66:7-14.

Overall, the reading is one giving comfort to a long-suffering people.  As in Isaiah 66:13: “As a mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you…  When you see this, your heart will rejoice and you will flourish like grass.”  But right before that came some really graphic imagery:

Rejoice with Jerusalem, and be glad for her, all you who love her;  rejoice with her in joy … that you may nurse and be satisfied from her consoling breast;  that you may drink deeply with delight from her glorious bosom.

See Isaiah 66:10-11.  Of course, to my knowledge no one has debated whether this “graphic ending” to the Book of Isaiah was good and proper.  (As in Grapes of Wrath – The debate of the anticlimax, which closed with the rhetorical question:  “can the anticlimax … be seen as a cynical plot device that plays with the reader’s emotions or genius piece of creative writing?)  

Nor – to my knowledge – has any smart aleck read the last part of Isaiah and warned others, “You’ll Never Think Of ‘The Milk Of Human Kindness’ In The Same Way Again.”  (See The Grapes of Wrath What’s Up With the Ending?)  And finally, nobody has called Isaiah 66:11 “creepy.”

So – just in case I’m being too subtle – there are a couple points being made here.

Antique Valentine 1909 01.jpgThe first is that – contrary to the image set out by conservative Christians – the ancient Hebrews were a very earthy people.  (In the sense of “enjoying and being honest or clear about things connected to life, such as the body and emotions.”)  And one example of that “earthiness” just got discussed in the last post, On the Bible’s “erotic love poem.”

Which leads up to the second point, that Isaiah was a great book:

In Christian circles, it was held in such high regard as to be called “the Fifth Gospel,” and its influence extends beyond Christianity to English literature and to Western culture in general, from the libretto of Handel’s Messiah to a host of such everyday phrases as “swords into ploughshares” and “voice in the wilderness.”

And it didn’t get that way by being “conservative.”  Put another way, one major theme of this blog is that the Bible was written to stretch and expand the human mind, not restrict it.  It was not written to make people boot-camp Christians.  (See the notes below.)

Put another way, the Book of Isaiah – and indeed the Bible as a whole – was written and designed to give us all a “rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge.”

Even if it does have a bit of a “creepy ending…”

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Detail of the entrance to Rockefeller Center, citing a verse from Isaiah 33:6… 

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The upper image is courtesy of drifting cowboy: Best Chatsworth Movies — The Grapes of Wrath (1940a-drifting-cowboy.blogspot.com.  And incidentally, the painting in the movie poster was done by the artist Thomas Hart Benton.  See Wikipedia.  See also Thomas Hart Benton | Departure of the Joads. [The Grapes of Wrath Series.  See also the grapes of wrath | Movie Poster Museum.

The full Daily Office readings for Sunday, February 19:  “AM Psalm 118, PM Psalm 145
Isa. 66:7-14; 1 John 3:4-10; John 10:7-16.”

The painting of Isaiah is courtesy of the Wikipedia article, Book of Isaiah.  The caption:  “Michelangelo (c. 1508–12), ‘Isaiah,’ Vatican City:Sistine Chapel ceiling.”

For a more-erudite view on Isaiah’s imagery, see Isaiah 66:11 Commentaries: That you may nurse and be satisfied with the breasts of her consolations.

For another Steinbeck book using themes from the Bible, see East of Eden (novel) – Wikipedia:

The book explores themes of depravity, beneficence, love, and the struggle for acceptance, greatness, and the capacity for self-destruction and especially of guilt and freedom.  It ties these themes together with references to and many parallels with the biblical Book of Genesis (especially Genesis Chapter 4, the story of Cain and Abel)…  The title, East of Eden, was chosen by Steinbeck from Genesis, Chapter 4, verse 16: “And Cain went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the Land of Nod, on the east of Eden” (King James Version).

The Wikipedia article then featured a chart showing further “biblical parallels.”

The lower image is courtesy of Book of Isaiah – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “Detail of entrance to 30 Rockefeller Plaza showing verse from Isaiah 33:6 Rockefeller Center, New York.”  Isaiah 33:6 reads: “He [God] will be the sure foundation for your times, a rich store of salvation and wisdom and knowledge;  the fear of the LORD is the key to this treasure.”

And finally, for another “earthiness” in reading and/or interpreting the Bible, see the notes to On sharing the “Keys to the Kingdom.”

On the FIRST “Presentation of the Lord”

Ecce homo by Antonio Ciseri (1).jpg

This could be called the “Second Presentation” – Good Friday, as Jesus is about to be crucified

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Thursday,  February 2, is the Feast of the Presentation of Jesus at the Temple.  This presentation – of Jesus as a baby – was done in accordance with a thousand-year-old custom started by Moses.  See Exodus 13:2, where God told Moses, “Consecrate to me every firstborn male.”  And by that tradition, the consecrating came 40 days after the day of birth:

Counting forward from December 25 as Day One [for Jesus], we find that Day Forty is February 2.  A Jewish woman is in semi-seclusion for 40 days after giving birth to a son, and accordingly it is on February 2 that we celebrate the coming of Mary and Joseph with the infant Jesus to the Temple at Jerusalem.

Yegorov-Simeon the Righteous.jpgSee Presentation of the Lord – 2016.  (Including the image at left.)  And just to be clear, that brings up the old-timey, “once-prevalent custom of churching new mothers forty days after the birth of a child.”

That quaint custom came to be called “the churching of Women,” starting – as far as we can tell – back in the Middle Ages.  It was still offered by the Catholic Church until the 1960s, but then discontinued.  (The Anglican Church still offers the service, but it seems rarely used.)  

Among other things, that quaint practice took place in “the good old days when giving birth was a time of real and great danger for all mothers.  Accordingly, the usual prayer of Thanksgiving went something like this:  “ALMIGHTY God, we give thee humble thanks for that thou hast vouchsafed to deliver this woman thy servant from the great pain and peril of child-birth.”

Beyond that, this once-prevalent ritual drew “on the imagery and symbolism” of the original Presentation of the Lord, celebrated on February 2.  But for Mary, there was the problem of Virgin birth.  (She hadn’t been “sullied” in the normal manner of procreation.)  

The answer?  According to church practice, even though Mary had “borne Christ without incurring impurity” – that is, the usual “impurity” involved in conception – “she went to the Temple in Jerusalem to fulfill the requirements of the Law of Moses.”  In other words, in order to avoid even the appearance of impropriety, Mary went through the ritual that became known as The Churching of Women, even though she didn’t have to.

And of course, to set a good example.

But we digress…

You can see the Bible readings for the day at Presentation of Jesus.  They include Malachi 3:1 – seen at right – where God said, “I will send my messenger, who will prepare the way before me.  Then suddenly the Lord you are seeking will come to his temple.”  And of course Luke 2:22-23:

When the time came for the purification rites required by the Law of Moses, Joseph and Mary took him to Jerusalem to present him to the Lord 23 (as it is written in the Law of the Lord, “Every firstborn male is to be consecrated to the Lord…”  (E.A.)

And that ritual – “required by the law of Moses” –  in turn went back to the time of Moses, as detailed in Exodus 13 and as already noted.

For more on the February 2 Feast Day, check out Presentation of the Lord – 2016.  But the ritual described in this post brings up what might be called “the Second Presentation of the Lord.”

That Second Presentation came when Jesus was “presented to the people of Jerusalem.”  But this time it came at the hands of Pontius Pilate, on what turned out to be the day before He was crucified.  This Second Time Around came when Jesus was “presented,” but not in the religious Temple in Jerusalem.  Rather, it came in the praetorium of the secular power.  (See Pilate’s court, which noted two possible sites for this trial;  either the Antonia Fortress or Herod’s Palace.)

The point being that from the time He was first “presented” at just over a month old, Jesus’ life was one long journey to the Second Presentation.  (On the eve of His making the ritual sacrifice that would literally change history, if not “split history in two.”)  In the same way, this February 2 marks the beginning of our own spiritual journey:  through Epiphany, then Mardi Gras – as seen above left – followed by Lent, and then on into Easter Week.

And all of which reminds us that life is not all fun and games.  Put another way, “Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall.”  (BTW:  That 1944 song by The Ink Spots was based on a quotation from Henry Wadsworth Longfellow‘s poem, The Rainy Day.)  Which is another way of saying that while we know those “rainy days” are coming – that our lives will be interrupted by pain and suffering – we also know that we have “already won the Game of Life.*”

That is, we as practicing Christians know how our lives are going to turn out.  We already know we’re going to have a happy ending.  It’s just those “in between” details that worry us.

On that note, yesterday I ran across a Bible passage apropos to current events.  The Daily Office Readings for February 1 included Isaiah 54:15:  “If anyone stirs up strife, it is not from me…”

“Just sayin’…”

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The upper image is courtesy of Pontius Pilate – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “Ecce Homo (‘Behold the Man’), Antonio Ciseri‘s depiction of Pilate presenting a scourged Jesus to the people of Jerusalem.”

“Note” also that an asterisk in the main text indicates a statement supported by a reference detailed further in this “notes” section.  Thus as to knowing “that we have already won the Game of Life,” see Two Marys and a James – Saints, which indicated that the spiritual life is like water-skiing:

As yours truly once wrote, starting your spiritual pilgrimage by reading the Bible on a regular basis “is a bit like water-skiing,” or more precisely, “a bit like grabbing the handle of the rope” attached to a metaphoric “Big Motorboat in the Sky…  Once you grab on, your main job is simply to hang on for dear life…”

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Re:  The full Daily Office Readings for Wednesday, February 1, 2017:  “AM Psalm 72; PM Psalm 119:73-96Isaiah 54:1-10(11-17); Galatians 4:21-31; and Mark 8:11-26.”  They also included the readings for the Eve of the Presentation:  “PM: Psalm 113, 122; 1 Samuel 1:20-28a; Romans 8:14-21.”

The “Mardi Gras” image is courtesy of Mardi Gras Information & Updatesnola.gov.

Re:  Rainy Day, by Longfellow.  One line reads:  “My life is cold, and dark, and dreary.”  Another:  “Into each life some rain must fall, Some days must be dark and dreary.”  But there’s also this line of hope: “Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;  Behind the clouds is the sun still shining.”

Re:  “Just sayin.'”  I first used that phrase for this blog in The True Test of Faith, in February 2015.

The lower image is courtesy of Chaos Defines Trump’s First Week in Office – NBC News.  See also Analysis: Trump’s start creates chaos, and Chaos, anger as Trump order halts some Muslim immigrants.  BTW:  The search term “trump chaos” got me 1,430,000 results.  The search term “trump strife” got me 565,000 results.

On the REAL “Jolly Ol’ Saint Nick”

St. Nicholas … “transformed into a sympathetic old Santa Claus…”

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Icon of St. Nicholas, from St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church, Dallas, TexasTomorrow – Tuesday, December 6 – is the Feast Day for Nicholas of Myra.* (But only in the Daily Office Lectionary, not the Revised Common Lectionary used for Sundays.*)  And he – Nicholas of Myra – eventually became the guy we now know as Santa Claus.  (Also known as “Jolly Ol’ St. Nick.”)

Of course there are those who refuse to believe in him.  That is, there are some people out there who think that Santa Clause is a myth:

A myth is a sacred narrative because it holds religious or spiritual significance for those who tell it.  Myths also … express a culture’s systems of thought and values as the myth of gremlins invented by aircraft technicians during World War II to avoid apportioning blame.

See Myth – Wikipedia, which included the image at left, of such “gremlins” at work.  And just as a point of order:  These “gremlins” – especially during World War II – did not work for the enemy:

[E]nemy aircraft had similar and equally inexplicable mechanical problems.  As such, gremlins were portrayed as being equal opportunity tricksters, taking no sides in the conflict, and acting out their mischief from their own self-interest.

But we digress…  The point is this:  There is a solid basis in historical fact for believing in both “jolly old St. Nick” and in the spirit of Christmas.

For starters, Nicholas of Myra was a real person who lived from the years 270 to 343 A.D.  And around the year 300 he was elected Bishop of Myra.  As a bishop his “legendary habit of secret gift-giving gave rise to the traditional model of Santa Claus through Sinterklaas:”

The best-known story involves a man with three unmarried daughters, and not enough money to provide them with suitable dowries.  This meant that they could not marry, and were likely to end up as prostitutes.  Nicholas walked by the man’s house on three successive nights, and each time threw a bag of gold in through a window…  Thus, the daughters were saved from a life of shame, and all got married and lived happily ever after.

And here’s another side note:  “Myra” is now the city of Demre, in Turkey, where it doesn’t get that cold in the winter.  But then the story of this “St. Nicholas” started getting repeated in colder, northern climates.  (Where no one would keep their windows open in December.)

That’s when the story got tweaked, and St. Nick started delivering his gifts via the chimney.  (For more on that see The History of Santa Claus and Chimneys.  For one thing:  “In pre-Christian Norse tradition, Odin would often enter through chimneys and smoke holes or fire holes on the solstice, which marks the beginning of winter.”)

For more on the real St.  Nick, see On the original St. Nicholas, or On St. Nick and “Doubting Thomas.”  The first one noted how the story of St. Nicholas was basically a gift to America from the country of Holland:

Dutch colonists took this tradition [of St. Nicholas] with them to New Amsterdam (now New York City) in the American colonies in the 17th century.  Sinterklaas was adopted by the country’s English-speaking majority under the name Santa Claus, and his legend of a kindly old man was united with old Nordic folktales of a magician who punished naughty children and rewarded good children with presents.

The second post noted how the original – the real St. Nicholas – saved three innocent men from death, as shown in the painting below.  It seems he was visiting a remote part of his diocese when he heard about three men, condemned to death back in Myra.  The “the ruler of the city, Eustathius, had condemned three innocent men to death.”

When he arrived back in Myra he went immediately to the site of the execution, took the sword from the executioner’s hand, and ordered that the innocent men be set free:

His authority was such that the executioner left his sword where it fell.  Later Eustathius confessed his sin and sought the saint’s forgiveness.  Nicholas absolved him, but only after the ruler had undergone a period of repentance.

So there you have it.  The real “Ol’ Saint Nick” was not only jolly, he was personally brave.

Virginia O'Hanlon (ca. 1895).jpgAnd so, back in 1897 – when Francis P. Church of The (New York) Sun responded to a letter to the editor – he was pretty much telling the truth when he wrote, “Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus.”  (The letter he responded to was written by eight-year-old Virginia O’Hanlon, seen at left.) 

Of course the whole idea of “Santa Claus” – and indeed Christmas itself – has gotten glossed over and commercialized over the years.  See for example How Christmas Became the Most Commercialized Holiday.  That article started off which started off with a quote from Lucy Brown – of Peanuts fame – when she told Charlie Brown:  “Let’s face it…  We all know that Christmas is a big commercial racket.  It’s run by a big eastern syndicate, you know.”

Simply put, Christmas became big business.  And as such it spawned a host of new cottage industries:  Books published, woodsmen “heading into the forests each December to cut evergreens to sell on street corners,” tinsel, toys, candle-holders, candles, candies, garlands, ornaments, and hand-colored Christmas cards, to name a few.

All of which is wonderful for the economy.  But each Christmas it’s also a good idea to go back to the original source.  To go back to the jolly – and brave – original St. Nick.  (Seen below, in action.)  And of course to remember Jesus, The Reason for the Season.

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Yes, Virginia, there is a Santa Claus,” and this is him, saving three men from death…

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The upper image is courtesy of saint nicholas church st nicholas church is the most outstanding … tourmakerturkey.com, which added:  “The protective personality of St. Nicholas and desire of helping children in difficult situations have been transformed into a sympathetic old Santa Claus … appearing on Christmas Eve to make everybody happy.”

“Note” also that an asterisk in the main text indicates a statement with a reference detailed further in this, the “notes” section.  Thus, as to St. Nicholas’ day, it’s only a Feast in the Daily Office Lectionary, not in the Revised Common Lectionary used for Sundays Bible readings.  Under the “RCL” – detailed at The Lectionary Page – there are no listed Feast Days until December 21, for St. Thomas, Apostle.

The Santa/chimney image is courtesy of Zat You Santa Claus? – Free Christmaslinks2love.com.  Also, re: St. Nick:  See also Saint Nicholas – Wikipedia and/or Nicholas of Myra – Livius

The lower image is courtesy of Saint Nicholas – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia, with the caption:  “Saint Nicholas Saves Three Innocents from Death (oil painting by Ilya Repin, 1888, State Russian Museum).”   See also St. Nicholas Center … Saint Who Stopped an Execution.

An update on “dissin’ the Prez”

Donald Trump Obama

Will the man on the left get the respect due him by Exodus 22:28?   (As the man on the right didn’t?)

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Saint James the Just.jpgThis morning’s Daily Office Readings include Joel 3:10, and a reading from James, the brother of Jesus.  (Shown at right.)  And James 2:6-7 said this:

Is it not the rich who are exploiting you?  Are they not the ones who are dragging you into court?  Are they not the ones who are blaspheming the noble name of him to whom you belong?

As to Joel 3:10, it says  “Beat your plowshares into swords and your pruning hooks into spears.”

Both of which seem strangely appropriate after last Tuesday’s election.

Which brings up this subject:  Are good Christians – both liberal and conservative – duty-bound to honor and obey the newly-elected “leader of our country,” Donald Trump?

In May 2014, I posted On dissin’ the Prez.  Mainly it was about Exodus 22:28, and how – at that time – it seemed “more honored in the breach.”  That is, Exodus 22:28 clearly commands:  “Do not blaspheme God or curse the ruler of your people.”

And that’s where honored in the breach* comes in.  Since conservatives spent the last eight years “cursing and reviling” the ruler of our people, are liberals – not to mention the majority who voted for Hillary Clinton – now free to do the same with Donald Trump?

The thing is, the people who interpret the U.S. Constitution “strictly” or “literally” are – generally speaking – the same ones who say that the Bible must also be interpreted literally.  But if those Conservatives – Christian or otherwise – had truly followed the letter of the Bible, they wouldn’t have “cursed and reviled” President Obama over the last eight years:

To sum up: Conservative Christians can avoid getting into trouble for violating the letter of Exodus 22:28, but only by using a liberal interpretation.  They can criticize the President all they want, as long as they don’t criticize “the Sovereign People” who elected him.  (A subtle distinction to be sure.)   Put another way, conservative Christians only avoid the penalty for violating the strict letter of Exodus 22:28 by using a liberal interpretation [of the Bible].

http://kara.allthingsd.com/files/2011/03/irony3.jpegThat’s where the closing “Oh, the irony” in that post came in.

On dissin’ the Prez also went into great detail about the differences between strict construction, as opposed to the rules of liberally interpreting the Bible.  (And on such topics as Biblical inerrancy, or what I call being a boot-camp Christian.) 

But in one sense those pointy-headed liberals may not need to interpret Exodus 22:28 “in a fair and reasonable manner in accordance with the objects and purposes of the instrument.”  (The Bible.)  That’s because in America the “leader of the people” is The People.  As in the Sovereign People or the “We the People” that start the Constitution.

In other words, the President of the United States is not a “leader of the country” as that term was interpreted at the time the Bible was written.  (See also On “originalism.”)

Back then a leader was a king or other dictator, who served for life – or until a stronger king bumped him off.  But these days a president is more like a plumber.  He’s a hired hand who serves the people of the United States for no more than eight years.  (Or less if he ends up impeached and convicted.  See AU Professor Predicts Trump’s Impeachment.)

Therefore, since we Americans follow majority rule, and since Hillary Clinton won a majority of the popular vote, it would seem that Americans everywhere are free to “curse and revile” Donald Trump as much as they want – according to the Bible.

But as Paul noted in 1st Corinthians 10:23:  “Just because it’s legal doesn’t make it right.”

Ikone Athanasius von Alexandria.jpgThen too, that brings up what I wrote last January.  I posted On Hilary – 1″L,” and HE was a bishop.  Saint Hilary – shown at right, and who died in the year 367 – served as bishop in Poitiers, a city in France.

But he served at a time of a great early-church conflict, and perhaps not unlike the conflict we just went through.  (In St. Hilary’s case, the one pitting Athanasius against Arius, for whom Arianism was named.)

Basically it was a struggle for the “soul of the Church,” much like this last election was part of a “war for the soul of America.”  (And by the way, Googling “war for the soul”  got me 13,400,000 results.)

The thing is – during that earlier “war for the soul” – Saint Hilary had to serve a term in exile. (Too?)  In 356 he backed the wrong horse, and was sent into exile by Constantius II.  (Who  found the Arian position persuasive enough to banish Hilary to Phrygia.)  However:

Hilary put his four years in exile to good use.  He honed his arguments so well that they ultimately acquired the force of (church) law.  In essence he was a “Great Dissenter…”  Which is another way of saying “Athanasianism” ultimately won the day.

And who knows?  Maybe the same will happen with today’s Hillary…

And finally, it is within the realm of possibility that that consummate Showman – Donald Trump – actually “played those far-right conservatives like a piano.”  That is, it’s possible that Trump is the “New York Liberal” that Ted Cruz said he was.  (Or at least more of a moderate than he let on, either of which – liberal or moderate – would have doomed his Republican nomination.)

At the very least it’s looking like Donald – like life itself – is like a box of chocolates.  And as that great philosopher Forrest Gump observed, “You never know what you’re gonna get.”

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“Are you telling me Donald Trump just got elected president?”

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Notes:

The upper image is courtesy of Trump and Obama meet at the White House to begin transition.  

The full Satucket Daily Office readings include:  “AM Psalm 87, 90; PM Psalm 136,” along with Joel 3:9-17; James 2:1-13; Luke 16:10-17(18).

“Note” also that an asterisk in the main text indicates a statement supported by a reference detailed further in this, the “notes” section.  Thus, as to “more honored in the breach:”  The quote is from Hamlet Act 1, scene 4, 7–16.  And something I didn’t know:  As properly interpreted the saying means to ignore a bad custom or rule, rather than a “good custom … often breached:”

Hamlet means that it is more honorable to breach, or violate, the custom of carousing than to observe it.  So the phrase is properly applied to a bad custom or rule that should be ignored.  Instead, we and others frequently use it in almost the opposite sense…

See Mangled Shakespeare – The New York Times, and – for more on the context – More honored in the breach – eNotes Shakespeare Quotes.

Re: “The standards you use for others…”

Is the inscription on “Liberty Enlightening the World” really “just a poem?”

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This morning’s Daily Office Readings really hit a nerve.

Spirit of America - Staten Island Ferry.jpgThe thing is, I just finished a mini-vacation to New York City, while based in Staten Island.  That meant we took the Staten Island Ferry twice a day.  In turn, that meant we passed by the Statue of Liberty twice a day, for four of five days. And that meant we passed by the statue – officially, Liberty Enlightening the World” – eight times in five days.

It was quite a moving sight. every time I passed by.  So naturally I figured the statue – together with the inscription on it – would have a special meaning for all real Americans:

“Give me your tired, your poor, Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,  The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.  Send these, the homeless, tempest-tost to me…

But not everyone seems to agree.  Like back in 2014, when  someone wrote a Letter to the Editor suggesting that “Congress read the inscription on the base of the Statue of Liberty in order to make a more informed decision regarding immigration.”

It sounded like a good idea to me.  But one knucklehead objected:

[The inscription on the Statue of Liberty] is just a poem.  It’s not one of our founding documents, nor is it a law, nor is it anything more than what it is:  a poem.  A nice poem, with stirring, emotion-driven rhetoric, yes, but a poem nonetheless. [E.A.]

See Words on Statue of Liberty merely a poem – azcentral.com.

Bellus photoBut that – it seemed to me – was like saying the Bible is “just a nice set of old-time stories.”  And by the way, it turns out that about 75% of the Old Testament is also “just a bunch of poems.*”

That’s where this morning’s Daily Office Readings came in.

They seemed to support my theory that we get a whole lot more from the Bible than just a bunch of “mere poems,” or just a “nice set of old-time stories…”

Today’s main (non-psalm) readings were Micah 5:1-4,10-15Acts 25:13-27, and Luke 8:16-25.

Acts 25:13-27 tells of the Apostle Paul, on trial before Porcius Festus.  (Procurator of Judea, at left in yellow).

He later asked for help from Herod Agrippa.  (The puppet King of Judaea, which was actually under Roman rule.)  As noted in Acts 25:2, “the chief priests and the Jewish leaders [had] appeared before him and presented the charges against Paul.”

In response to the charges “Festus laid Paul’s case” before Agrippa.  He then added, in Acts 25:16:  “I told them that it is not the Roman custom to hand over anyone before they have faced their accusers and have had an opportunity to defend themselves against the charges.”

But – after having been able to both face his accusers and present a defense – Paul appealed to Caesar.  (Apparently rather than face a hostile trial in Jerusalem.*)  Festus then responded:

I have nothing definite to write to our sovereign about him.  Therefore I have brought him before all of you, and especially before you, King Agrippa, so that, after we have examined him, I may have something to write – for it seems to me unreasonable to send a prisoner without indicating the charges against him.’

Which means that there – in today’s short New Testament reading – are found three key Constitutional safeguards in our  Sixth Amendment.  (And – as noted below –  if there’s any group more despised than immigrants, it’s criminal defendants.)  See also Confrontation Clause:

In noting the right’s long history, the United States Supreme Court has cited Acts of the Apostles 25:16, which reports the Roman governor Porcius Festus, discussing the proper treatment of his prisoner Paul:  “It is not the manner of the Romans to deliver any man up to die before the accused has met his accusers face-to-face, and has been given a chance to defend himself against the charges.”

... Pie is the American synonym of prosperity. Pie is the food of theNote also that in tracing the history of the right, the Supreme Court cited the Bible, not “Roman law.”  (Meaning the Bible is arguably more important…)  As to the “chance to defend himself against the charges,” see also The Right to Present Defense Evidence – The Advocate.  That article noted that the “right to present a defense is as American as apple pie.”

Then there’s the right to Notice:  “A criminal defendant has the right to be informed of the nature and cause of the accusation against him.”  Or as it was said in Acts 25:27, “without specifying the charges against him.”

Which brings us back to my theory that we get a lot more from the Bible than just a bunch of “mere poems,” or just a “nice set of old-time stories.”  Like, maybe a national consciousness, if not a national conscience?  Which again brings up the fact that if there’s any group of people more despised than criminal defendants, it’s immigrants.  (Legal or otherwise.)

But what does the Bible say about immigrants?  (Legal or otherwise.)  

For one example see Exodus 22:21, in the WEB:  “You shall not wrong an alien, neither shall you oppress him, for you were aliens in the land of Egypt.”  Then there’s Leviticus 19:33-34, in the ISV:  “If a resident alien lives with you in your land, you are not to mistreat him.  You are to treat the resident alien the same way you treat the native born among you – love him like yourself, since you were foreigners in the land of Egypt.”

And that brings up one of the psalms in today’s Daily Office Readings. (See NRSV.)  I’m referring to Psalm 137, “one of the best known of the Biblical psalms.”  As Wikipedia noted:

The psalm is a hymn expressing the yearnings of the Jewish people in exile following the Babylonian conquest of Jerusalem in 607 BCE.

In other words, Psalm 137 was written well after Exodus and Leviticus.  In Exodus and Leviticus, the Hebrews were still Wandering in the Wilderness, and hadn’t yet found their “Promised Land.”  Moreover, the memory of their time as slaves in Egypt were still relatively fresh.

But Psalm 137 was written centuries later, after that long-awaited Promised Land had been lost, through invasion and exile.  Which means that there may be a bit of enlightened self-interest at issue here.  (See also Karma, and Turnabout is fair play.)  For the Bible take, see Luke 6:38:

Give, and you will receive.  A large quantity, pressed together, shaken down, and running over will be put into your pocket.  The standards you use for others will be applied to you.”

The point being that Mr. “Just a Poem” – quoted above – may want to re-think his negative attitude about members of Congress re-reading the inscription on the Statue of Liberty.

And while they’re at it, those members of Congress might want to go back over those portions of the Bible dealing with immigrants, foreigners and/or “aliens.”

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“By the rivers of Babylon we sat and wept,” remembering our lost homeland…

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The upper image is courtesy of Statue of Liberty – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The caption:  “‘Unveiling of the Statue of Liberty Enlightening the World’ (1886) by Edward Moran. Oil on canvas. The J. Clarence Davies Collection, Museum of the City of New York.”

Re:  The Old Testament as also arguably “just a bunch of poems.”  See Poetry in the Hebrew Bible:

Approximately 75% of the Hebrew Bible is poetry.  All of Psalms and Proverbs are Hebrew poetry and many other books, such as the book of Genesis, are filled with poetry.  The reason much of the Bible was written in poetry is that it was originally sung and stories that are sung are much easier to memorize that when simply spoken.  There is much more poetry in the Bible than most realize because most people do not understand it.*

(See also Biblical poetry – Wikipedia, and The Therapeutic Benefit of Poetry:  “From the beginning of time, poetry has been a means for people to express their deepest emotions and create healing in ritual and ceremony.”  See also my companion blog, at “No city for Grouchy Old White People.”

The caption in Wikipedia for the image of Porcius Festus reads:  “Stained glass window in St. Paul’s Cathedral, Melbourne showing Festus in yellow.”  Note the NIV translation of Acts 25:27 reads:  “For I think it is unreasonable to send a prisoner on to Rome without specifying the charges against him.”  

Re:  “Hostile trial in Jerusalem.”  Isaac Asimov said Paul wasn’t sure he’d get a fair trial in Jerusalem, even with Festus presiding.  “Indeed, he probably suspected that Festus would be successfully pressured into a conviction, as had been the case with Pontius Pilate thirty-two years  before.” (Referring to Jesus’ conviction.)  See Asimov’s Guide to the Bible (Two Volumes in One),  Avenel Books (1981), at pages 1081-83, which also noted that Herod was “scorned as a Roman puppet.” 

The “apple pie” image is courtesy of priceonomics.com.

Re:  The Bible on prisoners.  See Isaiah 61:1:  “The LORD has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners,” mirrored and/or quoted in Luke 4:18.  Then there was tomorrow morning’s New Testament reading, which included 2 Timothy 2:9:  “I’m suffering to the point that I’m in prison like a common criminal.”  See Twenty First Sunday after Pentecost.

Re:  “Legal or otherwise.”  See e.g., Poll: Americans’ Anti-Immigrant Attitudes Are Fueled By Racism, and Donald Trump Consults Anti-Immigration Groups.

Re:  Congress-people going back over those portions of the Bible dealing with immigrants, foreigners or “aliens.”  If nothing else they might save themselves a whole lot of ‘Splainin to do, later on at the end of their lives.  Or they might not end up weeping “by the waters of Babylon…”

The lower image is courtesy of Psalm 137 – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “‘By the rivers of Babylon,’ painting by Gebhard Fugel, circa 1920.”  See also Psalm 137 NIV.

“With God’s help, we can get through ANYTHING…”

Are we in for a new “national nightmare?”  Half the voters in the next election seem to think so…  

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I just got back from a mini-vacation:  Six days visiting New York City, from a home base in Staten Island.  During much of that trip, conversation centered on November’s presidential election.

Which brings up Matthew 13:44-52, the Gospel for this morning’s Daily Office.

File:Escribano.jpgI’m specifically referring to Matthew 13:52, where Jesus told His disciples, “Therefore every scribe who has been trained for the kingdom of heaven is like a householder who brings out of his treasure what is new and what is old.*

And a reminder:  The full and accurate name of this blog is “DOR Scribe,” as “Daily Office Reader Scribe.”  So here’s the “what is new” part of Matthew 13:52, from a treasure trove of 65 years’ worth of wisdom.  (Or at least “something new” to consider from the SCRIBE‘s storeroom.  Which link includes the image above left):

No matter who half “plus one” of the American people elect as their next president, the rest of those voters will think we are about to embark on another “long national nightmare.”  Put another way, no matter who the next president is, he or she is going to face intense – if not rabid – opposition from close to half the American people.

If you think I’m exaggerating, check these four links:  For Trump, Trump presidency would be a ‘nightmare,’ says Joseph Stiglitz, and The Trump nightmare is real. Clinton could lose this.

From the other side of the aisle, consider these:  The Nightmare World of a Hillary Clinton Presidency, and A Clinton Presidency: Humanity’s Worst Nightmare.  Or you could Google the term “presidency nightmare,” and add either candidate’s name.

That’s where the “what is old” part of Matthew 13:52 comes in.  Simply put:

We’ve been through worse before!

Think the American Civil War.  Think the Great Depression.  Or think about the episode in our national history that led to the “long national nightmare” quote in the first place.

That quote came from Gerald Ford, when he was sworn in as president after Richard Nixon resigned.  (A result of the Watergate scandal.  For more on Ford’s speech see This Day in Quotes: “Our long national nightmare is over.”  But see also a parody of the phrase – from The Onion, a “digital media company and news satire organization” – which quoted President George W. Bush as saying – on his taking office – “Our Long National Nightmare Of Peace And Prosperity is Finally Over.”)

Be that as it may, here’s the full quote from Gerald Ford’s acceptance speech in 1974:

My fellow Americans, our long national nightmare is over.  Our Constitution works;  our great Republic is a government of laws and not of men.  Here the people rule.  But there is a higher Power, by whatever name we honor Him, who ordains not only righteousness but love, not only justice but mercy.

And that sentiment – about a national nightmare being over – could foreshadow January 20, 2020.  It could well foreshadow how those 40% of voters – disappointed by the outcome of the 2016 election – will feel when – it is entirely possible – a new president takes office.  (And when – it is entirely possible – that new president will be neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton.)

In the meantime, we’ve got to get through the next four years.  (No matter who wins.  But in either case it may be more of a “Jimmy Carter collapsing” endurance run…)

For one thing, there’s the fact that – no matter who wins – he or she will face rabid opposition from at least 40% of the American electorate.  That alone means neither Donald Trump nor Hillary Clinton will be able to do as much damage as their opponents argue.

For another thing, I’ve been surrounded by negativity these past eight years.  (Of Obama’s presidency.)  And – quite frankly – it’s getting very boring.  (I’ve taken to saying “Thank you Obama!” whenever there’s an arch-conservative around and we pass a station with low gas prices.  Not because I believe he’s responsible, but just because it “ticks them off.”)

And third, I feel it’s my duty as an ostensibly-good Christian to take the high road.

For example, consider this from my companion blog:

The Presidents Club gave me a sense that – generally speaking – the men who occupied the White House have been – overall – decent, honorable and capable.  Then too, Life’s a Campaign gave me a sense that maybe the same applies to politicians in general.  (Gasp!)

See “Brother from another mother” and other ex-Prez tales.  And who knows, maybe the same thing is true of both Donald and Hillary.  Maybe beneath all the lies and distortion spread by their political enemies – a practice now more “commonplace” than ever – there are in fact two people who are – deep down – “decent, honorable and capable.”

Then there was  “Great politicians sell hope,” which included the following:

Which seems to indicate the candidate who offers hope rather than fear will win.  (Think Ronald Reagan.)  And that post included some other interesting observations, at least to me.

For one thing, “Maybe today’s politicians are simply a reflection of the nastiness that seems to have taken hold of a large part of our population.”  The flip side of that observation – that today’s politicians simply reflect a generalized nastiness that has taken hold of a large number of voters – is this:  “Swing voters need to figure out what a politician really stands for, beyond those nasty things he has to say to get elected.”

But those observations don’t get us any closer to taking the high road.

For that we could go back to our Baptismal Covenant.  (That’s the question-and-answer “statement of faith [about] how we, as Christians, are called to live out our faith”*):

[Celebrant:]  Will you persevere in resisting evil, and , whenever
you fall into sin, repent and return to the Lord?

[People:]  I will, with God’s help…

[Celebrant:]  Will you seek and serve Christ in all persons, loving
your neighbor as yourself?

[People:]  I will, with God’s help.

[Celebrant:]  Will you strive for justice and peace among all
people, and respect the dignity of every human
being?

[People:]  I will, with God’s help.

As a practical matter, the “resisting evil” part could reflect how fully 40% of the American people will rabidly oppose the new president, no matter who gets elected.  Then too, if the voters choose the wrong candidate, they will be free – in four years – to undo their mistake.  (To “repent and return.”  For example, if a certain candidate “promises the moon” and fails to deliver, the voters could turn on that candidate-become-president in the proverbial New York Minute.)

Which arguably ties in with my “mini-vacation:  Six days visiting New York City.”  (See “preordained before the beginning of time,” in Judith, Esther, and ANOTHER lady, etc.)

As far as the latter part of the quoted part of the covenant – especially the part about respecting the dignity of every human being – consider Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger.

Arnold Schwarzenegger by Gage Skidmore.jpgWhen he first took office, Arnold was something of a blowhard himself.

In one notable example, he characterized opponents in the legislature of California as girlie men, in a battle over the state budget.

But in the fullness of time he backed off:

Schwarzenegger then went against the advice of fellow Republican strategists and appointed a Democrat, Susan Kennedy, as his Chief of Staff.  Schwarzenegger gradually moved towards a more politically moderate position, determined to build a winning legacy with only a short time to go until the next gubernatorial election.  [E.A.]

And who knows?  Maybe the next president too will eventually “move towards a more politically moderate position.”  More moderate, that is, than his or her political opponents think possible.

But here’s the point of this post.  (In case I’m being too subtle.)  Each of the three questions above – in the question-answer format – has the same answer:  “I will, with God’s help.”  So maybe we should face the upcoming presidential election with this in mind:  “With God’s help, we can get through anything.  Even if – God forbid! – [fill in the blank] gets elected!”

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 Arnold “flexed his pecs” here…

(but later had to retract his girlie men comment).

 *   *   *   *

The upper image is courtesy of Nightmare – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The caption:  “The Nightmare (Henry Fuseli, 1781).”  The Henry Fuseli link added:

Since its creation, it has remained Fuseli’s best-known work…  Due to its fame, Fuseli painted at least three other versions…  The canvas seems to portray simultaneously a dreaming woman and the content of her nightmare.  The incubus and the horse’s head refer to contemporary belief and folklore about nightmares, but … critics were [also] taken aback by the overt sexuality of the painting…

After noting again that contemporary critics “found the work scandalous due to its sexual themes,” the link pointed out that the main subject of the painting – the woman – seems to have been prompted by “unrequited love.”  It seems that Fuseli had “fallen passionately in love with a woman named Anna Landholdt in Zürich … the niece of his friend, the Swiss physiognomist Johann Kaspar Lavater.”  However, Landholdt “married a family friend soon after” the artist proposed to her…   

*   *   *   *

The Daily Office readings are courtesy of The Lectionary – Satucket Software Home Page.  The readings for September 25, 2016 are:  “AM Psalm 66, 67; PM Psalm 19, 46Hosea 2:2-14; James 3:1-13; Matthew 13:44-52.  The translation of Matthew 13:52 is the one used in the four-volume Daily Office Readings, as offered – for example – by Amazon.com

The “Jimmy Carter” image is courtesy of ussporthistory.com.   See also Jimmy Carter’s Collapse in a Maryland Road Race Sparks a Moment of Fear.

The quotes from the “Baptismal Covenant” are courtesy of The (Online) Book of Common Prayer, at the link Holy Baptism, at pages 304-305.

The lower image is courtesy of giphy.com.  

Judith, Esther, and ANOTHER lady you don’t want to “tick off”

“Judith with the Head of Holofernes,”  from one of the gorier stories in the Bible…

*   *   *   *

Here’s one that comes under “preordained before the beginning of time…”

Spirit of America - Staten Island Ferry.jpgI started a mini-vacation back on Wednesday, September 14.  (To Staten Island, as a base for visits to New York City.)  During that time I’ve also been keeping up with the Daily Office Readings.

On that note, starting Friday, September 16, “Daily” Readers have had a choice of Old Testament readings.*  (The OT readings for September 16 were either Esther 1:1-4,10-19 or Judith 4:1-15.)  In other words, the September 16 readings marked the beginning of both the Biblical Book of Esther and the Book of Judith.

So naturally it surprised me when – visiting NYC’s Metropolitan Museum of Art last Saturday, September 17 – I came across two paintings that tied right in with those readings.

That is, on Saturday, September 17 – after taking the Staten Island Ferry (shown above left) – we visited the “Met,” in New York City.  That’s when I saw the two paintings at the top and bottom of this page:  Esther before Ahasuerus, and Judith with the head of Holofernes.

Esther haram.jpgStarting with the Book of Esther, it tells of a Jewish woman who married a king and in turn saved her people from annihilation.  (Or a fate worse than death, either one of which may sound familiar…)

Here’s what happened.  Ahasuerus was the king of Persia.  (He was also known as Xerxes.)  One day he got drunk with his buddies.  He then sent for his wife – Queen Vashti, who was very beautiful – with orders to come to the party and strut her stuff.  But she refused – she was very proud – so Ahasuerus decided to get rid of her.

Then – in a process very much like today’s American Idol – Esther ended up being chosen as the new queen.  Which was a good thing, mainly because the Grand Vizier for Xerxes – a guy named Haman – hatched a plot against the Jews.  (Of which Esther was one.  This was during the Babylonian exile, one of the times when the Jewish people were carried away into captivity.)

Haman “hatched the plot” as noted because he was insanely jealous of Esther’s cousin Mordecai.  (For reasons including but not limited to the fact that Mordecai “refused to do obeisance” to him; that is, Haman.)  And incidentally, Mordecai had raised Esther “as his own” after she had lost both her mother and father.  (She was an orphan.)

File:Punishment of Haman.jpgSo Haman “pulled a fast one.”  He tricked the king into giving orders to “exterminate this alien race.”  (To execute both Mordecai and all his people.)  To that end, Haman had a tall gallows built, to hang Mordecai on.  But in the readings after September 16, Haman’s plans backfired.  (As shown at right.)

For one thing, Esther finally told the king she was Jewish.

That – and some other factors – led to the king hanging Haman, “on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai.”  (See Esther 7:10, with some translations reading that Haman was “impaled” on the pole he intended to use on Mordecai.)  

More than that, the Jewish people were saved from annihilation, which led to the present-day Jewish festival of Purim.*  (See also “hoist on his own petard,” from Shakespeare’s “Hamlet.”)

And incidentally, the readings for Tuesday, September 20, included Esther 5:1-14.  That included Esther 5:3, “The king asked, ‘What is it, Queen Esther?  What is your request?  Even up to half the kingdom, it will be given you.'”

Those words are repeated in Mark 6:23, when Salome – shown at right – danced in a way that led to the beheading of John the Baptist:  “And he swore to her, ‘Whatever you ask of me, I will give you, up to half my kingdom!'”

The point being:  In the case of Esther, the appearance before the king – together with his promise of “up to half my kingdom” – led to the Jewish people being saved.  (But in the case of Salome those factors led to the beheading of John the Baptist.)

Turning to the book of Judith:  Some scholars have called it “perhaps the first historical novel” in history.*

The story revolves around Judith, a daring and beautiful widow, who is upset with her Jewish countrymen for not trusting God to deliver them from their foreign conquerors.  She goes with her loyal maid to the camp of the enemy general, Holofernes, with whom she slowly ingratiates herself, promising him information on the Israelites.  Gaining his trust, she is allowed access to his tent one night as he lies in a drunken stupor.  She decapitates him, then takes his head back to her fearful countrymen.  The Assyrians, having lost their leader, disperse, and Israel is saved.

From which a host of object lessons might be gleaned…

Incidentally, the image at left – of Judith – is just one interpretation of this beguiling story.  (It’s the version done in 1901 by Gustav Klimt.)   Wikipedia said this particular version was “shocking to viewers and is said to have targeted themes of female sexuality that had previously been more or less taboo.”

(See also double-edged sword, both in the secular and Biblical senses.  As to the latter see Hebrews 4:12-13.)

All of which brings up the third lady in the Bible who you “wouldn’t want to ‘tick off.'”

For the Biblical reference see Judges 4:21:  “But when Sisera fell asleep from exhaustion, Jael quietly crept up to him with a hammer and tent peg in her hand.  Then she drove the tent peg through his temple and into the ground, and so he died.”  See also Jael – Wikipedia:

Deborah, a prophetess and judge, advises Barak to mobilize the forces Naphtali and Zebulon on Mount Tabor to do battle against King Jabin of Canaan.  Barak demurred, saying he would go, provided she would also.  Deborah agreed but prophesied that the honor of defeating Jabin’s army would then go to a woman.

Deborah‘s prophecy came true at the hands of Jael.  (When she hammered that tent-peg into the head of Sisera.)  And Wikipedia noted another – “extra-Biblical” – reference to the episode: “And while he was dying, Sisera said to Jael, ‘Behold pain has taken hold of me, Jael, and I die like a woman.’  And Jael said to him, ‘Go, boast before your father in hell and tell him that you have fallen into the hands of a woman.'”  (Getting beat by a woman was especially humiliating…)

All of which sounds very modern somehow.  (Considering some current jibes.)

Incidentally, the “Barak” noted above was a “commander in the biblical Book of Judges.”  It was he who – with Deborah the prophetess – “defeated the Canaanite armies led by Sisera.”

Which may turn out to also come under “preordained before the beginning of time…”

 *   *   *   *

Esther before Ahasuerus, by Artemisia Gentileschi

*   *   *   *

The upper image is courtesy of Massimo Stanzione | Judith with the Head of Holofernes, from the website for the Metropolitan Museum of Art – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  See also Favourite Paintings – Massimo Stanzione’s ‘Judith with the head of Holofernes:

The head of Holofernes lies with an expression almost of sleep.  A divine light catches Judith’s face, confirming the righteousness of her deed…  I suppose what I like about this picture, and what’s so eye-catching, are the colors and the big, beautiful  rhythms of the composition.  It jumps off the wall at you and captivates you.  Judith’s dress is composed of big triangles of red, blue and yellow ochre, and the directions and movement of this drapery sweeps your eye around the painting…  

Re:  “Choice of OT readings.”  For the sake of completeness, I’ve been reading both Esther and Judith.  Also, the full DORs for Friday, September 16, 2016, are:  “AM Psalm 69:1-23(24-30)31-38;  PM Psalm 73,” along with “Esther 1:1-4,10-19 or Judith 4:1-15; Acts 17:1-15; John 12:36b-43.”

The “Haman’s plans” image is courtesy of Haman (Bible) – New World Encyclopedia.  The caption: “‘The Punishment of Haman,’ by Michelangelo.”  See also On the Bible readings for September 27.

Re: Purim, the “Jewish holiday that commemorates the saving of the Jewish people from Haman, who was planning to kill all the Jews. This took place in the ancient Persian Empire. The story is recorded in the Biblical Book of Esther (מגילת אסתר … in Hebrew).” 

The “Salome” image is courtesy of “her” link in Herodias – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “‘Salomé,’ by Henri Regnault (1870).”

Re:  Judith as “historical novel.”  Wikipedia indicated the book has a number of “historical anachronisms.”  Thus it is accepted as “canonical” by the Catholic and Eastern Orthodox church, but is “excluded from Jewish texts and assigned by Protestants to the Apocrypha.” 

Re: The Bible and women as leaders.  See also Backlash: The Undeclared War Against American Women, which may turn out to be not such a good idea, considering the three stories noted above. 

The lower image is courtesy of Artemisia Gentileschi | Esther before Ahasuerus | The Met.