Monthly Archives: September 2015

On those “not-so-good” Samaritans

Vincent van Gogh's Good Samaritan (after Delacroix), The Painting

The Good Samaritan:  Was this a parable about “inclusion?”


Most people know the Parable of the Good Samaritan.  And most such people naturally assume that a “good Samaritan” has always been a person who “selflessly helps others.”  (See Urban Dictionary: Good Samaritan:  “Today a Good Samaritan is usually someone who goes out on a limb to help others, even if they are complete strangers.”)

Is Communism Un-American, by Eugene Dennis (1947). (National Archives)But most people don’t know that calling someone a “Samaritan” in the time of Jesus was pretty much like calling him a “Communist” – or worse – in the America of the 1950s:

Portraying a Samaritan in a positive light would have come as a shock to Jesus’s audience.  It is typical of his provocative speech in which conventional expectations are inverted…   Jesus’ target audience, the Jews, hated Samaritans…  The Samaritans in turn hated the Jews.  Tensions were particularly high in the early decades of the 1st century because Samaritans had desecrated the Jewish Temple at Passover with human bones. (E.A.)

See Wikipedia.  So the Jews hated the Samaritans and the Samaritans hated the Jews.  (Sound familiar?)  Or as Asimov put it (523), these were the “hated and heretical Samaritans.”

I bring all this up because the Daily Office Reading for Monday, September 28, 2015 – the Old Testament reading – described the root of why Jews hated Samaritans so much.  (And by extension, why it was so provocative of Jesus to make a Samaritan a “hero” in His parable…)

But back to the root of the hatred itself.

The article Samaritans – Second-Class Citizens noted that “even worse than publicans* in the estimation of the Jews were the Samaritans…  ‘Thou art a Samaritan and hast a devil’ was the mode in which the Jews expressed themselves when at a loss for a bitter reproach.”

For starters, in Matthew 10:5–6, Jesus told His disciples:  “Do not go among the Gentiles or enter any town of the Samaritans.” (E.A.)  And sometimes other Jews hurled this epithet – at Jesus – as noted above.  See John 8:48:  “The people retorted,  “You Samaritan devil!  Didn’t we say all along that you were possessed by a demon?”  (In the New Living Translation.)

The sentence [- “you’re a Samaritan!” -] is singularly insulting in its tone and form.  We cannot measure the exact amount of insult they condensed into this word, whether it be of heresy, or alienation from Israel, or accusation of impure descent.

(Emphasis added.)  All of which is another way of saying there’s more to this parable than meets the eye.  (The business of “impure descent” – illegitimacy – is a whole ‘nother subject…)

But getting back to that Old Testament Daily Office Reading for Monday, September 28.  As noted, it goes back to why the Jews hated Samaritans so much.

Sargon II and dignitary.jpgThe story goes back to the time of Sargon II, and the year 722 B.C.:

Under his rule, the Assyrians completed the defeat of the Kingdom of Israel, capturing Samaria after a siege of three years and exiling the inhabitants.  This became the basis of the legends of the Lost Ten Tribes.  According to the Bible, other people were brought to Samaria, the Samaritans…  Sargon’s name actually appears [at] at Isaiah 20:1

As Asimov explained it, in the year 725 B.C. the Hebrews – a “stubborn and stiff-necked people” – had rebelled once again against their overlords.  (The Hebrew homeland got conquered quite often in Jewish history.)  But in a twist, when Sargon conquered the northern Kingdom of Israel, he didn’t massacre the inhabitants wholesale.  Instead he deported the native Hebrews and brought in new people – from far away – to colonize Samaria.

This tactic marked the permanent end of that northern Kingdom of Israel, and led to the story of the Ten Lost Tribes.  Asimov estimated that some 27,000 “leading citizens” of Israel were deported; mostly landowners and members of the ruling class.  the “colonists” were brought in from Babylon, some 500 miles away “as the crow flies.”  Those new colonists centered in Samaria, and they and their descendants “are what the Bible refers to as Samaritans.”

Or as the Bible itself put it, in 2d Kings 17, verses 24-41 (“edited for content“):

The king of Assyria transported colonies of people from Babylon [and other areas] and resettled them in the cities of Samaria, replacing the people of Israel…  But they continued to follow the religious customs of the nations from which they came.  And this is still going on among them today…  These colonists from Babylon worshiped the Lord, yes – but they also worshiped their idols.  And to this day their descendants do the same thing.

a map showing the outline of Ireland in the colour green with the capitals of the North and South marked on it

For a contemporary equivalent, think of Northern Ireland and especially The Troubles.  That article described the centuries-old conflict between Catholics and Protestants in Northern Ireland.

The “Troubles” started 500 years ago, in 1609:  “In 1609, Scottish and English settlers, known as planters, were given land confiscated from the native Irish in the Plantation of Ulster.  Coupled with Protestant immigration to ‘unplanted’ areas … this resulted in conflict between the native Catholics and the ‘planters,’ leading in turn to two bloody ethno-religious conflicts.”

And the two parties – Catholics and Protestants – both claimed to be “the true Israel” – in their own way – and that their version of Bible worship followed “the original” more closely, and that their enemies worshiped a “falsified text,” as noted below.

And to paraphrase 2d Kings 17:34, these Irish Troubles are “going on among them today.”  (Or at least until the 1990s, after 30 years of “intense violence during which 3,254 people were killed.”)

But getting back to the root of Jewish hatred of Samaritans:  When they came in to colonize the area, these “Neo-Samaritans” decided to worship both the God of the Hebrews, and also “their own gods.”  (See also “hedging your bets.”)  The resulting Samaritan religion became – in the eyes of native Hebrews – “a kind of Yahvistic heresy.”  In turn the native Judeans would be “more hostile at times to the heretics than to the outright pagan.”

(As Asimov also noted, this too is a recurring phenomenon throughout history.)

Thus again, to the audience Jesus spoke to, these were the “hated and heretical Samaritans.” But the Samaritans in turn thought the same thing of the hostile Hebrews:

The Samaritans claimed that they were the true Israel[, and] that their version of the Pentateuch was the original and that the Jews had a falsified text…  Both Jewish and Samaritan religious leaders taught that it was wrong to have any contact with the opposite group, and neither was to enter each other’s territories or even to speak to one another.  During the New Testament period … Josephus reports numerous violent confrontations between Jews and Samaritans throughout the first half of the first century.

See Samaritans – Wikipedia, which included the image at right:  “Israeli actress from the Samaritan community, Sofi Tzadka…  Born as an Israeli Samaritan, along with her siblings [she] formally converted to Judaism at the age of 18.”  (She also did the voice-over role of “Ella of Frell (played by Anne Hathaway) in the Hebrew dub of the film ‘Ella Enchanted.'”)

I suppose there’s some kind of object lesson in Sofi’s example.  (Perhaps on the healing power of beauty.)  But we were talking about Jewish attitudes toward Samaritans in the time of Jesus.

Jesus clearly wanted to make a point by making the hero of this parable a Samaritan.  The question is:  What was His point?  According to Asimov:  “The point Jesus was making was that even a Samaritan could be a neighbor; how much more so, anyone else.”  Thus to repeat:

The term “good Samaritan” has been used so often … that one gets the feeling that Samaritans were particularly good people and that it was only to be expected that a Samaritan would help someone in trouble.  This loses the point of the story, since to a Jew at the time of Jesus, Samaritans were a hateful and despised people. (E.A.)

And again, there were at least two reasons why the Samaritans were so hated and despised.  Not only did they usurp and colonize territory that had once belonged to the Kingdom of Israel, they had also usurped the Jewish religion itself.  But they didn’t adopt the Jewish faith whole cloth.  Instead – in the eyes of native Jews – the Samaritans had created a hybrid, “hedge-your-bets” and/or “feel good” type of religion that was tantamount to heresy.

And the usual fate of heretics was to be massacred, as shown at left.

But Jesus didn’t want that.  In His parable, first a priest and then a Levite passed by the fellow Hebrew who’d been beaten and robbed.  “They were each learned in the law and undoubtedly knew the verse in Leviticus” – Leviticus 19:18, with its command to love your neighbor as yourself.   “Yet they did nothing.”  Instead, in this parable it was the hated and despised – infidel and heretic – Samaritan who helped.

Asimov said the “flavor of the parable” could be set in modern terms with a “white southern farmer left for dead,” but ignored and passed by by a minister and a sheriff.  In this update of the parable, the white southern farmer would be saved by a “Negro sharecropper.”

In other words, a man is not a “neighbor” because of what he is but because of what he does.  A goodhearted Samaritan is more the neighbor of a Jew, than a hardhearted fellow Jew.  And, by extension, one might argue that the parable teaches that all men are neighbors, since all men could do well and have compassion, regardless of nationality.  To love one’s neighbor is to love all men…  The point Jesus was making was that even a Samaritan could be a neighbor; how much more so, anyone else.

And finally, Asimov noted that only the Gospel of Luke included this parable, which is “among the most popular of all those attributed to Jesus, and which preaches universalism.”

So I suppose you could say this parable was “about ‘inclusion.'”  Which in turn is another way of saying that Jesus will never turn away anyone who comes to Him, as noted in John 6:37.

And besides all that, Luke seems to have been a pretty dang good artist…


Luke paints the Madonna and the Baby Jesus…”


The upper image is courtesy of The Good Samaritan (after Delacroix), by Vincent Van Gogh.

Re: “Inclusion.”  The practice where “different groups or individuals having different backgrounds like origin, age, race and ethnicity, religion, gender, sexual orientation and gender identity and other are culturally and socially accepted and welcomed, equally treated, etc.” 

On that note, see Paul Ryan urges GOP, from August 2014: “Republican congressman and 2012 vice presidential candidate Paul Ryan … says his party is doomed to future defeats unless it broadens its appeal beyond a traditional base of older white voters…  Ryan says his party needs to be more inclusive, spend far more time talking to black and Latino voters, and avoid playing into what he calls a caricature of the ‘cold-hearted Republican.'”  Then there’s Some black conservatives question tea party’s inclusiveness(So apparently “inclusiveness” is a good thing, to most people…)

For a further explanation of the Daily Office, see What’s a DOR?

Re: Isaac Asimov.  The quotes about the Samaritans are from Asimov’s Guide to the Bible (Two Volumes in One),  Avenel Books (1981), at pages 377-382, and pages 943-45.  The quote about the “hated and heretical” Samaritans is from page 523. 

Asimov (1920-1992) was “an American author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University, best known for his works of science fiction and for his popular science books.  Asimov was one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000 letters and postcards.”  His list of books included those on “astronomy, mathematics, theBible,William Shakespeare’s writing, and chemistry.”  He was a long-time member of Mensa, “albeit reluctantly;  he described some members of that organization as ‘brain-proud and aggressive about their IQs.’”  See also Isaac Asimov – Wikipedia.

Re:  “Publicans.”  For more on how much the Jewish people of Jesus’ time hated publicans and tax collectors, see On St. MatthewNo tax collector [at that time was] actually going to be loved, but a ‘publican’ of the Roman sort was sure to be hated above all men as a merciless leech who would take the shirt off a dying child.” 

Re: distance from Babylon to Samaria.  Google Maps puts the driving distance at some 2,600 miles, by a circuitous route including a ferry, tolls, restricted roads and “multiple countries.”

The “massacre” image is courtesy of the Wikipedia Heresy article.  The caption:  “Massacre of the Waldensians of Mérindol in 1545.”

The bottom “Luke paints” image is courtesy of Luke the Evangelist – Wikipedia.  The full caption: Luke paints the Madonna and the Baby Jesus, by Maarten van Heemskerck.”  On that note:

Christian tradition, starting from the 8th century, states that he was the first icon painter.  He is said to have painted pictures of the Virgin Mary and Child…  He was also said to have painted Saints Peter and Paul, and to have illustrated a gospel book with a full cycle of miniatures.

The other Daily Office Readings for Monday, September 28, are Psalm 89:1-18, Psalm 89:19-521st Corinthians  7:25-31, and Matthew 6:25-34.

On the Bible readings for September 27

King Ahasuerus – getting sloshed – shortly before he married Esther of the Bible…


I last reviewed the readings for a Sunday coming up on August 7.  (See The OTHER readings for August.)  I said I was leaving town on August 10, and wouldn’t be back until August 27.  So here’s a summary of the Bible readings for September 27.  (A full month later.)

(And a BTW:  Today’s Gospel raises the question whether Jesus was a Liberal or a Conservative…)

Officially, the Bible readings are for the 18th Sunday after Pentecost – Proper 21.  The “Track 1” readings are Esther 7 [and] 9, Psalm 124James 5:13-20, and Mark 9:38-50.

Now about that Gospel:

In Mark 9:38 a disciple told Jesus, “we saw someone driving out demons in your name and we told him to stop, because he was not one of us.”  But Jesus said, “Don’t do that.”  Because – as He noted in Mark 9:40 – “whoever is not against us is for us.”  (See also Luke 9:50.)

Some people have pointed out that this contradicts what Jesus said in Matthew 12:30.  Matthew had Jesus saying, “Whoever is not with me is against me.”

Which raises a matter of legal presumptions.  In the Mark/Luke version, if you haven’t come out and said you’re against Jesus, you’re still on His side.  But in the Matthew version, unless you come out and say that you’re on the side of Jesus, you are presumptively against Him.  All of which could be extremely important when it comes to deciding if you’re “going to Hell.”

Then too, some other people have gone as far as to say that such contradictions in the Bible prove both that it’s a crock, and/or that there are “no supernatural entities – including God.”  (See for example, A List Of Biblical Contradictions, discussed further in the notes.) the issue here is whether today’s Gospel tends to prove that Jesus was either a Conservative or a Liberal.

(One quick point:  If Jesus had been conservative, we’d all be Jewish today.  “Not that there’s anything wrong with that!“)

But seriously, I discussed the issue raised by this Gospel reading in a post in May 2014:  Jesus: Liberal or Fundamentalist?  In that post I wrote:

Under [a] strict construction – used by [conservatives] – “ambiguous language is given its exact and technical meaning.”   Under that rule for Matthew [12:30], if you aren’t expressly for Jesus, you are against Him.  But in Mark [9:40], being “kind of against us” doesn’t put you “outside the pale.” In Mark, if you are not expressly against Jesus, you are for Him…  Also, by strictly interpreting those quotes – giving them their exact and technical meaning – you end up with Jesus contradicting Himself.

So which is it?  Did Jesus mean to say unless you’re expressly for Him, you’re against Him?  (And presumably going to Hell…)   Or that unless you expressly reject Him, you’ve still got a chance?

When resolving such issues, the primary question is:  “What did the writer intend?”  So, could Matthew and Mark have intended to create such a contradiction?  Certainly not.

To make a long story short:  The two passages reflect entirely different situations.  In Matthew 12, Jesus was dealing with demons.  (Matthew 12:22-37 comes under the heading “Jesus and Beelzebul.”)  But in Mark 9, Jesus addressed what to do with people; human beings.

Thus in the case of people – like us – Jesus liberally interpreted the Bible:

With demons, Jesus used a strict construction.  If a demon wasn’t expressly for Jesus, he was against Him.  But in the case of people, Jesus used a liberal construction.  By that construction the law was “reasonably and fairly evaluated so as to implement [its] object and purpose.”

In this case the “law” at issue is the Bible.  By using a liberal interpretation, Jesus was saying that “if a person isn’t expressly against Me,” He – Jesus – is willing to give that person the benefit of the doubt.  In other words, Jesus was prone to give us poor schmucks a break.

In further words, Jesus was a “Liberal” when it came to giving us humans the benefit of the doubt, but “Conservative” when it came to dealing with demons.  (Hmmmm.) still further words, Jesus seemed to be showing that He was a true moderate.  He wanted to see the Bible’s “object and purpose” fully implemented.  And to do that, He used a liberal approach when necessary, and a conservative approach when He had to.

And what is that “object and purpose?”  The best answer is in 2d Peter 3:9, where Saint Peter – holding “the keys to the kingdom” – said God “wants all people to have an opportunity to turn to him…”

*   *    *   *

Moving on to the Old Testament, the Book of Esther tells the story of a Jewish woman who married a king and in turn saved her people from annihilation.  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.  In a process very much like today’s American Idol, Esther ended up being chosen as the new queen.

Which was a good thing, because the Grand Vizier – Haman – had 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 was jealous of Mordecai – Esther’s cousin – for reasons including but not limited to the fact that Mordecai “refused to do obeisance” to him.  So he tricked the king into giving orders to “exterminate this alien race.”  To that end, Haman had a tall gallows built, on which to hang Mordecai.

But in the reading for September 27, Haman’s plans come unraveled.  (As shown metaphorically at left.)

For one thing, Esther finally told the king that she was Jewish.  (Which is consistent with the “Seinfeld” theme noted above.)  And in the end, “they hanged 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.)  But more than that, the Jewish people in the country were saved from annihilation, and all of which led to the present Jewish festival of Purim.

See also hoist on his own petard.  (A phrase originating in Shakespeare’s Hamlet.)

And finally – I’m running out of space – there’s the reading from James the brother of Jesus.  (See Epistle of James – Wikipedia.)  James wrote in part that “faith apart from works is dead,” which led to a controversy that continues “even to this day.”  (See James 2:26, and also On Mary and Martha of Bethany, which provided a possible solution.)

But in today’s reading he advised that “whoever brings back a sinner from his wandering will save his soul from death and will cover a multitude of sins.”  So if you “bring someone to Jesus,” you’ll not only save that person, but also “cover up” a bunch of your own sins.  See James 5:20, raising what I like to call the “James 5:20 commission.”  (I’ll take any break I can get…)

And besides that, the reading gave rise to the rather domestic scene below.


Christ in the House of His Parents … including James, the brother of Jesus.”




The upper image is courtesy of Ahasuerus – Wikipedia.  The caption:  “Aert de Gelder, The Banquet of Ahasuerus.”  The site noted that the name “Ahasuerus is equivalent to the Greek name Xerxes, both deriving from the Old Persian language.”  See also AHASUERUS – Jewish, noting he was the “Persian king, identical with Xerxes (486-465 B.C.).”

Re:  “Bible contradictions.”  The ostensible Matthew-Mark contradiction was pointed out in the For or against link at the Secular Web site, owned and operated by Internet Infidels, Inc.  The site added:  “The Bible is riddled with repetitions and contradictions, things that the Bible bangers would be quick to point out in anything that they want to criticize.”

The website took the Bible to task for not creating a “carefully constructed treatise, reflecting a well-thought-out plan.”  I addressed such criticisms in posts like The readings for June 15 – Part I.  I pointed out that Moses – for example – in writing the first five books of the Bible, was limited by “his audience’s ability to comprehend.”   The audience he “wrote” for was almost wholly illiterate – not to mention ignorant by present-day standards – and had been trained since birth only to be mindless, docile slaves.  Thus Moses was forced by circumstance “to use language and concepts that his ‘relatively-pea-brained contemporary audience’ could understand.” 

In further words, if Moses had written the “carefully constructed treatise” suggested by the “Infidels,” he almost certainly would be burned at the stake or stoned to death.  (Or both.)  See also Reflections on Volume 3 – Part II, which includes “The Stoning of Moses and Aaron.”

On this point see also Internal consistency of the Bible – Wikipedia:

Dietrich Bonhoeffer pointed out [the] conflict, between Matthew 12:30 … and Mark 9:40 [and] called these two sayings “the claim to exclusiveness and the claim to totality…”  D.A. Carson commented similarly, adding he thought [Mark 9:40] describe[d] the attitude listeners are to have to other possible disciples: when in doubt, be inclusive

Other New Testament scholars have said these were not separate statements, “but rather one statement that has either been preserved in two different forms, or has been altered by the Gospel writers to present a point of view that expresses the needs of the Christian community at the time.” The site noted that Mark – the first Gospel to be written – presented the “inclusive” type of Christianity, while Matthew’s version is the more exclusive.

“Seinfeld” image courtesy of

The “No labels” image is courtesy of

Re:  “Haman’s plans come unraveled.”  The image is courtesy of the Wikipedia Mordecai link, with the caption, “The Triumph of Mordecai by Pieter Lastman, 1624.”

Re: “impaling.”  See also Vlad the Impaler:  “The name of the vampire Count Dracula in Bram Stoker‘s 1897 novel Dracula was inspired by Vlad.”

The lower image is courtesy of Epistle of James – Wikipedia.  The painting is by John Everett Millais, and was “immensely controversial when first exhibited because of its realistic depiction of a carpentry workshop, especially the dirt and detritus on the floor.”  For example, Charles Dickens said Millais portrayed Mary as so “hideous in her ugliness that … she would stand out from the rest of the company as a Monster, in the vilest cabaret in France, or the lowest gin-shop in England.”

But I thought it was a very nice, very “domestic” painting…

*   *    *   *

A side note:  The next major Feast Day is September 29, St. Michael and All Angels.  I did a post on August 10, 2014.  See St. Michael and All Angels, and also On St. Michael’s – Tybee Island

Michael is mentioned three times in the Book of Daniel, once as a “great prince who stands up for the children of your people.”  The idea that Michael was the advocate of the Jews became so prevalent that in spite of the rabbinical prohibition against appealing to angels as intermediaries … Michael came to occupy a certain place in the Jewish liturgy.


On St. Matthew – 2015

*   *   *   *

File:Brugghen, Hendrick ter - The Calling of St. Matthew - 1621.jpg

The Calling of St. Matthew,” by Hendrick ter Brugghen…                      (“Who?  Me?”)

*   *   *   *

The next major Feast Day is Monday September 21.  (Here the term “feast” does not refer to a “large meal” – typically a celebration – but rather to an annual religious celebration … dedicated to a particular saint.)  So September 21 is the Feast for “St Matthew, Evangelist.”

See also On St. Matthew, from last year.  On that note the Bible readings are the same as those for last year:  Proverbs 3:1-6Psalm 119:33-40, 2d Timothy 3:14-17, and Matthew 9:9-13.

There’s more on St. Matthew further below, but first it’s time to do some reflecting.  For one thing, many churches have their “Rally Day” this time of year.  Such Rally Days mark the beginning of a new year of Sunday School, not to mention a new liturgical year.   They also mark the end of summer vacation – with its generally low attendance – and a time for welcoming new parish members.

Aside from that, September 20 is National Back to Church Sunday.  (“Strategically designed to help churches reach out and invite everyone to try church again.”)

So this reflection deals with some basics:  What do you get for going to church?  What does it mean to “become a Christian,” or “begin your journey toward Jesus.”  (See John 6:37.)  More basically, some potential converts may ask, “Who is this ‘God,’ and what can ‘He’ do for me?

Yet a third variation:  “How can I get God – who created the universe – to do good things for me?”

Here’s my take:  Getting good stuff from God should be at least as hard as shooting the head off a match from 90 yards away.  “It’s hard as hell…  But now and then I’ll do it just right, and light one.”

Bear with me…

Over the millenia, two basic answers have been formulated on “does God exist?”  The first might be called the “Greek” view, which says there is no God and that we pitiful humans are at the whim of a merciless uncaring fate.  The other might be called the Hebraic view.

That view says that not only does God exist, but – that if you play your cards right – you can get Him to do good things for you, personally and as an individual. (Put another way, there is one God and that if you approach Him in the proper manner, He can make your life ever so much better.)

I explored this question in On the wisdom of Virgil – and an “Angel.”  That in turn was inspired by a series of lectures, Hebrews, Greeks and Romans:  Foundations of Western Civilization, via audiobook by Professor Timothy Shutt.  See also Job the not patient – REDUX.

Job REDUX noted Professor Shutt’s saying that when it comes to understanding the whole idea of God, we humans are “simply not up to the task.”  (We are no more up to the task of fully understanding God than “cats are prepared to study calculus.  It’s just not in our nature.”)

And Wisdom of Virgil noted Shutt’s observation that when it comes to such questions – like “does God exist?” – we humans tend to answer in terms of black or white.  (Or “all or nothing.”)   That is, most people say either that there is a “God who controls all things, or that there must be no God at all.”  In other words, there’s no middle ground.  (In our view.)

But Virgil – good old Virgil, at left reading his Aeneid – came up with just such a “middle view” that seems to make more sense than the black or white view:

There is … an overarching order at work in the world, a final coherence in the way that things work.  But it remains out of human reach, and despite our efforts, we can merely come to know it only in part

The emphasized “only in part” would seem to be just plain common sense.  If there is indeed a Force that Created the Universe, then we pitiful human beings – living a mere 70 or 80 years, if lucky – would (logically speaking) be hard pressed to ever fully understand it.  (Or “Him.”)

But just because we can’t fully understand “Him” doesn’t mean “He” doesn’t exist.  Thus there is – most likely – an “overarching order,” and that overarching order could well be the very God who provides the “final coherence in the way that things work.”

The problem is that we “earthy” humans tend to think in terms of “all or nothing.”  We tend to think that if this “God” doesn’t cater to our every whim – or if “He” does something we don’t like, or just can’t understand – then “He” must not exist at all.  (“I guess I showed Him!“)

But the good news is:  We can still get to know God, even if “only in part.”

Which brings up the Hell’s Angel.

As noted in Virgil and an “Angel,” his name was Magoo (from the ‘Frisco chapter), and:

…on days when he isn’t working, he goes out to the dump and tries to shoot the heads off match sticks.  “It’s hard as hell,” he said.  “But now and then I’ll do it just right, and light one…” But the really strange thing is how many people think that dealing with God – the Force that Created the Universe – is somehow easier than trying to shoot the head off a match stick…

So again, here’s my take on the two key questions.  (Does God exist?  And if He does, how can I get good stuff from Him?)  The answer?  Getting good stuff from God should be at least as hard as shooting the head off a match from 90 yards away.   The good news:  It isn’t always that hard.

One thing you can do is accept the promise of Jesus in John 6:37.  Another thing you can do is read the Bible on a daily basis, to find out how other people have successfully approached this “God” person.   A third thing you can do is realize the process is both interactive and ongoing.  (The more you do it the better you get at it.)

And finally, the fourth – and perhaps the most difficult – thing you can do is simply realize the fundamental principle that just because something bad happens to you – or just because “God doesn’t cater to you every whim” – doesn’t mean He doesn’t exist.

*   *   *   *

Meanwhile, back to St. Matthew.  (See Matthew 9:9.)  I covered his Feast Day last year in On St. Matthew.  (Including the painting at right.)

This year I added some different paintings, including ter Brugghen‘s take on the calling of St. Matthew, at the top of the page.  See The Calling of St Matthew – Web Gallery of Art, which noted that Ter Brugghen spent ten years in Italy and likely studied under the noted Italian artist Caravaggio.  Caravaggio in turn “exerted a great influence on him” and sometimes ter Brugghen “repeated the subjects of Caravaggio, like in the Calling of St. Matthew.”

As to the ter Brugghen painting at the top of the page:

Christ and his follower appear to the left as dark figures in the foreground.  The main accent is on the brightly illuminated group on the right [including the] mercenary soldier pointing to the money on the table…  The light enters in a broad beam … from the left.  However, the quality of the light is original;  it is lighter, richer, and more atmospheric than Caravaggio’s, which seldom has the brightness or softness of real daylight.

Note also the “six gesticulating hands in the center.”  Thus in ter Brugghen‘s  interpretation, Jesus stands at the far left, in shadow and in profile.  St. Matthew – the one being “called” – sits near the center of the painting, pointing to himself with an expression of “Who?  Me?

Note also that ter Brugghen did other paintings on St. Matthew’s “calling,” including the one at the bottom of the page.  (Immediately before the “notes” section.)

And finally, consider some of the things Isaac Asimov wrote about St. Matthew.

Asimov noted that Matthew’s name came from the Hebrew meaning “gift of God,” and that it was a common name in New Testament times.  This was due in large part to “the great pride of the Jews in the achievements of priest Mattathias” (seen at left on the head of a Jewish coin at the time).  Mattathias in turn was the “father of Judas Maccabeus and the heroic initiator of the revolt against the Seleucids.”  (167-160 B.C.)

But there were also good reasons why this author – and any other Gospel writer – might try and remain anonymous.  For one thing, such “holy books” were thought to carry a lot more weight – seem more “holy” – if the real authorship was “assigned to some ancient worthy:”

Indeed, there might be considered the very real force of the feeling that a truly holy book was inspired by God and that the worldly author acted only as a mouthpiece and deserved no credit.  (Emphasis added.)

Then there was the “mundane” consideration of personal mayhem.

The time when the Gospels were written “was a hard one for Christians.  Jewish hostility was pronounced and so was Roman hostility.”  Christians at the time had  vivid memories of Nero Persecuting the Christianscirca 64 A.D.  Then there was the great Jewish Revolt.  That revolt ran from 66 to 70 A.D. and turned out to be “one of the greatest catastrophes in Jewish life.”  It ultimately resulted in the Destruction of Jerusalem.  It also turned the Jewish people “from a major population in the Eastern Mediterranean into a scattered and persecuted minority” throughout the world.  (See also Jewish diaspora – Wikipedia.)

The upshot was that the Jews who had revolted against Rome “were resentful, indeed, of Christian failure to join the rebellion.”  Thus as Asimov noted, because of intense hostility from both Jews and Romans, “It might well be that a gospel writer preferred to remain anonymous out of considerations of personal safety.”  The bottom line is that Matthew “witnessed” at a time when it was dangerous for him to do so.  Thus as the Collect for Matthew’s Day says:

We thank you, heavenly Father, for the witness of your apostle and evangelist Matthew … and we pray that, after his example, we may with ready wills and hearts obey the calling of our Lord to follow him…

*   *   *   *

The Calling of St. Matthew - Hendrick TerbrugghenAnother interpretation of Jesus “calling” Matthew…

*   *   *   *

The upper image is courtesy of  Brugghen, Hendrick ter – The Calling of St. Matthew.  As noted, the artist did different paintings on the same subject.  See for example ter Brugghen, Calling of Saint Matthew | MuMa Le Havre, and The Calling of St. Matthew – Hendrick Terbrugghen –, which provided the lower image immediately above the “notes” section.

Re:  “Rally Day.”  See Rally Day | Article about Rally Day by The Free Dictionary, which noted:  

In liturgical Protestant churches, Rally Day marks the beginning of the church calendar year. It typically occurs at the end of September or the beginning of October.  Although not all Protestant churches observe this day, the customs associated with it include giving Bibles to children, promoting children from one Sunday school grade to the next, welcoming new members into the church, and [presenting] church goals for the coming year.

Re:  National Back to Church Sunday.  See also – from 2012 – Over 10,000 Churches Commit to ‘National Back to Church Sunday,’ from the Christian Post, a “nondenominational, Evangelical Christian newspaper based in Washington, D.C.”  The Post noted that since 2009, “National Back to Church Sunday has inspired churchgoers to invite more than 2.6 million family members, friends, neighbors and co-workers to their churches.”  

Re: “Virgil.”  The illustration, from Wikipedia, includes the caption:  “Virgil Reading the Aeneid to Augustus, Octavia, and Livia by Jean-Baptiste Wicar, Art Institute of Chicago.”

Re: “interactive.”  See On Mary Magdalene, “Apostle to the Apostles:”

[That] just goes to show the importance of the interactive – if not the mystical – part of your walk toward Jesus.  (Pursuant to John 6:37.)  In the end there’s simply no way to prove the existence of either God or Jesus, with enough courtroom evidence o convince the most jaded of skeptics.  In the end it all comes down to faith, and experience.

Re: Isaac Asimov.  The quotes about St. Matthew are from Asimov’s Guide to the Bible (Two Volumes in One),  Avenel Books (1981), at pages 771-72. 

Asimov (1920-1992) was “an American author and professor of biochemistry at Boston University, best known for his works of science fiction and for his popular science books.  Asimov was one of the most prolific writers of all time, having written or edited more than 500 books and an estimated 90,000 letters and postcards.”  His list of books included those on “astronomy, mathematics, theBible, William Shakespeare’s writing, and chemistry.”  He was a long-time member of Mensa, “albeit reluctantly;  he described some members of that organization as ‘brain-proud and aggressive about their IQs.’”  See also Isaac Asimov – Wikipedia.

The coin image of “Mattathias” is courtesy of Mattathias – Wikipedia, with the caption:  “Mattathias from Guillaume Rouillé‘s Promptuarii Iconum Insigniorum.”

Re: the Jewish Revolt of 66-70 A.D.  See also Jewish–Roman wars – Wikipedia

*   *   *   *

And speaking of reviews, here’s a portion of the “Welcome” portion of “Matthew 2014:”

[T]his Bible-blog is different…  It says that not only should we read the Bible with an open mind, but also that it was designed to liberate us, not shackle and shape us into some “pre-formed” spiritual straitjacket…  That runs contrary to a common perception these days, that way too many Christians are way too focused on a “one size fits all” Faith, on pain of which those who don’t think just like they do – or belong to their particular “club” – are going to hell.   For more on that topic and others like it see [The] Blog, which talks about how we can live fuller, richer lives of great spiritual abundance, and do greater miracles than even Jesus did, if only we open our minds

*   *   *   *

“I-I-I’m back in the saddle again…”



Gene Autry “the Singing Cowboy,” on Champion, and no doubt glad to be “back in the saddle…”


*   *   *   *

In case you hadn’t noticed, I’m back in the saddle after three weeks out of town.  (Part of that time was spent on the Columbia River, near Astoriaon unfinished canoe-trip business, as noted in On the OTHER readings for August.)  I left town on Monday August 10, and got back August 27.

My last post featured an analysis of the Sunday Bible readings for August 16, 23 and 30.  This post will feature highlights from the Daily Office Readings that I read, all during my three-week hiatus away from home and the daily routine.

To begin with, the main readings for August 10 – the day I flew out west – were 2 Samuel 13:23-39, Acts 20:17-38, and Mark 9:42-50.  The first (OT) reading had David’s son Absalom fleeing, after killing his brother Amnon, for raping his half-sister Tamar.  (She was Absalom’s “full sister.”)  That all led to Absalom’s attempted coup d’état, discussed in On the readings for August 9.  (Where he ended up literally “hanging from a tree.”)   In the second reading, Paul took a tearful departure from Miletus, after his “last visit to Jerusalem and arrest:”

When he had finished speaking, he knelt down with them all and prayed. 37There was much weeping among them all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, 38grieving especially because of what he had said, that they would not see him again.

In the Gospel, Jesus discussed stumbling blocks, and how we should avoid them.

Rainier MarinaThe readings for August 15 – the day that my brother and I launched our canoe from Rainier, Oregon (as shown at left) – were 2 Samuel 16:1-23, Acts 22:17-29, and Mark 11:1-11.

In the first (OT) reading, Absalom had public sex with his father David’s wives and concubines, after capturing Jerusalem and forcing his father – the king – to flee.  (Thus fulfilling the prophecy against David – that “the sword will never depart from your house” – for his part in the death of Uriah the Hittite.)

In the second (NT) reading, Paul made his defense to the charges leading to his arrest, and got an apology from the Roman guard, for almost flogging a Roman citizen (Paul) “who is uncondemned.”  The Gospel told of Jesus and His triumphal/triumphant entry into Jerusalem.  (Though there is some debate whether he rode one donkey or a donkey and a colt, as indicated by a literal reading.  See Were one or two animals brought to Jesus? | Donkey and colt.)

The readings for August 17 – the day we paddled 21 miles to reach Astoria after getting up at 3:00 in the morning – were 2 Samuel 17:24-18:8, Acts 22:30-23:11, and Mark 11:12-26.  The OT reading told of David marshaling his forces against those of his son Absalom – the usurper king – leading to a battle that David won, “and the slaughter there was great on that day…  The battle spread over the face of all the country; and the forest claimed more victims that day than the sword.”  And which led to Absalom’s death, as noted above.

The New Testament featured that part of Paul’s trial where he set the Sadducees against the Pharisees, thus illustrating the concept of divide and conquer.  (The Sadducees didn’t believe in the resurrection of the dead, while the Pharisees – and Paul – did believe in such things.)  It also included Paul insulting a high priest, thus violating Exodus 22:28.  (See also On dissin’ the Prez.)

The Gospel for August 17 featured Jesus cursing the fig tree – as shown at right – and also expelling the money-changers from the Temple.

All of which meant that the month of August 2015 was a busy time in the Daily Office Readings.  (All of which I read on a daily basis, except when we were out of cell-phone-and-internet range on the Columbia.  And incidentally, it took Lewis and Clark ten days to cover the last 16 miles of their journey down the Columbia, “because of bad weather.”  See for example “Ocian In View”- Oregon Coast –  But because of a lot of advance knowledge that they didn’t have – including pre-published tide tables – we managed to cover 56 miles in three short days; averaging four hours of paddling per day instead of our usual six.)

And finally, the Old Testament reading for Thursday, August 27 – the day I flew back to God’s Country (the outskirts of Atlanta) – was 1 Kings 3:16-28.  It told the story of the Judgment of Solomon, which led to the expressions “splitting the baby” or “cutting the baby in half:”

The expressions “splitting the baby” or “cutting the baby in half” are sometimes used in the legal profession for a form of simple compromise:  solutions which “split the difference” in terms of damage awards or other remedies (e.g. a judge dividing fault between the two parties in a comparative negligence case).

Briefly, two women – “prostitutes” in the Satucket translation – came to King Solomon fighting over a baby.  The two women lived together, and each had a baby about the same age.  But one died in the night, and the dispute was about the mother of the dead baby switching the two during the night, and claiming the living baby was hers.

Solomon had to decide which woman was telling the truth.

In the end, he ordered the living baby cut in two, with a half going to each woman.  One woman said that was all right with her, but the other said no, give the baby to her rival:

The king declared the first mother as the true mother, as a true, loving mother would rather surrender her baby to another than hurt him, and gave her the baby.  King Solomon’s judgment became known throughout all of Israel and was considered an example of profound wisdom.

The New Testament reading for August 27 was Acts 27:27-44.

The soldiers’ plan was to kill the prisoners, so that none might swim away and escape; but the centurion, wishing to save Paul, kept them from carrying out their plan.  He ordered those who could swim to jump overboard first and make for the land, and the rest to follow, some on planks and others on pieces of the ship.  And so it was that all were brought safely to land.

Which may well be a metaphor for Yours Truly being brought back safely home…

The Gospel for August 27 was Mark 14:12-26, which told of Jesus having His disciples prepare the Passover feast – as shown at left –  and in preparation for His Crucifixion.  The reading included Mark 14:13, where Jesus sent two disciples, saying “Go into the city, and a man carrying a jar of water will meet you; follow him.”

So what was strange about that?

Just this:  Carrying water in that time and place was woman’s work.  Accordingly, “The man is likely inconvenienced and possibly embarrassed to carry such a water pitcher.”  See Margaret Feinberg: Wonderstruck – LifeWay, which further noted the first part of Joshua 9:

When the Gibeonites deceived Joshua (9:3-27), he judged them and made them servants to chop wood and carry water.  This punishment may seem mild to us, but how humiliating it was to a man – carrying water in public – a woman’s job!

See also Squaw – Wikipedia, which noted that to Native Americans, the term squaw man “became a derogatory adjective,” as in to denote a “man who does woman’s work.”

All of which just goes to show:  There’s more to the Bible than meets the eye!

Which is precisely why I’m doing this blog…


File:Nicolas Poussin - The Judgment of Solomon - WGA18330.jpg


Re: Paul’s last visit to Jerusalem and arrest.  See Paul the Apostle – Wikipedia.

The “fig tree” image is courtesy of the cursing the fig tree article, and has  the caption:  “Byzantine icon of the cursing of the fig tree.”

The “Passover” image is courtesy of Was Jesus’ Last Supper a Seder? – Biblical Archaeology Society.

The lower image is courtesy of Nicolas_Poussin_-_The Judgment of Solomon.  See also Judgment of Solomon – Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.