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Saturday, September 25, 2010

Day 25 (Prayers or Songs)

In an exchange with my friend Matt, I realized that I have not been saying much (anything?) about the Psalms and Proverbs that accompany each reading. I've been reading them, but I admit my analytical self is more drawn to the narratives.

As a child I was taught that the Psalms are like songs. I get that. The occasional Selah clues one in that these were recited in groups and used in worship. However, they strike me more as prayers. As personal requests words to God Almighty. It is a neat feature of our sacred texts to have these. They, like the rest of the Hebrew Testament, are brutally honest. Sometimes asking God to smash the heads of our enemies, sometimes asking God why he abandoned us, sometimes thanking God for not abandoning us, or smashing the heads of our enemies.

I would be interested to hear from those who find the Psalms to be helpful or important about how they use the verses.

Day 25 (It's All About Mary)

I'm going to respond to the first three chapters of Luke here. That is actually one reading from Day 24, but I think it is okay. I think it was my friend Monica who first informed me of the notion that Luke was written by a woman. Now, whenever I read look, I read it in a woman's voice. Not just because I respect Monica, but because it really makes sense. Luke begins with this,
Many have undertaken to draw up an account of the things that have been fulfilled[a] among us, just as they were handed down to us by those who from the first were eyewitnesses and servants of the word. Therefore, since I myself have carefully investigated everything from the beginning, it seemed good also to me to write an orderly account for you, most excellent Theophilus, so that you may know the certainty of the things you have been taught.
So, be warned reader, this is going to be different from what those earlier chumps told you. Then, she launches into a discussion about a bunch of chic stuff, like kids jumping in wombs, and pregnant ladies getting together to talk about what to expect when you're expecting a prophet who will save the people of Isreal. (One of my most linked to blog posts was my graphic comparison of the two nativities here. Also, the genealogies are irreconcilably different except for the bit from Abraham to David: Matthew v. Luke.)

The author of Luke has the angel talking to Mary rather than Joseph. In fact, she doesn't really go into how Joseph felt to learn that his bride to be had miraculously conceived a child. We get all of that from Matthew's author. Luke's author also provides great details about other people reacting to Jesus' birth. Not just the shepherds, but a prophet and prophetess. Also, check this out, the offering Mary and Joseph gave for Christ's birth, fell under the poverty provisions. Cf. Luke 2:21-24 and Lev. 12:8.

Luke is my favorite gospel.

Day 25 (Talking Donkey)

Today will be a Super Sized Saturday. I realized I will need to occasionally double up if I want to finish before my fortieth birthday. So, first we have the Numbers reading which is from chapter 21 to 29.

Most interesting is this story about Balaam of Midian, which you will surely recall is where Jethro father of Zipporah and father-in-law of Moses is from. It is a crazy tale in which we learn of a non-Hebrew prophet having dialogue first with YHWH and later with a talking donkey. I knew this story, but not where it was located in the Bible, and I missed that the prophet was a Midianite, not an Israelite. If you are interested it is here.

So, the placement of this story in the middle of Numbers is a curious literary choice. It belongs as far as the action goes, the Israelites have been blocked from passing through the land of Esau's descendants (Edom) and are working around the descendants of Lot's daughters (Moabites). The problem is that the following story is how God gets very mad a the Hebrews for "sexual immorality" with Midianite women; one of them even takes a Midianite bride in the open! So, Aaron successor, Eleazar, runs the man and his foreign bride through with a spear, which causes the plague that God had inflicted on the Hebrews to go end.

Did I mention the nationality of Moses's wife? So, lets suspend the critique of a God that sends plagues on his people and that is quite xenophobic from time to time. Why are these two stories located one after another? The first clearly demonstrates that YHWH (also called Shaddai once in the story btw) speaks to other people and other people are righteous. If the problem is that the Hebrews were swinging with the loose Midianite women, then why emphasize their foreign birth and not their looseness?

Were these stories of conflicting message included in the scripture as a dialogue between competing views? Consider the two creation stories. Consider the example I'll post later today.

Friday, September 24, 2010

Day 24 (Vindication)

[Response to readings for March 12-14]

The first verse of one of the Psalms for today implores God thusly:
Save me, O God, by your name;
vindicate me by your might.
In fact, in Numbers we see how God vindicates Moses when a group of 250 Israelites start an uprising. Hint: it involves the ground swallowing people up and fire coming from the sky. In Mark, we have the much more well know vindication of Jesus' ministry with these words:
"Don't be alarmed," he said. "You are looking for Jesus the Nazarene, who was crucified. He has risen! He is not here. See the place where they laid him. But go, tell his disciples and Peter, 'He is going ahead of you into Galilee. There you will see him, just as he told you.' "

Trembling and bewildered, the women went out and fled from the tomb. They said nothing to anyone, because they were afraid.
Hebrew story and other cited text here. Have I recently mentioned how awesome Biblegateway.com is?This passage is the conclusion of Mark. Someone went back later and added a post-resurrection citing, but the author of Mark did not think such an account was necessary.

Sometimes you hear leaders in the Bible broken down into three categories: Prophets, Priests and Kings. Jesus is a prophet. I like his method of vindication best; continuing on in the face of diversity, not forgetting what the ministry is about even in the face of death. To me, this is how a prophet is vindicated.

Thursday, September 23, 2010

Day 23 (Abandoment)

I have decided to succumb to the temptation to find common themes despite the fact, it is clear the readings were selected based on the order they come in the Bible and chopping them up in to manageable chunks. Today I read March 8-10 in the One Year Bible.

In Numbers we have examples of God being angry about people complaining and collapsing under the pressure of wandering in the desert. God reacts with (1) fire on the outskirts of camp (11:1-3), (2) giving the people meat that made them sick (11:20, 31-34), (3) giving Miriam leprosy (12:10), and after people believe the 10 lying spies, God causes the Israelites to suffer forty years wandering in the desert (14:34). Link to fuller text.

In Mark, we have the second version of the disciples falling away. Judas betrays Jesus to the authorities, his closest disciples cannot keep watch with him, the disciples scatter--except Peter, who remains to deny him three times before the cock crows. Link to fuller text.

Question: What does it mean that God is hurt when humans turn away from God? Is this purely anger over disobedience, or is there a component of God feeling betrayed by those with whom God made a covenant?

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Day 22 (Focus)

[Today's readings were those for March 5-7 in the One Year Bible. Click on the Bible image to the right to see the full list of readings.]

I am roughly 1/6th of the way through and Leviticus-Numbers was really getting me down. Then I came to this bit about how to deal with a wife you suspected of cheating on you. Num. 5:11-31. What's the email phrase I'm looking for, oh yes,


Not only is does the passage reveal the sexism of the system--no parallel for a cheating husband--but it sure reads like something some folks in Salem Mass. might have spent a little too much time reading.

Thankfully, I soon came across this gem, also from Numbers.The LORD said to Moses,
"Tell Aaron and his sons, 'This is how you are to bless the Israelites. Say to them:
" ' "The LORD bless you and keep you;
the LORD make his face shine upon you and be gracious to you;
the LORD turn his face toward you and give you peace." '
"So they will put my name on the Israelites, and I will bless them."
Num. 6:22-27, and with the sweet theme from Fiddler on the Roof playing in my head, I turned to the story of the widow's mite in Mark.

These blessed passages don't "erase" passages about forcing a women to drink a cursed solution to prove she's been faithful to her husband. But they remind me about what my faith is about, which is important to me.

Tuesday, September 21, 2010

Day 21 (Mark v. Matthew)

Today's reading from Mark moves the action for the rural northern area of Israel, Galilee, to the big city, Jerusalem. I think of it a evangelist/faith healer who started out in places like Selma, Memphis and Montgomery and then made a march on Washington, D.C.

What I noticed about Mark is that it includes fewer teachings of Jesus than Matthew, and many fewer references to prophecies. E.g., Mark just has Jesus ride in on one animal, while Matthew felt the need to include two. Also, something curious about Mark, there were so many stories of healing in Galilee, but I haven't read any after he got to Jerusalem.

Monday, September 20, 2010

Day Twenty (Disability)

Another frustrating gem from Leviticus, this time 21:16-24 wherein "YHWH said to Moses, 'Say to Aaron: "For the generations to come none of your descendants who has a defect may come near to offer the food of his God. No man who has any defect may come near: no man who is blind or lame . . . no man with a crippled foot of hand . . . because of his defect, he must not go near the curtain or approach the altar, and so desecrate my sanctuary. I am YHWH, who makes them holy." ' " The uber hearsay notwithstanding, I knew a man against whom this scripture was asserted. He walked with a cane because he had suffered from polio as a child. Some among the most wicked group of people I've ever known (a church where Dad served for seven years) said because of this scripture the man could not serve as Elder. Dad disagreed. Good for Dad.

A pleasant surprise in Mark though. From 9:40, the disciples were upset that people outside their group were healing in Jesus' name. Jesus tells the disciples to leave them alone, noting "for whoever is not against us is for us." I much prefer this formulation.

Finally, advice from Proverbs I rarely heed: When words are many, sin is not absent, but he who holds his tongue is wise. In other words, better to remain silent and let people think you're a fool, than to open your mouth and remove all doubt. ;)

Sunday, September 19, 2010

Day Nineteen (Purity)

[Feb. 24-26 from One Year Bible available online here.]

Here we go. Leviticus continues to tell us about impurity. It talks about disease, and what to do if someone is healed, not how to heal them. E.g., "“When the man with the discharge is healed, he must count off seven days for the period of purification. Then he must wash his clothes and bathe himself in fresh water, and he will be ceremonially clean." Lev. 15:13. There is also discussion of what to do if you eat something that is unclean. E.g., "And if any native-born Israelites or foreigners eat the meat of an animal that died naturally or was torn up by wild animals, they must wash their clothes and bathe themselves in water. They will remain ceremonially unclean until evening, but then they will be clean."

Jesus has something to say about worshiping tradition. Thing is they wanted the Disciples to wash their hands before eating. The author of Mark alerts us that, "[t]his is but one of many traditions they have clung to—such as their ceremonial washing of cups, pitchers, and kettles" Mark 7:4. It seems like kind of a minor requirement to us today, but Jesus--as he often does--launches into the Fundamentalists saying, "You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you, for he wrote,‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship is a farce, for they teach man-made ideas as commands from God.’ For you ignore God’s law and substitute your own tradition." 6-8. Oh, snap! Basically, Jesus hates people who try to push their traditions on people by using religion. Is hates too strong? Probably.

And so, now we come to Leviticus 18, the list of sexual prohibitions. One thing I notice right off the bat was this, "Do not have sexual relations with your sister or half sister, whether she is your father’s daughter or your mother’s daughter, whether she was born into your household or someone else’s." Lev. 18:9 Which means that Sarah and Abraham were violating the God's law. Not a problem for me, because I'm solidly against brothers and sisters having sex with each other--even half-brother & sister.

On to the big one, "Do not practice homosexuality, having sex with another man as with a woman. It is a detestable sin." Lev. 18:22. First, the opening clause is a ridiculous translation. The idea of homosexuality generically is a very, very recent idea. It sure says do not practice sexual immorality. Second, notice the specificity, it is men have sex with men; actually it is men having sex with another man "as with a woman." What does that mean? Is it possible the ancient notion that only one of the two men having sex is committing an abomination present? I don't know.

Let's go back to Jesus. He scolds the Fundamentalists for ignoring the major commandment of honor your father and mother with a tradition that gave power to the Fundamentalists. Makes me think about ignoring the admonition to care for the poor by hiding behind one's view of the role of government. Finally, he closes with this:
“It is what comes from inside that defiles you. For from within, out of a person’s heart, come evil thoughts, sexual immorality, theft, murder, adultery, greed, wickedness, deceit, lustful desires, envy, slander, pride, and foolishness. All these vile things come from within; they are what defile you.”

Okay, so how would Jesus have responded to Mary and Jennifer raising their seven-year-old daughter that Mary gave birth to and Jennifer adopted? Would he simply have applied the law from Leviticus? The Fundamentalists of his day, the Pharisees, certainly would have. I bet they would not care that the Scripture actually doesn't say anything about lesbians, or gay people raising children or being married. But, we know what Jesus thought of them.

[UPDATE: I did this reading with the online version. The hard copy book I bought at Bookman's does not have the phrase "Do not practice homosexuality," causing me to believe the words were added for purely political reasons. Shame on you editors of the NIV.]