Wednesday, November 28, 2007

The Betrayal of Kin

Wednesday, November 28, 2007 -- Week of Proper 29
(Kemehameha and Emma, King and Queen of Hawaii, 1864, 1885)

"Morning Reflections" is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.

Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site at this location --

Audio Podcasts of today's "Morning Reflection" and those from the past week are available from (go to St. Paul's Home Page and click "Morning Reflection podcast")

Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p 994)
Psalms 119:145-176 (morning) 128, 129, 130 (evening)
Obadiah 15-20
1 Peter 2:1-10
Matthew 19:23-30

Conflict is ugly and painful, but conflict between close kin is particularly bitter. There is a qualitative difference between the conflict of distant enemies and the strife that happens when someone intimate betrays.

In Genesis we have the story of two brothers and betrayal -- the story of Jacob and Esau. In that account, they find reconciliation. But in the history of their descendants, things are more problematic. Jacob becomes Israel and the father of a nation. Esau becomes the father of the neighboring nation of Edom.

The book of Obadiah is a bitter word of anger over brotherly betrayal and conflict. After Israel's fall in 586, Edomites took advantage of the weakness, entered Jerusalem, looted and mistreated the people. Obadiah speaks a word of judgment toward Edom and reversal of fortunes. What goes down comes around. "The house of Jacob shall be a fire, and the house of Joseph a flame, and the house of Esau stubble; they shall burn them and consume them, and there shall be no survivor of the house of Esau." The prophet envisions the complete absorption of the neighboring lands under the domination of Israel.

This is a prophet who speaks of genocide and total dispossession. The words are like the bitter polemic that we hear today from the militant edges of Israeli and Palestinian relatives.

The texts of Matthew and Peter also are written in the shadow of brotherly conflict. Matthew's Jewish-Christian community has been expelled from the synagogue, and they are hurt and angry. 1 Peter's community has suffered some form of persecution, probably the Roman violence against the churches in the provinces of Asia Minor under the emperor Trajan (97-117). Reading these texts carefully reveals a bitter taste in the mouth.

Matthew inherits Jesus' Kingdom-of-God values which transcend name, position, wealth, and legacy. To a dispossessed and threatened community his promises greater treasure. Again there is a reversal. The community that has been thrown out of Israel will "sit on twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel." Everyone who has lost anything -- kindred or property -- "will receive a hundredfold and will receive eternal life." There is a reversal, but it doesn't sound as militant as Obadiah's: "Many who are first will be last, and the last will be first." Being the last to get in is considerably better than complete annihilation.

As 1 Peter imagines the rejected stone Jesus has become the cornerstone so that "whoever believes in him will not be put to shame." These followers of his, these rejected stones, are "like living stones" being built into "a spiritual house." Yes, the bad guys will get theirs. This stone they rejected is, after all, the cornerstone, "A stone that makes them stumble, and a rock that makes them fall." But 1 Peter focuses on the promises. "You are a chosen race, a royal priesthood, a holy nation, God's own people."

When we have been betrayed by close intimates, the hurt is exquisite. The desire for revenge and retribution is powerful.

Part of the legacy of Jesus is his willingness to break the cycle of retaliation. On the cross, Jesus absorbs the betrayal and violence of brother against brother, and he returns only love. "Forgive them Father, for they do not know what they do." Forgiveness, not vengeance, restores the peace of the Kingdom of Jesus. It is the higher and harder road.



At 8:12 AM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you Lowell, I needed to hear that this morning. The standard of forgiving us is hard but the model before is compelling. Usually the one who forgives ends up with the short end of the stick. My dream is that when we all enter into the kingdom out side the gates will lay the sticks, the short ones and the long ones. Judgement and Enlightenment is involved in letting go of the stick.

At 2:35 PM, Anonymous Going2Oahu said...

Thank you for posting this. In case you're interested, I just finished reading a wonderful book, Hawaii's Story by Hawaii's Queen, and have now placed it on my website if you would like to read it. It's written by Her Majesty, Queen Liliuokalani, and it's an interesting account of Hawaii's royal history. It's now in the public domain, and downloadable at

At 8:56 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Anonymous -- thanks for the comment. I especially like "letting go the stick."

Thanks also for the note about the book by Queen Liliuokalani. My son graduated from the U of Hawaii and we visited there a couple of times. We toured the palace and learned quite a bit about the history of Hawaii and of its royalty. From a native perspective, Kamehameha and Emma get mixed reviews today, it seems, largely because of their strong affinity for things British. The Episcopal Cathedral in Honolulu is built to resemble an English stone cathedral. The English built theirs to fit a cold climate; our experience of worship in the stone church in Honolulu was a bit warm and uncomfortable.



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