Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Ethnici Cleansing

Wednesday, November 7, 2007 -- Week of Proper 26
(Willibrord, Archbishop of Utrecht, Missionary to Frisia, 739)

"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
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Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p 990)
Psalms 72 (morning) 119:73-96 (evening)
Nehemiah 13:4-22
Revelation 12:1-12
Matthew 13:53-58

When we read stories about the Taliban, their behavior seems so alien and strange to us -- the forceful covering of women; punishment, even death, to those who convert to Christianity or take a Christian spouse; intolerance toward all other religions and their banishment; forceful observance of religious practice; shutting down movies, television; and heavy censorship. Yet chapter 13 of Nehemiah reflects a similar project of ethnic cleansing under the leadership of Nehemiah in 5th century BCE Israel.

Nehemiah's project intended that Israel separate from Israel all of foreign descent (13:3). In this chapter he expels Tobiah who had been given a room in the Temple by his cousin the priest Eliashib. Tobiah was an Ammonite. Nehemiah restored the tithes (taxes) that supported the state religion. He enforced the sabbath laws upon both Jews and non-Jews, shutting and guarding the city gates during the sabbath to prevent any commerce. But the central work was the prevention of intermarriage and the breakup of any marriage between a Jew and a non-Jew. Families were split; children separated from their parents; and speaking foreign languages was outlawed. Today we see enforcements to similar effect in this nation's pursuit of anti-immigration laws.

Nehemiah's project had the blessing of the Empire because it served the purposes of the Persians. When the conquered nations and tribes strongly enforced their tribal boundaries it was easier for the Empire to control the ownership and production of the land. With Nehemiah insuring that all lands in Israel were under complete Jewish control, it allowed consistent management of the agricultural tribute that Persia demanded from Israel without the complications of competing claims or multicultural land transfers. Ethnic cleansing was good for the Empire's economic domination system.

From Nehemiah's perspective, Israel gained a secure and rebuilt Temple and walled Jerusalem for Jews only.

The book of Ruth was written as a form of protest against the purification projects of Ezra and Nehemiah. It is the story, set in Israel's past, of a faithful Moabite woman who is married to Jewish man. It tells of her virtue and character. She is blessed by God and becomes an ancestor of the great King David. Jonah is also a book that takes seriously the potential for repentance and righteousness that is present among the nations. Jesus, among other prophets, raised up a tradition counter to the practice of Nehemiah and Ezra that the Temple in Jerusalem was to be a house of prayer for all nations.

Purity and separation or pluralism and the potential for holiness of all peoples. The tensions present in the scripture traditions are fresh and alive today.


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The Rev. Lowell Grisham
Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, AR

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

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worship weekly
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learn constantly
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