Thursday, November 15, 2007

Fighting Evil

Thursday, November 15, 2007 -- Week of Proper 27

"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 www.missionstclare.com
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site www.ExploreFaith.org at this location -- http://explorefaith.org/prayer/fixed/index.html

Audio Podcasts of today's "Morning Reflection" and those from the past week are available from http://www.stpaulsfay.org/id244.html (go to St. Paul's Home Page www.stpaulsfay.org and click "Morning Reflection podcast")


Today's Readings for the Daily Office (Book of Common Prayer, p 992)
Psalms [83] or 23, 27 (morning) 85, 86 (evening)
1 Maccabees 1:1-28 (found in the Apocrypha)
Revelation 19:1-10
Matthew 16:1-12

When I saw video of crowds of people cheering in the streets in some cities in the Middle East as the news of the attack on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon reached their countries, I was reminded of scenes in Revelation like what we read yesterday and today. Heaven and earth rejoice at the destruction and violence of the fall of Rome (Babylon), "who corrupted the earth with her fornication." John's Revelation sees the annihilation of the city and speaks, "Rejoice over her, O heaven, you saints and apostles and prophets! For God has given judgment for you against her." Heaven sings out, "Hallelujah! The smoke goes up from her forever and ever."

The anger and sense of victimization that John voices toward Rome is not unlike what we have seen and heard from some Arab cultures (and others) toward the U.S. and other Western powers. Many from Islamic regions are outraged as John was by the corrupted morals and overt sexuality, the arrogant and damaging economic domination and excess, the military and political oppression, and the religious insult that they experience as the fruits of powerful foreign aggression. They see the religion, land, and culture that they love threatened by insolent and apostate powers.

How do you respond to such threats? There is a tension in our scriptures as well as the Qur'an (Koran).

Much of the Apocalyptic literature gives image and voice to the hope that God will act decisively on behalf of the pious and oppressed. And though some of the images include great violence and destruction, the apocalypses of Daniel and John's Revelation do not imagine or promote human militancy. They await God's action of judgment and restoration.

On the other hand, the book of 1 Maccabees which we begin today chronicles the armed battle of zealous warriors who wage a war of revolution and a terrorist campaign against their oppressors. Their revolt against the Syrian ruler Antiochus Epiphanes IV at the suppression of traditional Jewish worship in 167 BCE led to a century of Jewish independence. The book of 1 Maccabees represents the point of view of the Jewish ruling family of the Hasmoneans, the Maccabean dynasty.

1 Maccabees was included in the Greek scriptures (the Septuagint) translation for Jews living in the diaspora. That is how it found its way into the Christian Bible and Apocrypha. But the book was not accepted into the final canon of Hebrew Scriptures. Many Jews experienced the zealousness of Maccabean rule to be as oppressive as some foreign rule, and some welcomed Roman liberation from their own Jewish oppressors. Zealots inspired by the story of the Maccabees launched a rebellion against Rome in 66 CE with catastrophic results. Later rabbis expressed great ambivalence toward the legacy of the Maccabees. One commentary remarks, "It is ironic that a book that describes the militant defense of Judaism should owe its preservation primarily to Christians."

The book of Revelation had similar resistance toward its inclusion into the Christian canon. It was the last book to be accepted, and faced challenge to its status for centuries (4th century, St. John Chrysostom; 9th century Patriarch of Constantinople; 16th century Martin Luther).

I find comfort in the traditional discomfort with the traditions that we inherit that tend to condone a militant and violent response to evil. The example of Christ's defeat of evil through non-violent love remains the inspirational standard for Christians. But the presence of such glorification of violent destruction as we see in Revelation and 1 Maccabees is a reminder of how desperate we can become in the face of grave threat. It helps to remember that the predominate message of the scriptures is "fear not" and "trust God."

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

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church is to explore and celebrate
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2 Comments:

At 12:55 PM, Anonymous Anonymous said...

this is completely a side note... sort of. When Jesus is arrested and one of his companions cuts off the ear of one of the soldiers, Jesus said "put your sword back in its place, for all who draw the sword will die by the sword." Seems simple enough, what is also of interest to me is what Jesus says next.
"Do you think I cannot call on my Father, and he will at once put at my disposal more than twelve legions of angels?"

A Roman legion was anywhere from 4200 to 5500 men, I wiki-ed it... that's a total of around 50,000 or 60,000 angels, but my point is, that's an awfully lot of angels sitting around ready to battle(?). Not that God couldn't afford it, but I would imagine that angels cost some major scratch to maintain.

I was going to say something about income disparity but this idea of twelve legions of God was far more interesting... human nature perhaps.

-Scott

 
At 10:06 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Scott,

For several centuries soldiers were required to leave their commission before being baptized. There is a long pacifist tradition in Christianity. Those who live in that tradition today will often trace their convictions to a willing obedience to those words from Jesus when he put the sword away, healed the enemy, and said "No more of this." Literally.

Lowell

 

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