Monday, October 03, 2011

Manasseh

Monday, October 3, 2011 -- Week of Proper 22, Year One
George Kennedy Allen Bell, Bishop of Chichester, and Ecumenist, 1958
John Raleigh Mott, Evangelist and Ecumenical Pioneer, 1955


Today's Readings for the Daily Office
(Book of Common Prayer, p. 986)
Psalms 106:1-18 (morning)      //     106:19-48 (evening)
2 Kings 21:1-18      
1 Corinthians 10:14 - 11:1      
Matthew 8:28-34

The tension between God's wrath and God's mercy runs throughout the Bible.  We hear two messages in tension -- God holds us accountable and God forgives.  King Manasseh is a symbol of this biblical tension.

Manasseh's fifty-five year reign as king is the longest reign of any monarch of Israel or Judah.  But the author of 2 Kings (often called the Deuteronomic author) condemns him unequivocally.  The writer places upon Manasseh the blame for the destruction of Jerusalem.  God holds Manasseh accountable and punishes the nation -- "I will wipe Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down.  I will cast off the remnant of my heritage, and give them into the hand of their enemies; ...because they have done what is evil in my sight."  The Deuteronomic author blames Manasseh particularly for the Babylonian exile.

A later historian we call the Chronicler also records Manasseh's unfaithfulness, but adds a story of repentance.  He has Manasseh being captured, bound in fetters, and taken to Babylon, where Manasseh "entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his ancestors.  He prayed to him and God received his entreaty, heard his plea, and restored him again to Jerusalem and to his kingdom."  Many commentators believe this story to be a fiction, intended to encourage a later generation to repentance.

From this tradition, we get the Apocryphal book the Prayer of Manasseh.  There is much discussion about when the Prayer of Manasseh was composed, but one theory was that it was written after the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple in 70 CE, sometime after Jesus.  Portions of that prayer are in our office of Morning Prayer as canticle 14, "A Song of Penitence."  It is a favorite Lenten canticle. 

One interpretation speculates that this later generation took the Chronicler's story of Manasseh and used it as a point of inspiration for their own time.  They looked at Manasseh's unfaithfulness which provoked God's judgment in the form of the Babylonian exile and saw parallels with their contemporary scene of judgment.  They remembered that when Manasseh repented (according to the Chronicler), God restored the kingdom in mercy.  Therefore, they offered a penitent prayer through the ancient voice of Manasseh to beseech God's mercy in another day of crisis.

How do post-modern people receive these traditions?  We've been through a period of historical and scientific inquiry where we have tended to devalue the non-historical accretions to the Biblical record, asking the reporter's question, "what really happened?"  From that perspective, we might see Manasseh as a long-term king who used the syncretistic tendencies of his people to form allies in a reign of political practicality and religious pragmatism.  Though he was frowned upon by the theological historians, in worldly terms he was pretty successful.

But the Biblical writers saw much more in Manasseh.  To the Deuteronomic author, he was the epitome of evil, the cause of wrath.  To the Chronicler, he was a bad man who prayed for forgiveness and received mercy.  And to the apocryphal poet, he was the inspiration for one of the most lyrical expressions of lament and repentance in religious language. 

The history of the history of Manasseh is a story that moves within the ancient tension, but it has a direction.  It illustrates both God's judgment and mercy.  But when we look at the evolution of this story, we see movement from judgment to mercy. 

It is the same movement we see in the cross and resurrection of Jesus.

Lowell

Audio podcast:  Listen to an audio podcast of the most recent Morning Reflections from today and the past week.  Click the following link:
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Morning Reflection Podcasts

About Morning Reflections
"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 missionstclare.com -- Click for online Daily Office
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 --  Click for Divine Hours

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

See our Web site at www.stpaulsfay.org

Our Rule of Life: 
We aspire to...
    worship weekly
    pray daily
    learn constantly
    serve joyfully 
    live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas

3 Comments:

At 9:23 PM, Anonymous janet said...

Hi Lowell,

Thanks for the fascinating history lesson.

A Haiku from Evening Prayer

On the farthest shore
See the power of goodness
To heal - to restore

Peace,
Janet

 
At 8:15 AM, Blogger Lowell said...

Thank you for the evening Haiku, Janet.

 
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