Re the Daily Office Readings August 19 Anno Domini 2020

Dante speaking to Pope Nicholas III by Gustave Doré

The Lessons: Judges 18:16-31; Acts 8:14-25; John 6:1-15

Re Judges, if we find the reading depressing, the editors have succeeded. Their message: something has to change; their hope is that kingship will be a good change. The inclusion of Judges 19-21 (omitted in our Lectionary) is perhaps overkill on the editors’ part. (The soundtrack for Judges 17-21 could easily be taken from John Boorman’s Deliverance [1972].) The combination of Judges 19-21, portraying Benjamin at its worst, and Ruth, portraying Judah at its best, does set us up for the conflict in 1 Samuel between Saul (tribe of Benjamin) and David (tribe of Judah).

Re Acts, recall “A bribe is like a magic stone in the eyes of those who give it; / wherever they turn they prosper” (Prov. 17:8). As with all proverbs, time and circumstance matter, and in Simon’s case the proverb misfires spectacularly. Hence “simony,” procuring or attempting to procure spiritual goods through offering material goods, a sin at which Pope Nicholas III was reputed to excel (see illustration from Dante’s Inferno). As Proverbs (repeatedly) observes, money is powerful, also (particularly?) when we aren’t paying attention to its power.

Re John, both John the Evangelist and Jesus as portrayed in the Gospel display ambivalence re signs (“Unless you see signs and wonders you will not believe” [4:48]). So feeding the five thousand is liable to be counterproductive, and turns out to be so (“When Jesus realized that they were about to come and take him by force to make him king…”). It’s interesting that counterproductive is not a deal-killer: five thousand human beings are involved.

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