“Surely the Lord is in this place—and I did not know it” (Gen 28:16). Here we wonder about encountering G-d at the intersection of Bible and Life–typically prompted by the (Episcopal) Book of Common Prayer.
When the Assyrian army surrounded Jerusalem in the time of King Hezekiah and the prophet Isaiah we’re told that one night “the angel of the Lord” struck down 185,000 Assyrians in the camp—and the Assyrians departed. Today’s text records a similar outcome—at the cost of one Assyrian life. I wonder: has something shifted in the culture and/or theological sensibility?
(By the way, the Book of Judith continues for three more chapters. Judith’s thanksgiving song is particularly worth attention, e.g., “Her sandal ravished his eyes, / her beauty captivated his mind, / and the sword severed his neck!”)
Every year Episcopal parishes complete the Parochial Report—many numbers—“to assist the Church in planning for mission.” Why isn’t one of the numbers requested the number of times merchants in the city have rioted in response to the parish’s missional activities?
The demon gets it right: Jesus is “the Holy One of God.” Not that it does the demon any good—he’s still sent packing, and an unnamed man—his former residence—is a little freer. Holiness and freedom: that’s a very old association: Moses encounters holy ground—and gets sent to bring Israel out of Egypt. Here’s another missional project for us—that also will not be (directly) registered in the Parochial Report—make more visible in our city the link between holiness and human freedom.
Note: the first link connects to all of chapters 8-9.
Luke. Yesterday’s reading—bumped by the Feast of St. Matthew—introduced John and began a course reading of Luke that will continue into late Advent. There John called for fruit proving repentance, and gave examples. Here John—switching agricultural metaphors—reminds us that our choices yield identities: wheat or chaff. No inside track for the privileged, no judges to bribe; just choices to be made.
Judith. Today we meet Judith—and the Lectionary leaves too much on the cutting room floor. Of the many striking elements in Judith’s prayer (chapter 9), here are three:
Judith emphasizes God’s hand in events—past, present, and future (vv.5-6). But this does not stop her asking that God make her plan successful.
Judith describes God’s character: “But you are the God of the lowly, helper of the oppressed, upholder of the weak, protector of the forsaken, savior of those without hope.” She sounds something like Hannah; Mary sounds like both.
Judith’s opening (vv.2-4) reveals perhaps unexpected freedom to read against the grain of Scripture. In Genesis 34 prince Shechem seizes and lays with Dinah. Her brothers Simeon and Levi respond by slaughtering all the males in his city. Their father Jacob rebukes the brothers, and on his deathbed doubles down on the rebuke. But here Judith celebrates their action in response to the outrage. Judith’s plan builds on their action to prevent further outrages.
Judith, written with the Maccabean violence against Hellenistic outrages fresh in the mind, reads Israel’s traditions in support of that violence. The context in which we read and the choices we make in reading matter.
“You must understand this, my beloved: let everyone be quick to listen, slow to speak, slow to anger; for your anger does not produce God’s righteousness. Therefore rid yourselves of all sordidness and rank growth of wickedness, and welcome with meekness the implanted word that has the power to save your souls.” This sounds like the mantra I need to adopt through at least mid-January. And I would really like to know how James read the Book of Judith.
“Beware of practicing your piety before others in order to be seen by them; for then you have no reward from your Father in heaven.” A timely warning also for those of us who use social media.
Judith. “No Ammonite or Moabite shall be admitted to the assembly of the LORD. Even to the tenth generation, none of their descendants shall be admitted to the assembly of the LORD” (Deut. 23:3). Perhaps this text has functioned twice like the proverbial grain of sand in the oyster, for in our canon we have both the Book of Ruth (from Moab) and the Book of Judith with its attention to Achior (of Ammon), who at the book’s end is received into Israel.
Acts. “…nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mortals life and breath and all things.” This is bedrock for Paul, and for both Testaments. Yes, both Testaments speak of God’s servants—as further testimony to God’s generosity.
John. John (the Evangelist) is interested in witness. The noun ‘witness’ (marturia) 14x in John, 4x in the other Gospels; the verb ‘to witness’ (martureō) 31x in John, 2x in the other Gospels. Many commentators think chapter 12 wraps up a major part of the book. Today’s text: Jesus describing the logic of his witness. I wonder: is this also a description of the readers’ witness? They say what they’re commissioned to say. Their task is not to judge, but to save. We could have saved ourselves a good deal of grief had we heard the text in these terms.
Jesus’ description also reframes the question. While there is obvious overlap, the question is not Jesus but God. Who is this God really that the Jews have been worshipping for centuries, and what is this God up to? And—the overlap—to receive Jesus’ testimony is to move from darkness to light (recall John’s prologue!).
Judith is a novella, probably from the 2nd century B.C. and reflecting the Maccabean crisis, whose heroine (introduced in chapter 8) is a mash-up of Jael (Judges 4-5), Esther, and Lady Wisdom (Prov 1-9; Sirach 24). In today’s text we’re dropped into the middle of another moment in which—as in Esther and the Maccabean crisis—the survival of the nation is at stake. The villain: Holofernes.
John. I, with many, find the frequent use of Isaiah 6:9-10 in the New Testament (Matt 13:14-15; Mk 4:12; Lk 8:10; Jn 12:40; Acts 28:26-27) deeply puzzling. Two things worth noticing: (1) the Jewish tradition (OT, NT, Mishnah, etc.) affirms both divine and human responsibility without attempting a resolution. (2) Isaiah might be understood as seeing 8th century B.C. Judah in parallel with the Exodus: as God’s judgment then included the hardening of Pharaoh’s heart, so now (an additional reason to repent!). Christian tradition, seeing Jesus as a second/one-greater-than Moses, may have found it particularly appropriate to speak again of divine hardening of this new Moses’ opponents.
All that said, the core of the puzzle remains, both because (1) Scripture elsewhere emphasizes God’s desire that all be saved (e.g., Ezek 33:11; 1 Tim 2:4) and (2) various combinations of the seven deadly sins (recall Holofernes & his modern counterparts) seem more than adequate explanation for human opposition to God.