Ancient Answers

Guidance for Today from Scripture and Early Christianity


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He goes before us

 

In today’s Gospel reading (Mark 10:32-45) we hear Jesus tell his disciples the third and final prediction of his passion – and the most detailed. But notice what Mark wrote immediately before the start of our reading today: “And they were on the road, going up to Jerusalem, and Jesus was walking ahead of them; and they were amazed, and those who followed were afraid.” The image here is of Jesus walking in a very determined manner, with his face set toward Jerusalem.

·      Jesus goes before the disciples, on the way to crucifixion.

·      Jesus will go before them to Galilee after his resurrection.

·      And Jesus has gone before us as our great high priest, through the heavenly holy of holies, as the pioneer of our faith.

He goes before us. There is nowhere we walk where Jesus has not also walked! So Hebrews encourages us: “Therefore lift your drooping hands and strengthen your weak knees, and make straight paths for your feet, so that what is lame may not be put out of joint but rather be healed.”

The way to Jerusalem is “the way” to eternal life, “the way” to liberation from the powers of this world, and “the way” toward the conquest of death itself, not only for Jesus but also for his disciples.

Sacramental reference: when we participate in baptism and drink from the communion cup, are we simply participating in a ritualistic propitiation for our sins? That’s what the words at communion say, but the moral and social dimensions are also there, in the prayers that surround. Certainly, drinking from the cup Jesus drank from and being baptized into the life and death of Jesus should commit us to the things Jesus cared for and died for!

The brothers’ request of Jesus to sit at his right hand and his left is a request for positions of power. James and John sound like kids in the candy store! They show that they are readying themselves, not for the mission that Jesus envisions, but for a world much like the one they already inhabit.

We have the benefit of knowing what James and John do not yet know: that Jesus’ “glory” will be the cross, that at his right and left hands will be two criminals who will die with him. Perhaps an example of divine irony? Notice too that the other ten are angry, perhaps not that James and John ask Jesus for this place of honor, but that they ask it only for themselves, and before the rest of them thought of it!

MLK sermon of 4 Feb 1968 – a sermon on this passage in Mark. I’m quoting the very last section of this long sermon.

If any of you are around when I have to meet my day, I don’t want a long funeral. And if you get somebody to deliver the eulogy, tell them not to talk too long. Tell them not to mention that I have a Nobel Peace Prize—that isn’t important. Tell them not to mention that I have three or four hundred other awards—that’s not important. Tell them not to mention where I went to school.

I’d like somebody to mention that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to give his life serving others.

I’d like for somebody to say that day that Martin Luther King, Jr., tried to love somebody.

I want you to say that day that I tried to be right on the war question.

I want you to be able to say that day that I did try to feed the hungry.

And I want you to be able to say that day that I did try in my life to clothe those who were naked.

I want you to say on that day that I did try in my life to visit those who were in prison.

I want you to say that I tried to love and serve humanity.

Yes, if you want to say that I was a drum major, say that I was a drum major for justice. Say that I was a drum major for peace. I was a drum major for righteousness. And all of the other shallow things will not matter. I won’t have any money to leave behind. I won’t have the fine and luxurious things of life to leave behind. But I just want to leave a committed life behind. And that’s all I want to say.

If I can help somebody as I pass along,

If I can cheer somebody with a word or song,

If I can show somebody he’s traveling wrong,

Then my living will not be in vain.

If I can do my duty as a Christian ought,

If I can bring salvation to a world once wrought,

If I can spread the message as the master taught,

Then my living will not be in vain.

Yes, Jesus, I want to be on your right or your left side, not for any selfish reason. I want to be on your right or your left side, not in terms of some political kingdom or ambition. But I just want to be there in love and in justice and in truth and in commitment to others, so that we can make of this old world a new world. (The full text of the sermon can be read here.)


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bible blog 1651

I’m taking a break from my daily Lenten reflections. Today’s reading of Genesis 22:1-18 is the story of Abraham’s “sacrifice” of his son, Isaac. Instead of my own thoughts, I’m re-posting the blog that my friend Mike Mair posted on this passage a month ago. He uses a different translation of the Bible than what I use, but he has some excellent thoughts on this crucial story from Genesis.

Emmock's Blog

This blog has been following the book of Genesis and the Gospel of Mark since the new year. Previous posts can be found in my archives.

GENESIS 22 (from the Schocken Bible)

rembrandt rembrandt

Now after these events it was

that God tested Avraham

and said to him:

Avraham!

He said:

Here I am.

He  said:

Pray take your son,

your only one,

whom you love,

Yitzhak,

and go-you-forth to the land of Morriya / Seeing

and offer him up there as an offering-up

upon one of the mountains

that I will tell you of.

Avraham started early in the morning,

he saddled his donkey

and took his two serving lads with him and Yitzhak his son

he split wood for the offering-up

and arose and went to the place that God has told him of.

On the third day Avraham lifted his eyes

and saw the place from afar.

Avraham said…

View original post 1,498 more words


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Theology of the Cross, Part 2

crucifixion_icon1The fourth and final in a short series of Bible Study classes exploring the themes of the Sundays of Lent continued the discussion of the Cross of Jesus Christ, which is venerated on the Third Sunday of Lent in the Orthodox Church.

An audio file of the class is attached, together with the PowerPoint presentation and a PDF version of the PowerPoint file. These files are made available here primarily for the benefit of class participants. But others are welcome to listen to the audio and view the PowerPoint slides that accompany the audio recording of the class.

 

To access the PowerPoint presentation or the PDF version, click on one of the links below. It should be viewed in conjunction with the audio file.

Orthodox Theology of the Cross, Part 2 – PowerPoint

Orthodox Theology of the Cross, Part 2 – PDF


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The Missing Comfort

The beginning of the Book of Isaiah identifies the period covered by the prophet: “The vision of Isaiah son of Amoz, which he saw concerning Judah and Jerusalem in the days of Uzziah, Jotham, Ahaz, and Hezekiah, kings of Judah.” This would place the ministry of Isaiah roughly in the period 750-700 BC, during the latter days of the Assyrian Empire. An inkling of what’s to come, however, is proclaimed at the end of chapter 39: Then Isaiah said to Hezekiah, “Hear the word of the Lord of hosts: Days are coming when all that is in your house, and that which your ancestors have stored up until this day, shall be carried to Babylon; nothing shall be left, says the Lord

Assyrian horse and archer (Click to enlarge)

Assyrian horse and archer (Click to enlarge)

As Chapter 40 begins, the Jews are indeed captives in Babylon. This was the age of superpowers, something we children of the 20th century can easily relate to. Assyria had already fallen to the Babylonians about 70 years earlier; the city of Jerusalem had been devastated by the Babylonians in 587 BC and the Jews were carried off to Babylon as captives. There they wept, longing for Jerusalem (Psalm 137):

Medieval Greek manuscript of Psalm 137 (136 in Septuagint)

Medieval Greek manuscript of Psalm 137 (Click to enlarge)

By the rivers of Babylon—
    there we sat down and there we wept
    when we remembered Zion.
On the willows there
    we hung up our harps.
For there our captors
    asked us for songs,
and our tormentors asked for mirth, saying,
    “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!”

How could we sing the Lord’s song
    in a foreign land?
If I forget you, O Jerusalem,
    let my right hand wither!
Let my tongue cling to the roof of my mouth,
    if I do not remember you,
if I do not set Jerusalem
    above my highest joy.

So, much has happened between Chapters 39 and 40. Chapter 40 introduces a completely new situation – and a new author.

There is almost universal scholarly consensus that there are three distinct authors in the Book of Isaiah: Chapters 1-39 being the writing of the 8th-century prophet called “Isaiah”; Chapters 40-55 are the work of an anonymous author who has been called “Deutero-Isaiah” (Second Isaiah); and finally, Chapters 56-66 are by “Trito-Isaiah” (Third Isaiah). Scholars have concluded that “Deutero-Isaiah” wrote around 540 BC, and “Trito-Isaiah” a little later still, around the year 520 BC.

Click on map to enlarge

Click on map to enlarge

There are about 160 years separating the end of Chapter 39 and the beginning of Chapter 40. The Jews are in Babylon, but Babylon is already facing its own demise due to the rise of the Persian Empire, the same Persian Empire that will threaten Greece in days to come. Chapter 40 begins with words of comfort to the Jews in Babylon. The time of their exile is coming to an end and Babylon will receive retribution at the hands of the Persians. Indeed, “Deutero-Isaiah” has been nicknamed the Book of Comfort.

Unfortunately, our lectionary reading today, Isaiah 40:18-31, bypasses the words of comfort that grace the beginning of this Second Isaiah. These are the same words that Handel set to indescribably beautiful music for tenor soloist in his oratorio, Messiah:

Comfort ye, comfort ye my people, saith your God. Speak ye comfortably to Jerusalem, and cry unto her, that her warfare is accomplish’d, that her iniquity is pardon’d. The voice of him that crieth in the wilderness: Prepare ye the way of the Lord, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.

Ev’ry valley shall be exalted, and ev’ry mountain and hill made low, the crooked straight, and the rough places plain.

These are amazing words, whether sung or read. But the entire chapter 40 is one of the monumental high points of the entire Bible and should be read in its entirety. You can read it here, in the New Revised Standard Version – not as poetic as the old King James translation that Handel used three centuries ago, but still resonating with the powerful messages of comfort. Too bad our lectionary chose to omit ‘comfort’ from our Lenten reading, for we all need comfort.

Isaiah has been valued in Christian tradition primarily for its ‘prophecies’ of Jesus – ‘prophecies’ of the birth of Christ in Chapters 7, 9 and 11; and the profound ‘prophecy’ of the passion of Christ in Chapter 53. But this is a very limited way to read this most extraordinary of biblical books.

Walter Brueggemann is one of the most remarkable students and preachers of the Bible, and has published dozens of books filled with wisdom and contemporary relevance. He published a two-volume ‘companion’ to Isaiah and I’d like to quote something he wrote:

It is a matter of considerable importance, in my judgment, that Christians should not preempt the book of Isaiah. It is legitimate to see how the book of Isaiah fed, nurtured, and evoked Christian imagination with reference to Jesus. But that is very different from any claim that the book of Isaiah predicts or specifically anticipates Jesus. Such a preemption, as has often occurred in the reading of the church, constitutes not only a failure to respect Jewish readers, but is a distortion of the book itself. It is strongly preferable, I suggest, that Jews and Christians together recognize that the book of Isaiah is enormously and generatively open in more than one direction. No interpretive tradition is able to monopolize and close interpretation. This is a difficult and important question to which respectful attention must be paid.

What an honest and generous outlook, so different from the totalitarian tendencies of many who claim to read and understand the Bible. What a fantastic word he uses: ‘generatively’! He is telling us to approach the Scriptures with anticipation of what the text will generate in us who read. This is why the word of God is always new and can generate new insights every time we come to it. I love Brueggemann; you can’t go wrong with any of his books.

Here’s more of what he wrote as I conclude my post for today:

Believing people (Jews and Christians), moreover, dare to imagine that the same Holy One who acted in that time and place in disruptive and embracing way still continues to disrupt and embrace even now. Thus the relevance of the text is evident. It cannot be arrived at too easily, but it is an insistent relevance that cannot be put off for too long either….The gospel to be received in faith is an offer of comfort in the midst of every crisis. (Isaiah 40-66, pages 6-7)


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Revolution thwarted – but not dead

It is a fact of human history that revolutions almost always end up as something other than originally intended. The revolution of faith that God initiated in chapter 12 of Genesis, when Abraham obeyed God’s call in faith and moved from the land of his father to the land God chose for him, that revolution of faith has led to four thousand years of conflict in that land that we have mis-labeled “holy land.” What is holy about a land that has caused more bloodshed, more hatred than any other land on the planet? Already in chapter 13, we see the beginnings of what is to come, when Abraham and his nephew Lot agree to a parting of ways to avoid fighting over land.

But our lectionary reading for today, Genesis 13:12-18, avoids the reason for the separation of Lot and Abraham and jumps directly to God’s promise of the land that will be the source of so much conflict. Did God not know that this land would become the source of so much ungodly hatred? But that’s to ask the question from the wrong perspective. God did not write Genesis, people wrote it – people who had a vested interest in pressing claims on the land and the various promises God made. God has his own purposes; how those purposes are interpreted by humans and how they are put down on stone and paper is another thing.

Or are we to take the promises to Abraham and his descendants as another test, like the test in the garden? If it was a test, then we have failed royally, for 4,000 years! And we’re still failing, as the recent re-election of Benjamin Netanyahu clearly shows. One of the hymns of the Third Sunday of Lent, the Sunday of the Veneration of the Cross, has these words:

Come, all you kindred of the nations (αἱ πατριαὶ τῶν ἐθνῶν), and let us honor the Cross of the Lord. Rejoice, O Cross, perfect redemption of fallen Adam. Glorying in you, our faithful kings laid low by your might the people of Ishmael.

These are the words of an imperial Orthodoxy facing the threat of Arabs (“the people of Ishmael”) in the Middle Ages. Today the land is the place where apocalyptic violence by followers of the three Abrahamic religions feed into dreams of “armageddon” that extremists in all three religions promote as literal interpretations of their “scriptures”!

Today’s reading from Isaiah 37:33-38:6 certainly does not help: “For I will defend this city to save it, for my own sake and for the sake of my servant David” (verse 35). The problem arises when scriptures are given a political spin that they don’t originally possess. God defends the city because of his own commitment to it and to David. But God also does not hesitate to destroy the city or hand it over to enemies of David. And we see this ambivalence throughout the historical and prophetic books of the Hebrew scriptures. The bottom line for God is not the political meaning of Jerusalem and the “holy land” but the presence of justice and righteousness.

The Hebrew word for justice is the same word for righteousness: tzedakahצדקה. It is the same in Greek: δικαιοσύνη, one word for both concepts. In the mind of the biblical writers, justice and righteousness are two sides of the same thing. It’s only in the minds of some Christian interpreters of Paul’s letters that “righteousness” has become something narrower, defining a particular view of salvation. In interpreting Paul’s statements that we are not “justified” (=made righteous) by the “law” but by faith alone (Galatians 2:16 and elsewhere in Romans and Galatians), it seems to me that some Christians have thrown out the baby with the bathwater and have lost the double meaning of the one word in both Hebrew and Greek scriptures. Throw out the “justice” meaning out of some dogmatic concern not to do “works of the law” (Galatians 2:16 again) and you’re left with an inward-looking, one-on-one version of faith that has nothing to do with God’s abiding concern for social justice throughout the scriptures.

That’s also the danger with how we usually translate the 4th and 8th Beatitudes:

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.

Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

In both, the word in the original Greek text is δικαιοσύνη. When “righteousness” is only a personal virtue characterizing one’s relation to God, I can’t quite see how one might be “persecuted” for it. But people who hunger and thirst for “justice” and work for it might very well be persecuted, even in our allegedly enlightened modern age. They are the same people who are also “merciful” and “peacemakers” in the 5th and 7th Beatitudes.

In these Lenten Reflections I have not often referred to the daily readings from Proverbs, but today I choose to do so. Consider these assertions from today’s reading:

He who oppresses a poor man insults his Maker,
    but he who is kind to the needy honors him.
The wicked is overthrown through his evil-doing,
    but the righteous finds refuge through his integrity.
Wisdom abides in the mind of a man of understanding,
    but it is not known in the heart of fools.
Righteousness exalts a nation,
    but sin is a reproach to any people.

God’s view of righteousness is inseparable from acts of justice, both on the personal and national level.

The call to us today is the same as the call to Abraham in Genesis 12:1, “Go from your country and your kindred and your father’s house to the land that I will show you.” But for us, the calling is not so much to leave our homes, but to leave our inherited thoughts behind, to encounter God with open minds and hearts, to learn anew the meaning of promises and to renew the revolution that has been thwarted. The abrahamic call to us is to join God’s revolution of faith and righteousness and justice! The revolution has been thwarted, but it is not dead or buried. As long as we can honestly encounter the scriptures as if for the first time, the revolution can happen again – a revolution of faith, a revolution of the renewed heart and mind that God seeks to cultivate in us. May Lent always be a time to pause and open our hearts to God’s renewing spirit.

 


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Prayer and Fasting and the Positive Life

 

A friend sent me an email this morning with the photo of a curlew. This Curlew.aspxbird has “developed a long beak to dig out food, just as we theologians must do to find truth for God’s people.” He told me he’d be preaching today “where Jesus is in our society today, in places where many of his servants are reluctant to go.” And he offered a prayer for me: “I hope your own long beak finds truth for your people today.”

jesus-heals-the-epileptic-boyToday’s Gospel reading (Mark 9:17-31) takes place after the transfiguration on the mountain. Jesus and three disciples come down from the mountain only to find a scene of chaos and recriminations. The disciples who had stayed behind were not able to heal the boy with the “dumb and deaf spirit” – and there’s plenty of blame going around. I see here a parallel with Exodus 32. When Moses came down from the mountain with the Ten Commandments, he found a chaotic scene of idol worship – the golden calf. Here Jesus comes down from the mountain and finds a scene of doubt and blame.

The real subjects of the miracle story are not the boy and his father, but the disciples! In the previous chapter, Peter wanted to hear nothing about Jesus going to his death, and Jesus struck back by calling him Satan! Coming down from the mountain in this chapter, they still don’t understand. And after the miracle, Jesus tells them again that he would be killed – but their ears and minds are still closed. The boy might have a “deaf and dumb” spirit; but the apostles are deaf and dumb to what Jesus is telling them. The father’s cry, “Help my unbelief” should also be the cry of the disciples.

The spirit that possesses this boy is a metaphor for the forces and powers that control our minds and hearts “since childhood”. So, prayer and fasting are needed to overcome our inability to see that change and transformation are possible. Prayer requires self-knowledge, and self-knowledge can only come through fasting from all the illusions and attachments that paralyze us. Honesty is required at every step. There’s good psychology here.

You can actually see the origins of the 12-step program right here. in this miracle story. You can only begin the healing process by accepting your powerlessness, and so you cry out with the father, Help my unbelief!

Prayer and fasting – without them the search for healing becomes an endless cycle of frustration and anger, just as we see in today’s miracle. You become cynical, resigned to failure, thus deepening your paralysis and the harm in your life.

What is that you feel powerless about? You can’t lose those 30 pounds. You’re like the father and the apostles. You can’t stop smoking. You’re like the father and the apostles. You don’t think you’ll ever amount to anything. You’re like the father and the apostles. You don’t think you can ever be the husband or the wife your spouse deserves. You’re like the father and the apostles. You don’t think you will ever have strong faith. You’re like the father and the apostles. You don’t think you can ever forgive your brother. You’re like the father and the apostles. And on it goes.

A few days ago, Father Tom Hopko, one of my professors at seminary, fell asleep in the Lord. In honor of his memory, I share with you some bits of wisdom that he put together some time ago.

  1. Pray as you can, not as you think you must.
  2. Do acts of mercy in secret.
  3. Do not engage intrusive thoughts and feelings.
  4. Be an ordinary person, one of the human race.
  5. Have a healthy, wholesome hobby.
  6. Be totally honest, first of all with yourself.
  7. Be faithful in little things.
  8. Face reality.
  9. Be grateful.
  10. Be cheerful.
  11. Be simple, hidden, quiet and small.
  12. Never bring attention to yourself.
  13. Listen when people talk to you.
  14. Don’t seek or expect pity or praise.
  15. Don’t compare yourself with anyone.
  16. Be defined and bound by God, not people.
  17. Accept criticism gracefully and test it carefully.
  18. Do nothing for people that they can and should do for themselves.
  19. Be merciful with yourself and others.
  20. When you fall, get up immediately and start over.

Prayer and fasting. Prayer to bring you hope; fasting to clear out the old, harmful, paralyzing ways. Prayer and fasting to fill your life with positive thoughts and actions like the ones from Fr. Hopko. May his memory be eternal. (The full text from which the above bits are taken can be read here.)


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Only Two Ways to be Honest with God

In thinking about today’s reading from Genesis 12:1-7, I can’t find something better to write than what Mike Mair wrote a couple months ago about this passage. He is a biblical blogger in Scotland whom I’ve quoted in the past and who has posted some responses to my own posts. I obtained his permission to quote his commentary here. His original blog post can be found here.

This begins a new section of the book of Genesis: the story of the beginnings of humanity in general is complete and the story of Israel begins. Of course, the author has planned this from the start. He wants to say that God’s solution to the problem of his out-of-control creature, humanity, is to persuade some of humanity to learn his goodness and to represent it in the world. We should wonder at this strange tactic. Why can God not control what he has made? The answer is evident in the story of Noah: he could wipe out humanity but he cannot force a creature made in his image to obey him; so unless he wants to start all over again he has to find another tactic. He has to persuade humanity of its own free will to go his way. So we have to see his work with Avram and his descendants as an expression of his faithfulness to his creation and to his human creatures especially.

Persuasion, even divine persuasion, starts with one person, in this case Avram, a descendant of Shem, whose father Terah has moved from Ur of the Chaldees, more accurately in Sumer, to Harran in the territory of the Mitanni, on the border of modern Syria and Turkey. The accompanying map shows the extent of the migration. Ancient sources record a variety of nomadic peoples whose journeys took them across the borders of great empires like Sumer and Egypt. Avram’s family is identified as already nomadic, since his father has migrated from Ur to Harran. The command of the Lord, therefore is not utterly foreign to Avram, but it is presented as decisive. There is no preliminary explanation given by the author, just a command: Go-you-forth. It is not an aimless journey, however because a destination is declared: “the land that I will give you”, which is identified within a few verses as Canaan. Both the author and his original audience know that this is the land of Israel, the land promised.

abrahams-journey-map

The command of God points to a future in which Avram and his descendants will enjoy God’s blessing but will also be carriers of God’s blessing to the human family. This is God’s solution to the problem of humanity. Avram is to BE a blessing to others. God  cannot simply bless his creatures! The blessing has to come through creatures who have been persuaded of God’s goodness and will in turn persuade others. This is a very strange concept of deity. As the passage tells it, God needs Avram more than Avram needs God.

Avram’s ready response is made clear; he moves out of Harran with his wife and his own complete household. Other members of his family remain but his nephew goes with him, along with the “people they had made-their-own”, that is, workers and slaves. Avram is not exploring, he is moving house. 

Ancient landmarks such as Shekhem, Moreh and Beth-El are noted in connection with Avram’s places of sacrifice to YHWH, but the crucial detail is that Avram “sees” YHWH, that is, he has a vision of him. In the story of Avram and subsequently in Genesis, God no longer talks person to person as he does to Noah, but is a little more distant; perhaps there is a vision or a sign, or a messenger, or several messengers, but the communication is a little less direct than in chapters 1-11. Some have suggested that the author wants to depict Avram as the first of the “seers” or prophets of Israel. In any case the verb “to see” will play an important part in his story.

Holy-Patriarch-AbrahamThe narrative makes God’s promise crystal clear: “I will give this land to your seed”; and shows Abraham’s acceptance of it by his establishing of sacrifice sites and his journeying through the land. The reader is left in no doubt that this passage records a new, distinctive vision of God. Some of what has seemed contradictory and inexplicable in chapters 1-11, now becomes comprehensible as the long-term strategy of God is made clear.

Most of us read this beginning of Abraham’s story with a sense of removal. We don’t hear the voice of God telling us to get up and go somewhere. But then we’re not Abraham and our ears are too busy listening to other voices. Today’s reading of Isaiah 29:13-23 speaks to our own experience as followers of Christ who struggle to preserve some authenticity and wholeness in our faith walk. But immediately before this reading come two verses (29:11-12) that are simply amazing:

And the vision of all this has become to you like the words of a book that is sealed. When men give it to one who can read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot, for it is sealed.” And when they give the book to one who cannot read, saying, “Read this,” he says, “I cannot read.”

The illiterate cannot read. But neither can the literate read, because “it is sealed.” What is sealed? The prophecies, the scriptures! Who sealed them? The rulers of the people, who are labeled as “scoffers” in 28:14. But more immediately here in chapter 29 (verses 9-10), the prophets!

Stupefy yourselves and be in a stupor,
    blind yourselves and be blind!
Be drunk, but not with wine;
    stagger, but not with strong drink!
For the Lord has poured out upon you
    a spirit of deep sleep,
and has closed your eyes, the prophets,
    and covered your heads, the seers.

It is a horrifying vision. What hope is there for the people when even the prophets no longer receive the words of God? This is the famine that the prophet Amos warned about:

famine 1“Behold, the days are coming,” says the Lord God,
    “when I will send a famine on the land;
not a famine of bread, nor a thirst for water,
    but of hearing the words of the Lord.

This is why we have trouble relating to Abraham’s hearing the voice of God. We are living in the time of famine! Yes, millions of copies of the Bible are printed every day in every known language of the planet. In English alone we have who knows how many translations and versions that you can pick up in a local bookstore or order from Amazon and have delivered to your door by UPS! It would appear that there is plenty of Bible going around. And yet, there is a famine – because the people of God are in a drunken stupor of materialism and comfortable Christian lives (so-called). Were these words spoken by God only for the dwellers of Jerusalem in Isaiah’s time?

“Because this people draw near with their mouth
    and honor me with their lips,
    while their hearts are far from me,
and their fear of me is a commandment of men learned by rote. (29:13)

Woe to those who hide deep from the Lord their counsel,
    whose deeds are in the dark,
    and who say, “Who sees us? Who knows us?”
You turn things upside down!
    Shall the potter be regarded as the clay;
that the thing made should say of its maker,
    “He did not make me”;
or the thing formed say of him who formed it,
    “He has no understanding”? (29:15-16)

How many of us do not shiver when reading these words? And yet, we claim to read the Bible! Every year, on the Monday of Holy Week, at the evening service of the Bridegroom, the Gospel reading includes all of chapter 23 of Matthew. I don’t know how I make it through that reading every year or how I don’t hang up my vestments and quit on the spot. I don’t know how anyone in the Orthodox Church makes it through that reading! I don’t know how any priest or bishop of the Orthodox Church can read that Gospel and not quit or start a revolution of faith! Those are the only two options it seems to me.

These are the only two ways that we can be honest with God: Either quit or start a revolution! Everything else, everything in between, is lip service. This easygoing relationship we have with God, church tradition, the Bible, and with our own consciences – it’s all dishonest. God started a revolution with Abraham. By the time of Isaiah, the revolution was long in the past and easy believism ruled the lives of the people. But even here, God was ready to do something new, to renew the revolution that had started with Abraham:

Therefore, behold, I will again
    do marvelous things with this people,
    wonderful and marvelous… (29:14)

In that day the deaf shall hear
    the words of a book,
and out of their gloom and darkness
    the eyes of the blind shall see.
The meek shall obtain fresh joy in the Lord,
    and the poor among men shall exult in the Holy One of Israel. (29:18-19)

Therefore thus says the Lord, who redeemed Abraham, concerning the house of Jacob:

“Jacob shall no more be ashamed,
    no more shall his face grow pale.
For when he sees his children,
    the work of my hands, in his midst,
    they will sanctify my name;
they will sanctify the Holy One of Jacob,
    and will stand in awe of the God of Israel.
And those who err in spirit will come to understanding,
    and those who murmur will accept instruction.” (29:22-24)

I pray that God can still do this renewal. I pray that God can still renew the fire of revolution in the church and in the hearts of all who want to follow Jesus. May the cloud and sleep that have come over our faith be dispelled once again, and may the famine cease. As Mike wrote in his post that I’ve quoted above, Abraham is not exploring, he is moving house. We also need to move house, and there’s a lot of moving to do! May Lent challenge us every year with these readings from Genesis and Isaiah to set a moving date.