Letters to the Thessalonians

Let’s go. To the time of the end.

Blake_ancient_of_days

They focused on the ending. Him, the beginning.

The poor Thessalonians were convinced it was all coming to an end. While the Romans needed to be reminded to love, and the Corinthians to stop drinking during mass, the Thessalonians needed to be still.

Now we ask you, brothers and sisters, to acknowledge those who work hard among you, who care for you in the Lord and who admonish you.  Hold them in the highest regard in love because of their work. Live in peace with each other. And we urge you, brothers and sisters, warn those who are idle and disruptive, encourage the disheartened, help the weak, be patient with everyone
1 Thessalonians 5:12-14

The reason for this is that the Thessalonians were expecting the LORD of Hosts.

And the Army in the Sky is terrifying.

Jacob was afraid

And Jacob awaked out of his sleep, and he said, Surely the Lord is in this place; and I knew it not.

And he was afraid, and said, How dreadful is this place! this is none other but the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven.
Genesis 28:16-17

Mary was afraid

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God
Luke 1:28-30

Israel Himself, and the Mother of Israel’s salvation, had the same reaction to the heavenly host: fear.

So who can be scorn the Thessalonians for fear and trembling?

Concerning the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him, we ask you, brothers and sisters, not to become easily unsettled or alarmed by the teaching allegedly from us—whether by a prophecy or by word of mouth or by letter—asserting that the day of the Lord has already come.
2 Thessalonians 2:1-2

But Paul says, do not be afraid

May the Lord make your love increase and overflow for each other and for everyone else, just as ours does for you. May he strengthen your hearts so that you will be blameless and holy in the presence of our God and Father when our Lord Jesus comes with all his holy ones.
1 Thessalonians 3:12-13

Paul’s words echo the Book of Daniel, a book about the end of the world written a century or two before .

Then again, the one having the likeness of a man touched me and strengthened me. And he said, “O man greatly beloved, fear not! Peace be to you; be strong, yes, be strong!”

So when he spoke to me I was strengthened, and said, “Let my lord speak, for you have strengthened me.”
Daniel 10:18-19

The Book of Daniel is apocalyptic. It is about the end of the world. And to Paul, half of its message is this: FEAR NOT! THE ONE HAVING THE LIKENESS OF A MAN IS WITH YOU!

1_6-1_ruth_ruth_and_naomi_gleaning_in_the_fields

Let’s go. To the time of work.

Paul is aware he is writing apocalyptic literature. To the Thessalonians he borrows the Book of Daniel’s rhetoric style, which is cryptic with meaning just out of reach.

In the Book of Daniel, the angel angel is delayed by the “Prince of Persia”

Then he said to me, “Do not fear, Daniel, for from the first day that you set your heart to understand, and to humble yourself before your God, your words were heard; and I have come because of your words. But the prince of the kingdom of Persia withstood me twenty-one days; and behold, Michael, one of the chief princes, came to help me, for I had been left alone there with the kings of Persia.
Daniel 10:12-13

And paralleling this, Paul was delayed by Satan

For we wanted to come to you—certainly I, Paul, did, again and again—but Satan blocked our way. For what is our hope, our joy, or the crown in which we will glory in the presence of our Lord Jesus when he comes? Is it not you? Indeed, you are our glory and joy.
1 Thessalonians 2:18-20

Paul writes this to emphasize the words of the Book of Daniel, Fear not! Peace be to you! The response to the nervous street side preacher is not scorn or condensation, but joy. Yes, all these wonderful things will happen, but not don’t be afraid, there is work to do.

The Thessalonians were most open to the visions of the end, to the mysterious and cryptic. So that is how Paul wrote, speaking of a “Restrainer” as mysterious as Daniel’s “Prince of Persia”

And now you know what is restraining, that he may be revealed in his own time. For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work; only He who now restrains will do so until He is taken out of the way. And then the lawless one will be revealed, whom the Lord will consume with the breath of His mouth and destroy with the brightness of His coming
2 Thessalonians 2:6-8

priest-covered-in-blood

Let’s go. To the time of death.

Whatever happens at the end of all of this, odds are we will see the end of this particular this first. Christ may have conquered death, but in this world, the Angel of Death still takes us.

Our work continues through death.

There’s something heartbreaking about the Thessalonians. Paul’s words do not mean grieve for the dead — that would be inhuman and ungodly.

The Lord’s message rang out from you not only in Macedonia and Achaia—your faith in God has become known everywhere. Therefore we do not need to say anything about it, for they themselves report what kind of reception you gave us. They tell how you turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God, and to wait for his Son from heaven, whom he raised from the dead—Jesus, who rescues us from the coming wrath.
1 Thessalonians 1:8-10

Don’t worry, Paul reassures. You’ll be there to guide them too.

Brothers and sisters, we do not want you to be uninformed about those who sleep in death, so that you do not grieve like the rest of mankind, who have no hope. For we believe that Jesus died and rose again, and so we believe that God will bring with Jesus those who have fallen asleep in him. According to the Lord’s word, we tell you that we who are still alive, who are left until the coming of the Lord, will certainly not precede those who have fallen asleep. For the Lord himself will come down from heaven, with a loud command, with the voice of the archangel and with the trumpet call of God, and the dead in Christ will rise first. After that, we who are still alive and are left will be caught up together with them in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air. And so we will be with the Lord forever. Therefore encourage one another with these words.
1 Thesalonnians 4:13-18

The dead learn from the living, and the living from the dead.

St_John_the_Divine

Let’s go. To the work of the Holy Spirit.

The Holy Spirit spoke through the prophets, wrote through the evangelists, and proceeded from the Father and the Son to give us the truth. But our ears aren’t much for hearing, and our eyes aren’t much for reading.

Don’t you remember that when I was with you I used to tell you these things?
2 Thesalonnians 2:5

A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this all people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.
John 13:34-35

Now this is the commandment—the statutes and the rules—that the LORD your God commanded me to teach you, that you may do them in the land to which you are going over, to possess it… Hear, O Israel: The LORD our God, the LORD is one. You shall love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might.
Deuteronomy 6:1,4-5

“You shall not hate your brother in your heart, but you shall reason frankly with your neighbor, lest you incur sin because of him. You shall not take vengeance or bear a grudge against the sons of your own people, but you shall love your neighbor as yourself: I am the LORD.
Leviticus 19:17-18

For you yourselves know how you ought to follow us, for we were not disorderly among you; nor did we eat anyone’s bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day, that we might not be a burden to any of you, not because we do not have authority, but to make ourselves an example of how you should follow us.
2 Thessalonians 3:7-9

Maybe after we get this right, we will learn what is next

I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now.
John 16:12

Let’s go. Time to work.

St_Francis_394233c

Letter to the Colossians

The letter to the Colossians is a short book, only four chapters, but ties together not just the thoughts of the Paul of Tarsus and John the Evangelist, but of the Hebrew religion with later Christian developments like the Nicene Creed.

Because though he was conceived by the Holy Spirit, born ofthe Virgin Mary, and suffered under Pontius Pilate, He died for the cenutrians as much as the women at the well.

centurian cross 1016longinius

Pau’s letter to the Colossians concerns the the LORD, the Human God, the incarnation and person of the Deity with arms and legs, with saliva and blood.

Christ is the Co-Creator with God

The Son is the image of the invisible God, the firstborn over all creation. For in him all things were created: things in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or powers or rulers or authorities; all things have been created through him and for him. He is before all things, and in him all things hold together.
Colossians 1:15-17

Being the LORD, Christ is not worshiped because of the Law — the Law is “the law” because it comes from Christ. He is the Sovereign LORD who dictated the Law’s terms. The Law is a shadow of the LORD, Jesus Christ is the LORD Himself

Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.
Colossians 2:16-17

This is important. The text is a messenger. An Angel is a Messenger. A Prophet is a messenger. All have their place and all have their honor. But worship is for God, not his creations.

Do not let anyone who delights in false humility and the worship of angels disqualify you. Such a person also goes into great detail about what they have seen; they are puffed up with idle notions by their unspiritual mind. They have lost connection with the head, from whom the whole body, supported and held together by its ligaments and sinews, grows as God causes it to grow.

Since you died with Christ to the elemental spiritual forces of this world, why, as though you still belonged to the world, do you submit to its rules: “Do not handle! Do not taste! Do not touch!”? These rules, which have to do with things that are all destined to perish with use, are based on merely human commands and teachings.
Colossians 2:18-23

We worship Christ Himself, not His angels and not His prophets. And while distance forces a bodily seperation from each other, while the tyranny of distance gives us only spiritual proximity to each other:

I tell you this so that no one may deceive you by fine-sounding arguments. For though I am absent from you in body, I am present with you in spirit and delight to see how disciplined you are and how firm your faith in Christ is.
Colossians 2:2-5

Christ is physically with us.

If you are near anyone, you are near Christ

Here there is no Gentile or Jew, circumcised or uncircumcised, barbarian, Scythian, slave or free, but Christ is all, and is in all.
Colossians 3:11

In any relationship, Christ is one of the related. He is loved when the other is loved. He is hatd when the other is hated. He is honored when the other is honored. He is enslaved when the other is enslaved. This is the easiest part of Christianity to say, and the hardest to live

Wives, submit yourselves to your husbands, as is fitting in the Lord.

Husbands, love your wives and do not be harsh with them.

Children, obey your parents in everything, for this pleases the Lord.

Fathers, do not embitter your children, or they will become discouraged.

Slaves, obey your earthly masters in everything; and do it, not only when their eye is on you and to curry their favor, but with sincerity of heart and reverence for the Lord. Whatever you do, work at it with all your heart, as working for the Lord, not for human masters, since you know that you will receive an inheritance from the Lord as a reward. It is the Lord Christ you are serving. Anyone who does wrong will be repaid for their wrongs, and there is no favoritism.

Masters, provide your slaves with what is right and fair, because you know that you also have a Master in heaven.
colossians 3:18-4:1

In each murder He is in the murdered.

And in the murderer.

centurion-at-cross

He is in he who is nailed to the cross.

And in he who holds the hammer and drives the nail.

When you were dead in your sins and in the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made you alive with Christ. He forgave us all our sins, having canceled the charge of our legal indebtedness, which stood against us and condemned us; he has taken it away, nailing it to the cross.
Colossians 2:13-14

The Human God is nailed to a cross. God, in the human, in the one who nails to the cross.

bull in field

The Canaanites, who seem to have been visited by the Holy Spirit and knew so much, but through shadows, calle God “The Bull El.” The strength, the fury, the testicles must have impressed upon the Canaanites the sense of the Ruler of the World, but so must have been a Bull’s fearsome protection.

He has given offerings for the gods to eat
Obligations that the sons of Qudsu might drink!
Will you not bless him, O Bull El, my father,
Strengthen him, O Creator of created things?
Let there be a son in his house,
A scion in the midst of his palace
CTA 17.I.17-27

Garinpettingbull

The way one feeds God, of course, is to give the poor food (Matthew 25:42). And this prayer, for the virtuous man Danel, is incorporated by reference by the Holy Spirit, who spoke through the Prophet Ezekial, who reminded us that before there were Hebrews, God was still active in the world. (And how could He not be, when He is the firstborn of all creation?)

The word of the LORD came to me: “Son of man, if a country sins against me by being unfaithful and I stretch out my hand against it to cut off its food supply and send famine upon it and kill its people and their animals, even if these three men—Noah, Danel and Job—were in it, they could save only themselves by their righteousness, declares the Sovereign LORD
Ezekial 14:12-14

No wonder the Hebrew Bible also describes God as a bull

God who brings him out of Egypt,
is like the horns of a wild ox for him;
he shall devour the nations that are his foes
and break their bones.
He shall strike with his arrows.
Numbers 24:8

No wonder the Bull demanded a sacrifice of a Bull. Because God Himself would be there — the priest, the victim, the altar, and even in the murderer – when God himself was sacrificed.

“Bring the bull to the front of the tent of meeting, and Aaron and his sons shall lay their hands on its head. Slaughter it in the Lord’s presence at the entrance to the tent of meeting. Take some of the bull’s blood and put it on the horns of the altar with your finger, and pour out the rest of it at the base of the altar. Then take all the fat on the internal organs, the long lobe of the liver, and both kidneys with the fat on them, and burn them on the altar. But burn the bull’s flesh and its hide and its intestines outside the camp. It is a sin offering
Exodus 29:10-14

The bull. The sin offering. The slaughter. The blood.

bull fighting blood mouth s32_19640973

God, let the blood be on these people, and their children. It will wash away the sins of the world.

All of creation has fallen. But He is greater than it all, the source of it all, the Redeemer of it all.

He is the LORD

A God with internal organs, liver, kidney, and fat, with flesh and intestines.

A God in those who are burned. A God in those excluded.

Behold Him born in a manger! Behold the Image of the Invisible God! Behold the Firstborn of All Creation!

hereford bull calf

The Fire of the Angels

He answered and said, Lo, I see four men loose, walking in the midst of the fire, and they have no hurt; and the form of the fourth is like the Son of God
Daniel 3:25

You don’t want to meet angels.

annunciation1

Mary knew this.

The angel went to her and said, “Greetings, you who are highly favored! The Lord is with you.”

Mary was greatly troubled at his words and wondered what kind of greeting this might be. But the angel said to her, “Do not be afraid, Mary; you have found favor with God
Luke 1:28-30

Generally, the less terrifying a being is, the less it needs ot tell you not to be afraid.

A disclaimer: the rest of this post is speculative on my part, trying to understand the role of fire in the Bible.  But whatever angels “looks like,” it seems fair they are bitter visualized as terrifying

cherubim

than as whatever this is supposed to be

victorian cherub

Angels are made of fire. They live in fire. They wield fire, and they disappear into fire.

When Paul mocks the followers of the Law as “angel worshipers” (Colossians 2:18), he is referring to the idea that the Burning Bush itself was an angel

Now Moses was tending the flock of Jethro his father-in-law, the priest of Midian, and he led the flock to the far side of the wilderness and came to Horeb, the mountain of God.

There the angel of the Lord appeared to him in flames of fire from within a bush. Moses saw that though the bush was on fire it did not burn up. 3 So Moses thought, “I will go over and see this strange sight—why the bush does not burn up.”

When the Lord saw that he had gone over to look, God called to him from within the bush, “Moses! Moses!”

And Moses said, “Here I am.”
Exodus 3:1-4

Eastern Christians sometimes believe that the burning bush was perhaps another form of messenger, a Woman transformed, Woman clothed with the sun

www-St-Takla-org-Moses-Prophet-05-Burning-Bush-Coptic

Moses — after receiving the Commandments — is “radiant,” or better, “radiated” (marked with radiation burns)

When Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the two tablets of the covenant law in his hands, he was not aware that his face was radiant because he had spoken with the Lord. 30 When Aaron and all the Israelites saw Moses, his face was radiant, and they were afraid to come near him. 31 But Moses called to them; so Aaron and all the leaders of the community came back to him, and he spoke to them.
Exodus 34:29-31

Mary herself is now clothed with the sun, crowned with suns, fusion reactors of imaginable flame

And there appeared a great wonder in heaven; a woman clothed with the sun, and the moon under her feet, and upon her head a crown of twelve stars:
Revelations 12:1

woman of the apocalypse and red dragon

Angels wield swords of fire

After he drove the man out, he placed on the east side of the Garden of Eden cherubim and a flaming sword flashing back and forth to guard the way to the tree of life.
Genesis 3:24

the-lost-paradise_1897_franz_stuck-12513zo

During the Annunciation to Samson’s mother, the Angel reveals himself as he is confused in a holocaust of fire

Manoah said to the angel of the Lord, “We would like you to stay until we prepare a young goat for you.”

The angel of the Lord replied, “Even though you detain me, I will not eat any of your food. But if you prepare a burnt offering, offer it to the Lord.” (Manoah did not realize that it was the angel of the Lord.)

Then Manoah inquired of the angel of the Lord, “What is your name, so that we may honor you when your word comes true?”

He replied, “Why do you ask my name? It is beyond understanding.” Then Manoah took a young goat, together with the grain offering, and sacrificed it on a rock to the Lord. And the Lord did an amazing thing while Manoah and his wife watched: As the flame blazed up from the altar toward heaven, the angel of the Lord ascended in the flame. Seeing this, Manoah and his wife fell with their faces to the ground. When the angel of the Lord did not show himself again to Manoah and his wife, Manoah realized that it was the angel of the Lord.
Judges 13:15-21

Anglo-Norman_woman_wearing_wimple_headdress

Even the poetic portions of the Hebrew Bible attest to this. From the Canaanites to the Muslims, all worshipers of El could agree that

The Lord wraps himself in light as with a garment;
he stretches out the heavens like a tent
and lays the beams of his upper chambers on their waters.
He makes the clouds his chariot
and rides on the wings of the wind.
He makes winds his messengers,
flames of fire his servants.

Psalms 104:2-4

One way of viewing Christianity is that angels no longer separate us from the tree of life, but now their will see us through to eternal life

The Church gives the name Purgatory to this final purification of the elect, which is entirely different from the punishment of the damned. The Church formulated her doctrine of faith on Purgatory especially at the Councils of Florence and Trent. The tradition of the Church, by reference to certain texts of Scripture, speaks of a cleansing fire:

As for certain lesser faults, we must believe that, before the Final Judgment, there is a purifying fire. He who is truth says that whoever utters blasphemy against the Holy Spirit will be pardoned neither in this age nor in the age to come. From this sentence we understand that certain offenses can be forgiven in this age, but certain others in the age to come.
Catechism of the Catholic Church 1031

This purification, when it occurs after death, is known as purgatory. But St Paul speaks as if a similar (or same) process can happen during life too. He also uses the image of fire

If anyone builds on this foundation using gold, silver, costly stones, wood, hay or straw, their work will be shown for what it is, because the Day will bring it to light. It will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test the quality of each person’s work. If what has been built survives, the builder will receive a reward. If it is burned up, the builder will suffer loss but yet will be saved—even though only as one escaping through the flames.
1 Corinthians 12:15

In both cases the source and nature of this fire seems to be the same: one is surrounded by angels.

When the day is easy, when we can see the blue sky and the warm sun, the LORD rides the clouds…

But may the righteous be glad
and rejoice before God;
may they be happy and joyful.
Sing to God, sing in praise of his name,
extol Him who rides on the clouds;
rejoice before him—his name is the Lord
Psalms 68:4

But when it is dark, only fire will let us see with human eyes. When we can no longer see the LORD, His messengers will not be denied

By day the Lord went ahead of them in a pillar of cloud to guide them on their way and by night in a pillar of fire to give them light, so that they could travel by day or night. Neither the pillar of cloud by day nor the pillar of fire by night left its place in front of the people.
Exodus 13:21-22

What sort of person sees a pillar of flame, and says “Yes, let’s go that way!”

pillar-of-flame

Perhaps the sort of person who hear this, and thinks, “Whatever the Spirit of Truth has to say, it must be something I should hear!”

“I still have many things to say to you, but you cannot bear them now. When the Spirit of truth comes, he will guide you into all the truth, for he will not speak on his own authority, but whatever he hears he will speak, and he will declare to you the things that are to come.
John 16:12-13

The Spirit comes with flames.

When the day of Pentecost came, they were all together in one place. Suddenly a sound like the blowing of a violent wind came from heaven and filled the whole house where they were sitting. They saw what seemed to be tongues of fire that separated and came to rest on each of them.
Acts 2:1-3

TonguesofFirebyathyGrimm©2012
The LORD with His host of Angels.

As the weeds are pulled up and burned in the fire, so it will be at the end of the age. The Son of Man will send out his angels, and they will weed out of his kingdom everything that causes sin and all who do evil. They will throw them into the blazing furnace, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth. Then the righteous will shine like the sun in the kingdom of their Father. Whoever has ears, let them hear
Matthew 13:40-43

Letter to the Philippians

Philippi_Daumet_Direkler

My friend Steve Boint called it “the dumb semite theory”: the view of some people that the ancient Hebrews were so simple minded that their holy text is a line-by-line collection of various sources, almost randomly edited together. Many scholars, such as Robert Alert and E. Theodore Mullen have written on how ancient Hebrew and Canaanite writing works.

Without repeating all of that, it is worth describing doublets in Hebrew literature, escalating parallelism in Hebrew poetry, and how St. Paul combines both in two lines of the Letter to the Philippians.

Ancient Hebrew Literature

One of the bad consequences of the “dumb semite theory” is one of the greatest works of ancient literature, the Book of Samuel, is read only by academics who believe that complexity is a result of random editing.

For instance, the phrase “Is Saul, too, among the prophets” occurs twice in the Book of Samuel. There are actual scholars who believe this is because the ancient Hebrews were so illiterate they actually included the same incident twice, and later on had to change the details to cover their tracks.

Fools.

Saul Before Samuel and the Prophets

The first time, Samuel says that Saul will be seized by a spirit, “prophecy” (act like a mad man), and this is a proof of his kingship:

“After that you shall come to the hill of God where the Philistine garrison is. And it will happen, when you have come there to the city, that you will meet a group of prophets coming down from the high place with a stringed instrument, a tambourine, a flute, and a harp before them; and they will be prophesying. Then the Spirit of the Lord will come upon you, and you will prophesy with them and be turned into another man. And let it be, when these signs come to you, that you do as the occasion demands; for God is with you.
1 Samuel 10:5-7

Sure enough, the spirit seizes Paul, he acts like a mad man, and he is the true king of Israel

When they came there to the hill, there was a group of prophets to meet him; then the Spirit of God came upon him, and he prophesied among them. And it happened, when all who knew him formerly saw that he indeed prophesied among the prophets, that the people said to one another, “What is this that has come upon the son of Kish? Is Saul also among the prophets?” Then a man from there answered and said, “But who is their father?” Therefore it became a proverb: “Is Saul also among the prophets?” And when he had finished prophesying, he went to the high place.
1 Samuel 10:10-13

But later, we learn the truth. This is brought home as David’s war against Saul begins and Saul seeks a meeting with Samuel to perhaps end it

But he can’t keep his composure. He acts like a mad-man, tearing off his clothes, embarrassing himself and showing Samuel — the man who anointed him — the horror of that anointing. The same phrase — Is Saul, too, among the prophets — is used again. The reader remembers happier times and the heart breaks

Then he also went to Ramah, and came to the great well that is at Sechu. So he asked, and said, “Where are Samuel and David?”

And someone said, “Indeed they are at Naioth in Ramah.” So he went there to Naioth in Ramah. Then the Spirit of God was upon him also, and he went on and prophesied until he came to Naioth in Ramah. And he also stripped off his clothes and prophesied before Samuel in like manner, and lay down naked all that day and all that night. Therefore they say, “Is Saul also among the prophets?”
1 Samuel 19:22-24

Samuel misread the signs. Saul was crazy from the beginning. Samuel anointed a Mad King.

Ancient Hebrew Poetry

The poetry of the Hebrew Bible is based on parallelism, where the first incident of a concept is in some way magnified by what comes after

Lamech and his Two Wives 1795 William Blake 1757-1827 Presented by W. Graham Robertson 1939 http://www.tate.org.uk/art/work/N05061

The form is used three times in perhaps the oldest poem in the entire bible, in inexplicable Song of Lamech – a story of killings further removed from Paul than Paul is from us

Lamech said to his wives,
“Adah and Zillah, listen to me;
wives of Lamech, hear my words.
I have killed a man for wounding me,
a young man for injuring me.
If Cain is avenged seven times,
then Lamech seventy-seven times.”
Genesis 4:23-24

The is used in the Writings, such as Psalms

Yet you brought me out of the womb;
you made me trust in you, even at my mother’s breast.
From birth I was cast on you;
from my mother’s womb you have been my God.
Psalms 22:9-10

Verse 9 uses two concepts of a mother’s body, womb and breasts, and escalates, from the physical location of the infant before birth (the womb) to the plcae the child is loved, all of its life (the breast, or heart).

Verse 10 does the reverse, taking an abstract concept “from birth” and emphasizing its concrete reality (“from my mother’s breast”).

… and Job, with a parallel between lips and tongue, going further inward to emphasize the inwardness of the sufferer

my lips will not say anything wicked,
and my tongue will not utter lies.
Job 27:4

It is used in the Latter Prophets

Kings will be your foster fathers,
and their queens your nursing mothers.
They will bow down before you with their faces to the ground;
they will lick the dust at your feet.
Then you will know that I am the Lord;
those who hope in me will not be disappointed.”
Isaiah 49:23

They “bow” — but then they “lick the dust.” The same concept of submission is paralleled, but its manner is escalated

as it was in the Former Prophets..

The waves of death swirled about me;
the torrents of destruction overwhelmed me.
The cords of the grave coiled around me;
the snares of death confronted me.
2 Samuel 22:5-6

… from waves to torrents, from cords to snares.

Saul’s Reuse of Biblical Literature and Poetry

Saul — the other Saul, Saul of Tarsus — was a “a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees” (Acts 23:6). That is, unlike the Sadducees, he believed the entire Hebrew Bible, including the Prophets and the Writings. Thus he was more exposed to the use of ancient Hebrew literature and poetry than Sadduccees, and would have been more influenced by that tradition than even many other educated Jews.

Saul uses the same literary technique of escalating parallelism, combined with the ‘twist ending’ used in the Book of Samuel, in the Letter to the Philippians. The letter is short, and mostly retreads themes of letters presented earlier in the Bible.

In the first chapter of the Letter to the Philippians, there’s this odd line:

I want you to know, beloved, that what has happened to me has actually helped to spread the gospel, so that it has become known throughout the whole praetorium and to everyone else that my imprisonment is for Christ;
Philippians 1:12-13

That word “praetorium” is tricky. It might be a reference to the imperial jailers or guards (fitting, as Paul is under a sort of house arrest while during a long appeals process in Rome), or palace guard, or even imperial palace.

Perhaps Paul has attracted sympathizers with his jailers.

Praetoriumreal_syria

But in the second to last verse of the letter, the meaning is clarified.

All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.
Philippians 4:22

Paul literally has sympathizers in the headquarters of the military. And in the household of the Emperor himself.

The twist ending – Paul has access, not just to his jailers, but to those close of the head of government.

And he showed this through two lines of Hebrew poetry, wrote in Greek, which bookend his letter to the Philippians

It has become known throughout the whole praetorium
All the saints greet you, especially those of Caesar’s household.

The Good News

What has become known, the greeting of the saints, is the Gospel, the good news. As Paul writes:

Who, being in very nature God,
did not consider equality with God something to be used to his own advantage;
rather, he made himself nothing
by taking the very nature of a servant,
being made in human likeness.
And being found in appearance as a man,
he humbled himself
by becoming obedient to death—
even death on a cross!
Philippians 2:6-8

The LORD has become Man!

The Creator has become a Creation!

He suffers with us, He dies with us, He lives with us.

With us He is hung on a tree. With us He weeps.

david-absalom

With us – with Paul, with you, with me – He despairs

For to me, to live is Christ and to die is gain. If I am to go on living in the body, this will mean fruitful labor for me. Yet what shall I choose? I do not know! I am torn between the two: I desire to depart and be with Christ, which is better by far; but it is more necessary for you that I remain in the body.
Philippians 1:21-24

With us He is not understood

About the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lama sabachthani?” that is, “My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?” And some of those who were standing there, when they heard it, began saying, “This man is calling for Elijah.”
Matthew 27:46-47

With us — even with Nero, the Caesar of Casear’s household — He has a mother

Nerón_y_Agripina

With us He drinks milk!

abraham3visitors

With us He drinks wine!

wedding-at-cana

With us, even when we don’t see Him!

lds-hearts-burn-bread-jesus

Letter to the Ephesians

The old man was a murderer.

stpaulicon_1432903c_old

Of all the men and women in the Bible, only Paul begins as a villain and ends as a hero.

He is first seen, almost as an afterthought, in the murder of St. Stephen

But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. “Look,” he said, “I see heaven open and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.”

At this they covered their ears and, yelling at the top of their voices, they all rushed at him, dragged him out of the city and began to stone him. Meanwhile, the witnesses laid their coats at the feet of a young man named Saul.

While they were stoning him, Stephen prayed, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit.” Then he fell on his knees and cried out, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them.” When he had said this, he fell asleep.

And Saul approved of their killing him.
Acs 7:55-8:1

st_stephen_martyr

But this Saul of Tarsus — this St. Paul — was still recognizably the same man after his conversion than before. It was before his conversion, before he understood how or why he was blinded, that his character was revealed

He asked, “Who are you, Lord?
Acts 9:5

Saul was and remained, a man searching for God

The Letter to the Ephesians, a public epistle meant to be read aloud, is also the most private of Saul’s letters. Nowhere else in the Bible is the written directions of a man to others so clearly a man’s reflection on himself

Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. And do not grieve the Holy Spirit of God, with whom you were sealed for the day of redemption. Get rid of all bitterness, rage and anger, brawling and slander, along with every form of malice. Be kind and compassionate to one another, forgiving each other, just as in Christ God forgave you.
Ephesians 4:29-32

Paul tells us — tells himself? — to imitate God

Yet the Man, God, himself instructed us to act in the actions of another

“If you were Abraham’s children,” said Jesus, “then you would do what Abraham did.
John 8:37-39

Abram, who became Abraham, shares some traits with Saul, who became Paul. Both had transformations. Both were incomplete transformations.

Abraham’s character is introduced as a cautious man, a coward, who uses deceit to protect those he loves

And it came to pass, when he was close to entering Egypt, that he said to Sarai his wife, “Indeed I know that you are a woman of beautiful countenance. Therefore it will happen, when the Egyptians see you, that they will say, ‘This is his wife’; and they will kill me, but they will let you live. Please say you are my sister, that it may be well with me for your sake, and that I may live because of you.”
Genesis 12:11-13

But it is later, against a far greater threat, Abraham instead uses logic and reason– even when the the subject of the conversation is the LORD Himself

Then the LORD said, “How great is the outcry against Sodom and Gomorrah and how very grave their sin! I must go down and see whether they have done altogether according to the outcry that has come to me; and if not, I will know.”

So the men turned from there, and went toward Sodom, while Abraham remained standing before the Lord.Then Abraham came near and said, “Will you indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city; will you then sweep away the place and not forgive it for the fifty righteous who are in it? Far be it from you to do such a thing, to slay the righteous with the wicked, so that the righteous fare as the wicked! Far be that from you! Shall not the Judge of all the earth do what is just?”
Genesis 18:22-26

In both cases Abraham is fearful of the consequences to his loved ones. In both cases he’s cautious. He improves, as Saul improves. But he is his own self, if not, entirely, his old self.

And not without the pain of his old self

Hagar%20&%20Ishmael%20d

Genesis 18 may be the most important single chapter of the Bible. We see Abraham in his fullness, the new yet recognizably the same man once known as Abram. We see the LORD, eating steak and drinking milk with Abraham, the Man God, who so loved His creation that He Himself became a creature. And we see this becoming, not only from Abraham, but from the LORD

The four verses before Abraham’s bargaining for Sodom, and direct after the meal of steak and curds and milk are as follows

Then the men set out from there, and they looked toward Sodom; and Abraham went with them to set them on their way. The LORD said, “Shall I hide from Abraham what I am about to do, seeing that Abraham shall become a great and mighty nation, and all the nations of the earth shall be blessed in him? No, for I have chosen him, that he may charge his children and his household after him to keep the way of the LORD by doing righteousness and justice; so that the LORD may bring about for Abraham what he has promised him.”
Genesis 18:16-19

The Divine Internal Dialog. The LORD in His full humanity. The LORD, fully human and fully divine, that also imitated Abraham

He left that place and came to his hometown, and his disciples followed him. On the sabbath he began to teach in the synagogue, and many who heard him were astounded. They said, “Where did this man get all this? What is this wisdom that has been given to him? What deeds of power are being done by his hands! Is not this the carpenter, the son of Mary and brother of James and Joses and Judas and Simon, and are not his sisters here with us?” And they took offense at him. Then Jesus said to them, “Prophets are not without honor, except in their hometown, and among their own kin, and in their own house.” And he could do no deed of power there, except that he laid his hands on a few sick people and cured them. And he was amazed at their unbelief.
Mark 6:1-6

At the radical core of Christianity is the greatest miracle, the greatest act of love, the work of the greatest will imaginable. The Creator became a Ceature. God became man. Paul says to immigate God, the Lord says to imitate Abraham, and Abraham himself imigates God and Paul.

Abraham_Isaac

Few men ever see another, knowing that he would die for him, that he would be tortured in his place

As Paul wrote

Very rarely will anyone die for a righteous person, though for a good person someone might possibly dare to die. But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us.
Romans 5:7-8

I wonder what the LORD thought to himself, seeing Isaac?

Abraham took the wood for the burnt offering and placed it on his son Isaac, and he himself carried the fire and the knife. As the two of them went on together, 7 Isaac spoke up and said to his father Abraham, “Father?”

“Yes, my son?” Abraham replied.

“The fire and wood are here,” Isaac said, “but where is the lamb for the burnt offering?”
Genesis 22:6-7

Anthony_van_Dyck_-_Abraham_and_Isaac_-_WGA07427

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children, and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.
Ephesians 5:1-2

But God loves us that much.

Christ could have taken Himself down fromt he Christ. He didn’t. He could have avoided death. He didn’t. He could have avoided hunger and pain and thirst. He didn’t. The One so loved us the One became one of us.

Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength
Deuteronomy 6:4-5

The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.”
Mark 12:29-30

There is one body and one Spirit, just as you were called to one hope when you were called; 5 one Lord, one faith, one baptism; 6 one God and Father of all, who is over all and through all and in all.
Ephesians 4:4-6

Letter to the Galatians

Then Melchizedek king of Salem brought out bread and wine; he was the priest of God Most High. And he blessed him and said:

“Blessed be Abram of God Most High,
Possessor of heaven and earth;
And blessed be God Most High,
Who has delivered your enemies into your hand.”
And he gave him a tithe of all.

Now the king of Sodom said to Abram, “Give me the persons, and take the goods for yourself.”
Genesis 14:18-21

abraham isaac jacob

After the nightmare of the Corinthians, who got drunk off communion wine and followed “super-apostles,” Paul can take a break. The Galatians want too many rules, and insist on following them too blindly. And even better, correcting the Galatians requires breaking out rabbinical theology and political theory.

Paul certainly was smiling at his pleasant task when he coined an expletive rather more vivid than the version commonly used today

I wish those who unsettle you would castrate themselves!
Galatians 5:12

The Letter to the Galatians concerns the Law of Moses, and the role it plays among Christians. Both the Torah and the Gospels themselves emphasize the importance of the Mosaic Code

For all who rely on the works of the law are under a curse; for it is written, “Cursed is everyone who does not observe and obey all the things written in the book of the law.”
Galatians 3:10, quoting Deuteronomy 27:26

“Do not think that I have come to abolish the Law or the Prophets; I have not come to abolish them but to fulfill them. For truly I tell you, until heaven and earth disappear, not the smallest letter, not the least stroke of a pen, will by any means disappear from the Law until everything is accomplished. Therefore anyone who sets aside one of the least of these commands and teaches others accordingly will be called least in the kingdom of heaven, but whoever practices and teaches these commands will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.
Matthew 5:17-19

At the beginning of Galatians, Paul recounts his leadership among the pharisees who were persecuting the church, including the murder of St. Stephen

ststephenmartyrdom

You have heard, no doubt, of my earlier life in Judaism. I was violently persecuting the church of God and was trying to destroy it. I advanced in Judaism beyond many among my people of the same age, for I was far more zealous for the traditions of my ancestors.
Galatians 1:13-34

Paul was a radicalized student of Gamaliel, a far more patient pharisee than Paul. Gamiel appears twice in Acts of the Apostles, in an extended direct quote. In the logic of ancient Jewish writing, the first words, “Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to do with these men” indicate that Gamaliel is a brother to Jews, a thinker, and cautious.

When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be put outside for a short time. Then he said to them, “Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to do to these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and disappeared. After him Judas the Galilean rose up at the time of the census and got people to follow him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!” They were convinced by him.
Acts 5:33-39

and then referenced as a teacher of Paul

“I am a Jew, born in Tarsus in Cilicia, but brought up in this city at the feet of Gamaliel, educated strictly according to our ancestral law, being zealous for God, just as all of you are today
Acts 22:3

Gamaliel s recorded is the Mishna, but one of the most striking parts of his life is that he is the grandson of Hillel the Elder, who famously accepted the challenge of a centurion to explain the Torah while standing on one foot. Hillel’s answer was

“What is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow: this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation; go and learn”

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

This of course is striking similarl to the Gospel according to Paul’s friend Luke

Do to others as you would have them do to you.
Luke 6:31

He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
Luke 10:27

So if Christ did not come to change Moses’s Law, and Christ himself seemed to be agreeing with pharisees in loving your neighbor, how can Christians possibly not be under the Mosaic Code?

Even the first Pope Peter (called Cephas) was confused

When Cephas [Peter] came to Antioch, I opposed him to his face, because he stood condemned. For before certain men came from James, he used to eat with the Gentiles. But when they arrived, he began to draw back and separate himself from the Gentiles because he was afraid of those who belonged to the circumcision group. The other Jews joined him in his hypocrisy, so that by their hypocrisy even Barnabas was led astray.

When I saw that they were not acting in line with the truth of the gospel, I said to Cephas in front of them all, “You are a Jew, yet you live like a Gentile and not like a Jew. How is it, then, that you force Gentiles to follow Jewish customs?
Galatians 2:11-14

The core of the dispute seemed to be that all involved agreed that God had given the Law to Moses, that the core of the Law was love, and that Moses was intercessor between man and God, and that Moses’s intercession itself recalls God’s promise to Abraham:

“I have seen these people,” the LORD said to Moses, “and they are a stiff-necked people. Now leave me alone so that my anger may burn against them and that I may destroy them. Then I will make you into a great nation.”

But Moses sought the favor of the Lord his God. “LORD,” he said, “why should your anger burn against your people, whom you brought out of Egypt with great power and a mighty hand? Why should the Egyptians say, ‘It was with evil intent that he brought them out, to kill them in the mountains and to wipe them off the face of the earth’? Turn from your fierce anger; relent and do not bring disaster on your people. Remember your servants Abraham, Isaac and Israel, to whom you swore by your own self: ‘I will make your descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky and I will give your descendants all this land I promised them, and it will be their inheritance forever.’” Then the Lord relented and did not bring on his people the disaster he had threatened.
Exodus 32:9-14

prophet-moses-with-aaron-or

Indeed, at this time Jews and Christians both seemed to believe (as Catholics and Orthodox still do believe) that the dead could pray for souls, and that Abraham himself could speak to those in hades

The poor man died and was carried away by the angels to be with Abraham. The rich man also died and was buried.  In Hades, where he was being tormented, he looked up and saw Abraham far away with Lazarus by his side. He called out, ‘Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus to dip the tip of his finger in water and cool my tongue; for I am in agony in these flames.’ But Abraham said, ‘Child, remember that during your lifetime you received your good things, and Lazarus in like manner evil things; but now he is comforted here, and you are in agony.
Luke 16:22-25

abraham_and_lazarus

It is on this backdrop — that Moses was an interlocutor between God and Israel, but Abraham is the grandfather of Israel, and the blessings of God were a free gift from God. Moses negotiated a suzerainty treaty with God, but as Paul says

Why then the law? It was added because of transgressions, until the offspring would come to whom the promise had been made; and it was ordained through angels by a mediator. Now a mediator involves more than one party; but God is one.
Galatians 3:19

Moses executed a what would nowadays be termed as a instrument of surrender. If the Law is peace it is the peace of Submission. But just as Jesus the Lord would not change a single word of the Law, the Law itself cannot change a single word of God’s promise to Abraham

As Paul writes

Brothers and sisters, I give an example from daily life: once a person’s will has been ratified, no one adds to it or annuls it. Now the promises were made to Abraham and to his offspring;it does not say, “And to offsprings,”as of many; but it says, “And to your offspring,” that is, to one person, who is Christ. My point is this: the law, which came four hundred thirty years later, does not annul a covenant previously ratified by God, so as to nullify the promise. For if the inheritance comes from the law, it no longer comes from the promise; but God granted it to Abraham through the promise.
Galatians 3:15-18

The works of the Law were a test, like an X-Ray, of everything wrong. Christians are freed of the law — God does not impose the surrender terms on us — but requires something else. Faith through love.

For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision counts for anything; the only thing that counts is faith working through love.
Galatians 5:6

“Abraham’s faith was credited to him as righteousness” (Genesis 15:6 , Romans 4:3, Galatians 3:6), but it was not a dead faith. The love of his wife, his son, his kinsman, and stranges shine through in his life and struggle. Father Abraham received the prayers of many generations, and was granted as a free gift the inheritance for his seed.

His seed is Christ Himself, and in that inheritance we are free.

One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, “Of all the commandments, which is the most important?”

“The most important one,” answered Jesus, “is this: ‘Hear, O Israel: The Lord our God, the Lord is one. Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.’ The second is this: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no commandment greater than these.”
Mark 12:28-29

He answered, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your strength, and with all your mind; and your neighbor as yourself.”
Luke 10:27

If you love me, keep my commands.
John 14:15

If only it was an easy rule to follow.

Impressions of “Did Jesus Die for Dogs?” by Rev. Steve Boint

Steve Boint is a friend of mine. He’s also a mentor and a teacher. My philosophy of science and views of the Bible are certainly radicalized versions of his teachings. It is from Steve that I seriously considered the nature of non-paradigmatic science (and thus of normal academic science), and from Steve I turned away from naive versions of the Documentary Hypothesis.

And I’m also specifically credited in the acknowledgements. So there’s no way this can be an objective review. So just buy it. And after you do that, finish reading this post to see what it’s about.

didjesusdie4dogs

Did Jesus Die for Dogs is a very readable work of popular theology. It compress more than a decade of theological research into 40 pages that can be given to an average parishioner without confusion.

Did Jesus Die for Dogs draws on Calvinist Covenant Theology, and looks at promises and requirements that God gave to Adam, Noah, Moses, and the world as described in the letters of Paul. Boint convincingly argues that Adam and Eve’s sins lead to the fall of all of creation, and that the sacrifice of Jesus redeemed all of creation.

After the first sin, God cursed the ground

To Adam he said, “Because you listened to your wife and ate fruit from the tree about which I commanded you, ‘You must not eat from it,’

“Cursed is the ground because of you;
through painful toil you will eat food from it
all the days of your life.
Genesis 3:17

The Flood is aimed at animals as well — the LORD regretted creating dogs just as he regretted creating men

So the LORD said, “I will wipe from the face of the earth the human race I have created—and with them the animals, the birds and the creatures that move along the ground—for I regret that I have made them
Genesis 6:7

God calls the animals directly — Noah does not gather them, the Spirit moves them

Two of every kind of bird, of every kind of animal and of every kind of creature that moves along the ground will come to you to be kept alive.
Genesis 6:20

Pairs of clean and unclean animals, of birds and of all creatures that move along the ground, 9 male and female, came to Noah and entered the ark, as God had commanded Noah.
Genesis 7:8

God remembered the animals, as well as the humans

But God remembered Noah and all the wild animals and the livestock that were with him in the ark, and he sent a wind over the earth, and the waters receded.

Likewise, the Law itself grants the Land rest

The Lord said to Moses at Mount Sinai, “Speak to the Israelites and say to them: ‘When you enter the land I am going to give you, the land itself must observe a sabbath to the Lord. For six years sow your fields, and for six years prune your vineyards and gather their crops. But in the seventh year the land is to have a year of sabbath rest, a sabbath to the Lord. Do not sow your fields or prune your vineyards. Do not reap what grows of itself or harvest the grapes of your untended vines. The land is to have a year of rest.
Leviticus 25:1-5

If you besiege a town for a long time, making war against it in order to take it, you must not destroy its trees by wielding an ax against them. Although you may take food from them, you must not cut them down. Are trees in the field human beings that they should come under siege from you
Deuteronomy 20:19

St_Francis_394233c

While I think parts of Did Jesus Die for Dogs? overstates its point, the point itself is well attested.  Boint’s writing is convincing, even (or especially) for a curious but non-theological evidence.

Let the heavens rejoice, let the earth be glad;
let the sea resound, and all that is in it.
Let the fields be jubilant, and everything in them;
let all the trees of the forest sing for joy.
Let all creation rejoice before the LORD, for he comes,
he comes to judge the earth.
He will judge the world in righteousness
and the peoples in his faithfulness.
Palms 96:11-13

You will go out in joy
and be led forth in peace;
the mountains and hills
will burst into song before you,
and all the trees of the field
will clap their hands.
Isaiah 55:12

The creations in Nature themselves form part of the heavenly host. As we remember:

From the heavens, the stars fought
From their stations, they fought with Sisera
Judges 5:20

And as even the Canaanites, who sometimes confused idol Ba’al with the LORD but worshiped God as the only true Creator, attested

And say, that the sons of God may know
Ann that the assembly of stars may understand
The Council of the Heavens
The Ba’al Cycle

Steve Boint’s work is timely given the recent Papal Encyclical, Laudito Si, which I earlier discussed.

mary-queen-of-heaven-timothy-jones

The word “Creation” occurs more than 60 times in Laudito Si, but one of the most moving passages reminds the faithful that Mary is Queen of all Creation. The Creator not only became a creation (when God became Man), but creation itself is the dominion of a sinless creature who gave birth to and loves her creator

Mary, the Mother who cared for Jesus, now cares with maternal affection and pain for this wounded world. Just as her pierced heart mourned the death of Jesus, so now she grieves for the sufferings of the crucified poor and for the creatures of this world laid waste by human power. Completely transfigured, she now lives with Jesus, and all creatures sing of her fairness. She is the Woman, “clothed in the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars” (Rev 12:1). Carried up into heaven, she is the Mother and Queen of all creation. In her glorified body, together with the Risen Christ, part of creation has reached the fullness of its beauty. She treasures the entire life of Jesus in her heart (cf. Lk 2:19,51), and now understands the meaning of all things. Hence, we can ask her to enable us to look at this world with eyes of wisdom.
Laudito Si 241

As the Rev. Boint reminds readers multiple times in Did Jesus Die for Dogs?, the greatest existential distinction is the distinction between Creator and Creation. And by His birth, death, and resurrection — by His grace — the LORD, Christ our Lord, has abolished that distinction.

Our nails were driven into His flesh. His sacrifice purchases our eternal life.

pluto-in-false-color-new-horizons

Did Jesus Die for Dogs is far more readable — its written at a much simpler level — than Laudito Si. But given the thousands of years of Divine Tradition — from the LORD eating steak and cakes with Abraham and Sarah, to the Lord drinking wine at a wedding with his mother, to the Mother of God herself being clothed in the sun, I’ll leave with a hymn by St. Francis of Asisi, quoted in Pope Francis’s Laudito Si:

Praised be you, my Lord, with all your creatures,
especially Sir Brother Sun,
who is the day and through whom you give us light.
And he is beautiful and radiant with great splendour;
and bears a likeness of you, Most High.
Praised be you, my Lord, through Sister Moon and the stars,
in heaven you formed them clear and precious and beautiful.
Praised be you, my Lord, through Brother Wind,
and through the air, cloudy and serene, and every kind of weather
through whom you give sustenance to your creatures.
Praised be you, my Lord, through Sister Water,
who is very useful and humble and precious and chaste.
Praised be you, my Lord, through Brother Fire,
through whom you light the night,
and he is beautiful and playful and robust and strong
Canticle of the Creatures, Laudito Si 87

To combine the concluding words of Pope Francis and Rev. Boint,

Forever: humans, animals, plants, all other living things and God will be friends.
Praise be to you!
Amen.

Merry Christmas

It is birthday of our Lord. In English that’s “Christmas,” but a lot of languages emphasize birthday or nativity, and I like that.

If you are fortunate enough to be with friends or family, and get to eat with others, you get to follow in the path of our Lord.

abraham3visitors

Remember the LORD’s meal with Abraham: cakes, curds, steak, and milk

Then the LORD appeared to him by the terebinth trees of Mamre, as he was sitting in the tent door in the heat of the day. So he lifted his eyes and looked, and behold, three men were standing by him; and when he saw them, he ran from the tent door to meet them, and bowed himself to the ground, and said, “My Lord, if I have now found favor in Your sight, do not pass on by Your servant.

They said, “Do as you have said.”

So Abraham hurried into the tent to Sarah and said, “Quickly, make ready three measures of fine meal; knead it and make cakes.” And Abraham ran to the herd, took a tender and good calf, gave it to a young man, and he hastened to prepare it. So he took butter and milk and the calf which he had prepared, and set it before them; and he stood by them under the tree as they ate.
Genesis 18:1-8

wedding-at-cana

And remember the wedding at Cana, where the Lord provided the wine

On the third day there was a wedding in Cana of Galilee, and the mother of Jesus was there. Jesus and his disciples had also been invited to the wedding. When the wine gave out, the mother of Jesus said to him, “They have no wine.” And Jesus said to her, “Woman, what concern is that to you and to me? My hour has not yet come.” His mother said to the servants, “Do whatever he tells you.” Now standing there were six stone water jars for the Jewish rites of purification, each holding twenty or thirty gallons. Jesus said to them, “Fill the jars with water.” And they filled them up to the brim. He said to them, “Now draw some out, and take it to the chief steward.” So they took it. When the steward tasted the water that had become wine, and did not know where it came from (though the servants who had drawn the water knew), the steward called the bridegroom and said to him, “Everyone serves the good wine first, and then the inferior wine after the guests have become drunk. But you have kept the good wine until now.”
John 2:1-10

May your Christmas be filled with loved ones. And may remember, whether you eat steak and wine with friends or a simple meal alone, the LORD, Christ our Lord, came to be with us, and weekly invites us to be present at a meal with Him.

Second Letter to the Corinthians

Acts of the Apostles is an adventure, of the first Pope, the greatest apostle, and the Holy Spirit.

The Letter to the Romans is a brilliant summary of Christian theology.

But by the time we get to the second letter of the Corinthians…

Paul’s goal is to create a worldwide church, which would replace the now-meaningless sacrifices at the Temple in Jerusalem with the re-presentation of the one sacrifice, of the LORD on the cross.   Paul’s goal was to redefine civilization in Christian terms, opposing the most perfect Empire and most perfect Monotheism yet created to do so.

But to get there, he needed to work with people like the Corinthians.

And others, perhaps even including the original apostles, willing to give up and hide from the world.

Well let’s talk about despair.
2 corinthians text art

The Hebrew Bible has two great writings of despair: the Book of Job and the Book of Ecclesiastes. And the Gospels has one great work of epistemological doubt: the Gospel of John. Here, in this letter, Paul brings both themes together, and it all revolves around the Corinthians, those dunderheads who got drunk off communion wine.

Ecclesiastes threw the Pharisaical enterprise into doubt. Paul’s great defense was hope…

When Paul noticed that some were Sadducees and others were Pharisees, he called out in the council, “Brothers, I am a Pharisee, a son of Pharisees. I am on trial concerning the hope of the resurrection of the dead.”
Acts 23:6

But is that just a hope? What can we say about the Law or about life everlasting, when the Law informs us of our weakness and about life everlasting we know… little

I also said to myself, “As for humans, God tests them so that they may see that they are like the animals. Surely the fate of human beings is like that of the animals; the same fate awaits them both: As one dies, so dies the other. All have the same breath; humans have no advantage over animals. Everything is meaningless. All go to the same place; all come from dust, and to dust all return. Who knows if the human spirit rises upward and if the spirit of the animal goes down into the earth?”
Ecclesiastes 3:18-21

Paul echoes both of these. The Law of Moses brings death, it brings dullness, is tells us of our weakness but not our freedom

We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts.
2 Corinthians 13-15

But Paul echoes the other part of Ecclesiastes’ writing too: what do we know, and how can we brag? If we receive a revelation or a prophecy, what would that even mean? How would others know? How could we truly tell?

I must go on boasting. Although there is nothing to be gained, I will go on to visions and revelations from the Lord. I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago was caught up to the third heaven. Whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows. And I know that this man—whether in the body or apart from the body I do not know, but God knows— was caught up to paradise and heard inexpressible things, things that no one is permitted to tell.
2 Corinthians 12:1-4

It’s vanity to mention it, but only God knows if that soul rose, or fell, or was in a temporary earthly slumber.

Likewise, in the Book of Job, the grief comes from earthly tragedy, but the cosmos horror that the Redeemer would intervene to sav Isaac, to save Miriam, but not the ones you love.

“Oh, that my words were recorded,
that they were written on a scroll,
that they were inscribed with an iron tool on lead,
or engraved in rock forever!
I know that my redeemer lives,
and that in the end he will stand on the earth.
Job 19:23-25

Paul’s tone is different from Job’s, but the theology is the same: The persecution is inexplicable.

But we have this treasure in jars of clay to show that this all-surpassing power is from God and not from us. We are hard pressed on every side, but not crushed; perplexed, but not in despair; persecuted, but not abandoned; struck down, but not destroyed.
2 Corinthian 4:7-9

Though even in that there is hope

And after my skin has been destroyed,
yet in my flesh I will see God;
I myself will see him
with my own eyes—I, and not another.
How my heart yearns within me!
Job 19:26-27

For we know that if the earthly tent we live in is destroyed, we have a building from God, an eternal house in heaven, not built by human hands. Meanwhile we groan, longing to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, because when we are clothed, we will not be found naked. For while we are in this tent, we groan and are burdened, because we do not wish to be unclothed but to be clothed instead with our heavenly dwelling, so that what is mortal may be swallowed up by life. Now the one who has fashioned us for this very purpose is God, who has given us the Spirit as a deposit, guaranteeing what is to come.
2 Corinthians 5:1-5

And Paul touches on the epistomological doubt on theology – not just on resurrection but in the nature of the Divine itself — he makes a fool of himself by mentioning signs, wonders, and miracles

If I have made a fool of myself, but you drove me to it. I ought to have been commended by you, for I am not in the least inferior to the “super-apostles,” even though I am nothing. I persevered in demonstrating among you the marks of a true apostle, including signs, wonders and miracles. How were you inferior to the other churches, except that I was never a burden to you? Forgive me this wrong!
2 Corintians 12:11-13

And this is a foolish claim because Christ hismelf refuted it

Nathanael asked him, “Where did you get to know me?”

Jesus answered, “I saw you under the fig tree before Philip called you.”

Nathanael replied, “Rabbi, you are the Son of God! You are the King of Israel!”

Jesus answered, “Do you believe because I told you that I saw you under the fig tree? You will see greater things than these.”
John 1:48-50

And it is that tension — a foolish claim — a foolish claim that works — the promise of greater things to come — is what Paul is wrestling with, in the context of the dunderheads of Corinth.

But the Corinthians are not done with Paul yet. Paul is organizing a church that will be world wide. He is using the energy of one community to help convert another. He needs money. And he will flatter — flatter with a hint of sarcasm — to get it

But since you excel in everything—in faith, in speech, in knowledge, in complete earnestness and in the love we have kindled in you—see that you also excel in this grace of giving.
2 Corinthians 8:7

Paul must have thought of Ecclesiastes as crafting this message

Words spoken by the wise bring them favor,
but the lips of fools consume them.
Ecclesiastes 10:12

The habit of the Corinthians to get drunk on communion wine, to feast on Communion bread, and now the need for money from them, must have made Paul think of another line in Ecclesiates, too…

A feast is made for laughter, wine makes life merry, and money is the answer for everything.
Ecclesiastes 10:19

Synaxis_of_the_Twelve_Apostles_01

Under the surface of the Second Letter to the Corinthians is the Didache. The Didache, also called “The Teaching of the Twelve Apostles” or the “Judgement of Peter,” is a two-thousand year old, Messianic Jewish text about Christian belief and Christian life. An example passage, showing both its resolute Christian character and its different tone than Paul’s churches, is as follows:

Now concerning the Eucharist, give thanks this way. First, concerning the cup:

We We thank thee, our Father, for the holy vine of David Thy servant, which You made known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory for ever..

And concerning the broken bread:

We thank Thee, our Father, for the life and knowledge which You made known to us through Jesus Thy Servant; to Thee be the glory for ever. Even as this broken bread was scattered over the hills, and was gathered together and became one, so let Thy Church be gathered together from the ends of the earth into Thy kingdom; for Thine is the glory and the power through Jesus Christ for ever.

But let no one eat or drink of your Eucharist, unless they have been baptized into the name of the Lord; for concerning this also the Lord has said, “Give not that which is holy to the dogs.”
Didache 9, The Eucharist

Whether or not the Didache really came from Peter, or Andrew, or another apostles, it also contained lines that Paul found himself battling with

But concerning the apostles and prophets, act according to the decree of the Gospel. Let every apostle who comes to you be received as the Lord. But he shall not remain more than one day; or two days, if there’s a need. But if he remains three days, he is a false prophet.
Didache 11, Concerning Teachers, Prophets, and Apostles

The Didache instructed communities to be cautious of outsiders. But Paul’s objective was building a Church Militant, of replacing the Temple in Jerusalem with a new global religious life centered around the LORD, Jesus Christ.

And for that, he needs money

And here is my judgment about what is best for you in this matter. Last year you were the first not only to give but also to have the desire to do so. Now finish the work, so that your eager willingness to do it may be matched by your completion of it, according to your means. For if the willingness is there, the gift is acceptable according to what one has, not according to what one does not have.
2 Corinthians 8:10-12

Aaron needed priests. Joshua needed men at arms. Paul needs money.

This service that you perform is not only supplying the needs of the Lord’s people but is also overflowing in many expressions of thanks to God. Because of the service by which you have proved yourselves, others will praise God for the obedience that accompanies your confession of the gospel of Christ, and for your generosity in sharing with them and with everyone else. And in their prayers for you their hearts will go out to you, because of the surpassing grace God has given you. Thanks be to God for his indescribable gift!
2 Corinthians 9:12-14

In order to defend against those who might cite the Didache, as a “false prophet” who seeks money and does not work locally in a community, Paul himself needs to accuse others of being false apostles

And I will keep on doing what I am doing in order to cut the ground from under those who want an opportunity to be considered equal with us in the things they boast about. For such people are false apostles, deceitful workers, masquerading as apostles of Christ. And no wonder, for Satan himself masquerades as an angel of light. It is not surprising, then, if his servants also masquerade as servants of righteousness. Their end will be what their actions deserve.
2 Corinthians 11:12-15

At the end, Paul rises from the muck of this world, encouraging the early church and thinking beyond money for a moment

Finally, brothers and sisters, rejoice! Strive for full restoration, encourage one another, be of one mind, live in peace. And the God of love and peace will be with you.

Greet one another with a holy kiss. All God’s people here send their greetings.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit be with you all.
2 Corinthians 13:11-14

A worthy success to Aaron and Joshua, Paul leads a generation after the great covenant between God and Israel. But it is someone else who performed the miracles, presented the covenant, and climbed the mountain. Instead, Paul needs to keep Israel together.

The Bull El, the Lamb Jesus, has been given up.

The sacrifice has been made.

Now only to distribute the blood.

priest-covered-in-blood

God so loved the world that He sent His Son into it. And as Paul discovered, even His followers must live in it, too.

First Letter to the Corinthians

Reading Paul’s words about Jesus, I kept thinking of Joshua and Moses.

consecration of joshua

First Corinthians is a book written after the excitement. While Paul was fashioning a Christianity that could rebuild Roman civilization, and the exponential growth of Christianity would continue for centuries, the life, death, and resurrection of Christ were now in the past. The LORD, who had made men out of clay like a potter makes pots and ate steak and milk with Abraham and Sarah (Genesis 18) had ascended into heaven.

And now things were going wrong.

But this was not the first time. Both Joshua and Paul think back to the Exodus, when the glory of God was followed by immediate apostasy and decades in the wilderness

Then I sent Moses and Aaron, and I plagued Egypt with what I did in its midst; and afterwards I brought you out. When I brought your ancestors out of Egypt, you came to the sea; and the Egyptians pursued your ancestors with chariots and horsemen to the Red Sea. When they cried out to the Lord, he put darkness between you and the Egyptians, and made the sea come upon them and cover them; and your eyes saw what I did to Egypt. Afterwards you lived in the wilderness a long time.
Joshua 24:5-7

I do not want you to be unaware, brothers and sisters, that our ancestors were all under the cloud, and all passed through the sea, and all were baptized into Moses in the cloud and in the sea, and all ate the same spiritual food, and all drank the same spiritual drink. For they drank from the spiritual rock that followed them, and the rock was Christ. Nevertheless, God was not pleased with most of them, and they were struck down in the wilderness.
1 Corinthians 10:1-5

Joshua — who had seen the how mighty governments can fail when God and “human cohesion” are against them — resorted to sarcasm in addressing the nation of Moses

But if serving the LORD seems undesirable to you, then choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods your ancestors served beyond the Euphrates, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you are living. But as for me and my household, we will serve the LORD.”
Joshua 24:15

Worship Ba’al? Worship Enki? Whatever. Just have the decency to chose one pantheon.

St.-Pauls-Vision-by-George-Kordis.

Paul’s letter is equally sharp as Joshua’s speech.

Already you have all you want! Already you have become rich! Quite apart from us you have become kings! Indeed, I wish that you had become kings, so that we might be kings with you!
1 Corinthians 4:8

Joshua and Paul are not just leaders, but teachers, concerned about day to day affairs, and at the end of their ropes. Both had been miraculously visited. Now both had handle these people.

joshua meets the commander of the lords armies

Both upbrade their followers.  Paul, with simple (and funny) exasperation

For when the time comes to eat, each of you goes ahead with your own supper, and one goes hungry and another becomes drunk. What! Do you not have homes to eat and drink in? Or do you show contempt for the church of God and humiliate those who have nothing? What should I say to you? Should I commend you? In this matter I do not commend you!
1 Corinthians 11:20-22

Joshua, with stark divine threats, but the people’s response (worthy of a four year old) provokes its own laughter from the reader

But Joshua said to the people, “You cannot serve the LORD, for he is a holy God. He is a jealous God; he will not forgive your transgressions or your sins. If you forsake the LORD and serve foreign gods, then he will turn and do you harm, and consume you, after having done you good.”

And the people said to Joshua, “No, we will serve the LORD!”
Joshua 24:19-21

The moral of Joshua’s farewell address, and Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians are the same: the criticism of idolatory. In ancient times Canaanites worshiped a god they knew didn’t create them, Ba’al, because he was powerful. Operand conditioning as theology. But this is hardly new, or old. Money is the answer to all things, although money did not create us. Weather Paul’s followers worshiped Zeus or money, or Joshua’s followers worshiped Ba’al or silver, there is no difference: the use of a tool and the love for a tool have profoundly different consequences

Now therefore revere the LORD, and serve him in sincerity and in faithfulness; put away the gods that your ancestors served beyond the River and in Egypt, and serve the LORD.
Joshua 24:14

Hence, as to the eating of food offered to idols, we know that “no idol in the world really exists,” and that “there is no God but one.” Indeed, even though there may be so-called gods in heaven or on earth—as in fact there are many gods and many lords— yet for us there is one God, the Father, from whom are all things and for whom we exist, and one Lord, Jesus Christ, through whom are all things and through whom we exist.
1 Corinthians 8:4-6

Fittingly, Joshua ends his talk and seals a covenant between God and Israel with a tree and a stone

joshua-renews-covenant

So Joshua made a covenant with the people that day, and made statutes and ordinances for them at Shechem. Joshua wrote these words in the book of the law of God; and he took a large stone, and set it up there under the oak in the sanctuary of the Lord. Joshua said to all the people, “See, this stone shall be a witness against us; for it has heard all the words of the Lord that he spoke to us; therefore it shall be a witness against you, if you deal falsely with your God.” So Joshua sent the people away to their inheritances.
Joshua 24:26-28

Paul also knew of a covenant, a tree, and a stone. And what happened next. The branch of Jesse’s tree.

EmptyTombRelief

A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse;
from his roots a Branch will bear fruit.
The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him—
the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding,
the Spirit of counsel and of might,
the Spirit of the knowledge and fear of the Lord—
Isaiah 11:1-2

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA
OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

And of course the stone, the empty tomb

For I handed on to you as of first importance what I in turn had received: that Christ died for our sins in accordance with the scriptures, and that he was buried, and that he was raised on the third day in accordance with the scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the twelve. Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers and sisters at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have died. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one untimely born, he appeared also to me.
1 Corinthians 15:3-8

For as Joshua stated, obey all the commandments

Therefore be very steadfast to observe and do all that is written in the book of the law of Moses, turning aside from it neither to the right nor to the left,
Joshua 23:6

But one thing is at the heart of all things:

Jesus answered, “The first is, ‘Hear, O Israel: the Lord our God, the Lord is one; you shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your mind, and with all your strength.’ The second is this, ‘You shall love your neighbor as yourself.’ There is no other commandment greater than these.”
Matthew 12:29-31

Or, as Paul put it:

If I speak in the tongues of mortals and of angels, but do not have love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal. And if I have prophetic powers, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but do not have love, I am nothing….

And now faith, hope, and love abide, these three; and the greatest of these is love.

1 Corinthians 13:1-2,13

emptycrosstomb

The tDAxp eXPerience