Tuesday, March 8, 2016


If you are trying to follow the lectionary series in order, I just skipped a few weeks. I will have a website up in the next couple months that follows the schedule.


For Old Testament help, I frequently turn to John C. Holbert. This week, he lays it out pretty clearly. After discussing the odd behaviors of other prophets, he says, “…, but the use of a woman of the evening for an object lesson is quite something else. For those of us who are feminists—and I hope all you readers consider yourselves feminists, too—it is deeply offensive to use a woman as a metaphor for human idolatry. Such literary effects do nothing but demean women and hold men up for the crude and misogynist beasts that they too often are.”

So, yes, this is saying what you think it is on the first read. We don't get any details about just what they did wrong here, but God is obviously fed up with it. Depending on where you want to go with your sermon, you may need to do some more research into the context.

The names obviously have some symbolic meaning, so I'll cover those quickly. “Jezreel” is “God Sows”, in this case it will the bad kind of sowing. “Lo-ruhamah” is “not pitied”, that's followed by God's words about not pitying Israel. “Lo-ammi” is “not my people”. God is going back on his promise that Israel is his chosen people. It does get better, but scholars speculate that the verses about having pity on the house of Judah and how things are going to turn around, were added later, much in the way modern preachers would like to turn this whole passage around and make it something it's not.


The Psalm goes perfectly with the Hosea passage. It accepts the idea that God can be vengeful and angry if he wants. It's saying its our job to let him know we are here for him and that we are certain he has a plan that we can all trust.


I'm spending extra time on the parable this week, so I'm going to focus on only one aspect of the New Testament reading.

2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive through philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the universe, and not according to Christ.

Putting “philosophy” and “empty deceit” next to each other like that implies philosophy is deceitful. Bill O'Reilly now says Christianity IS a philosophy, so I guess he sees it different. Neither Bill nor the Bible discuss the details of this. Greek philosophy would have been known, certainly in the 1st century, although we can't know how well versed in it the authors of the Bible were. There is no direct philosophical debate in the Bible. Here it is described as “according to human tradition”, so they are acknowledging that there is a distinction between Biblical teachings and some sort of secular school of thought. It also says, “elemental spirits of the universe”.

Rather than try to understand the mind of a 1st century Palestinian who couldn't have heard of the word “science” since it hadn't been invented yet, I'll just make an observation. While Protestants and Catholics were killing each other for the right to worship differently, while thousands of new denominations were being created because new information about the Bible was coming to light and as people began to understand how the brain worked and that mental illness was not demon possession, we were also discovering that we are a small planet on the edge of a vast galaxy with galactic neighbors and all that took billions of years to come into being. We are gaining this knowledge so fast, the language is not keeping up. We are going to have to come up with a new word for “universe”. It's supposed to mean all that exists, but we are finding there is something before time and outside the boundaries of everything we know.

These discoveries, that the very fabric of our being was cooked in the first stars then blown apart only to come back together to form more stars and planets and atmospheres and creatures that could then reflect on all of this and ponder the mystery of it and experiment against that universe to discover why it is here and why we are here, none of this is covered in any part of the Bible or in any theology. We have discovered where we came from and evolution gave us a theory of how we came to care about each other. We found out that we were not put here as stewards of someone's creation with some unknown purpose, instead we are completely interconnected to that creation. We are part of its cycles on a biological level and if you get down to the smallest physical level, we are exchanging particles with everything around us. It is difficult to even find the boundaries.

These are profound discoveries that have altered the relationship of human beings to the planet, but religion refuses to integrate them. A few tepid attempts are made and they usually involve getting the science wrong. The Pope closed the universities in 1277 because he was afraid of anyone attempting to reach God using reason. If they had succeeded, why would we need a Pope, and if they failed, people would have to choose between thinking for themselves or not. He had to reopen the schools, but the world had already begun to move on.

There are references in this passage to pagan worship and other warnings to stay away from other religions. One of the few phrases I find agreeable is the one about not getting “puffed up”. That's wrong even if you happen to be technically correct. But I can't salvage much else from this passage. If someone has found a way to integrate all of our modern knowledge into their services, I would love to hear about it.


This passage starts with the Lord's Prayer, then tells us the parable of the Friend at Midnight, then tells us more about prayer. A basic reading might just see it as a suggestion to pray often. I will spend a little extra time on this parable because it is included in William R. Herzog III's Parables as Subversive Speech. This is a rare book that covers many modern interpretations and offers conclusions based on all data available to the modern reader. It considers the parables in light of Paulo Freire's work, The Pedagogy of the Oppressed. It covers 9 parables, and is an invaluable tool for anyone serious about Bible study. Thankfully, it also accessible to the non-scholar.

Herzog spends 11 pages on this passage, going into great detail on the Greek word anaideian, which appears in verse 8 as “persistence” or possibly “importunity” in some translations. Translators have had trouble determining if this applies to the neighbor being awakened, or the friend at the door. Applied the wrong way, it can appear that Jesus is portraying God as the neighbor, who is reluctant to bother with the petitioner at his door. This could be a parable about being persistent with your prayers, something Luke definitely advocates.

To unravel this, Herzog spends almost a page just on how the community that Jesus is preaching to would handle its bread making; small loaves or large, community oven or not, everyone baking on Monday or a system of rotation. If this is not interesting to you, serious Bible study may not be your thing. If you want to have “our daily bread” mean anything other than a vague analogy to eating, these are important details.

Herzog doesn't just jump around wildly speculating, he sights theological, archaeological and textual evidence and how they support the different interpretations they have published. Without this information, we would be left trying to apply this story to our own experience. Would you even answer the door at midnight, even if it was a friend? Do you expect friends to make appointments? This is a family with children, is the friend being inconsiderate? Almost every word needs to be carefully considered to get the correct interpretation.

Herzog considers one theologian that he, and many others, think got it wrong. Herzog only gives us the name Levison, who says anaideian should be applied to the sleeping neighbor. If it doesn't it would lead to the view that prayer is nothing more than badgering God into submission. Levison needed to translate the word to “strengthen” to make this work. Herzog calls this “theological slight of hand”.

Preachers often do this, but rarely will they tell you they are doing it. Your only clue will be if you have not heard it before. If you haven't, you can check with your favorite source or a more familiar preacher, but even then, you are limiting your sources. This is the problem with theology, there is nowhere you can go to get a consensus answer. There is no code book like there is for electricians. It's not a science where some things are still speculation and others are well established theories based on empirical evidence, and data that has been verified as factual after repeated experimentation. This citing of many sources and discussing them is what makes a work like Herzog's so valuable.

To help us understand the irony in this parable, Herzog spends a few pages on the idea of “The Moral Economy of the Peasant”. They had to deal with the reality of a subsistence lifestyle, where they felt that any gain of their own was done at the expense of their neighbors. They felt powerless to deal with the ways they were being exploited, so they looked for how those means resulted in something left over for them. It is hard to understand for anyone living in a society where much is provided. They knew there was an elite status that they could never obtain, but they expected those elites to draw a moral line at limiting their exploitation in a way that left them with their subsistence living.

In this system, reciprocity was a norm. You helped others when they needed it and they understood the obligation to reciprocate. Also important, as was discussed two weeks ago earlier in this same chapter, there was a tradition of itinerant preaching. This tradition of receiving a traveler is included in the Holiness Code of Leviticus. This is not simple utilitarianism. It is friendships developed to alleviate the increasing pressures of those elite patrons. This act of giving mere sustenance, bread, is a participation in the hospitality of Abraham. As Herzog says, “every time they place their meager resources at the disposal of the village, they participate in some small way in the continual redistribution of wealth for the sake of protecting and caring for the vulnerable, as envisioned in the Torah.”

I've left out a lot of the details, but Herzog concludes that the parable is breaking a boundary. Modern readers can recognize this, but they have a very different set of boundaries. Boundaries were set by the Torah in 1st century Palestine, but the elites had rewritten those boundaries with an oral Torah. They used that to continue to pursue their acquisitive greed at the expense of peasants and rural poor and still be Torah-clean. To them, extending hospitality to a stranger was shameless, using the “importunity” interpretation of that difficult Greek word. They were fools.

The parable delivers the punchline in verse 8 with irony. Jesus turns that judgment into an affirmation of village hospitality. By doing so, they created a messianic banquet, making a mockery of the lavish banquets of the elite that were done to promote themselves, not the community. This was a system of justice by the impure that those practicing the purity laws couldn't comprehend. The villagers didn't cave in to the desire to hoard and accumulate. This ordinary action of sharing bread was no small matter. 

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