24 September 2011

must we sing the song of Lamech?

Our Keukabiblia Bible study will be taking on the parable of the unforgiving servant in Matthew 18:23-35.  It’s quite a colorful story!  It features a king releasing a slave from his debt, that slave then grabbing his fellow indebted slave by the throat, and last but not least, God being pictured as a vengeful torturer.

(Of course, the amount owed by the slave to the king, ten thousand talents, should clue us in that the details of the story are fantastically exaggerated.  One denarius was the usual wage for a day’s labor.  With one talent equaling ten thousand denarii, ten thousand talents would equal one hundred million days of labor!)

The parable is introduced by Peter’s question to Jesus regarding how often he should forgive a brother or sister (vv. 21-22).  “As many as seven times?” he asks.  Jesus responds, “Not seven times, but, I tell you, seventy-seven times.”

I’ll avoid the temptation to go off on a tangent about our embrace of hateful, unforgiving practices and policies.  Often quoted in justifying those practices and policies is the principle of “eye for eye, tooth for tooth.”  This is the lex talionis, the “law of retaliation” (Exodus 21:23-25, Leviticus 24:19-20, Deuteronomy 19:21).  However, this wasn’t intended as a command to commit violence; it was meant to limit violence.  It was designed to keep blood feuds from spiraling out of control.

An example of vengeance gone wild is shown in the song of Lamech (Genesis 4:23-24).  We see that “Lamech said to his wives:  ‘Adah and Zillah, hear my voice; you wives of Lamech, listen to what I say:  I have killed a man for wounding me, a young man for striking me.  If Cain is avenged sevenfold, truly Lamech seventy-sevenfold.’” 

Seventy-seven.  Why is that number familiar?  Jesus quite deliberately turns the song of Lamech on its head.  In so doing, he turns plenty of our practices and policies on their head.  Can we think of ways in which we want revenge?  Can we think of ways in which we hold grudges?

17 September 2011

fifty years of marking a life

Fifty years ago tomorrow (18 September), the plane carrying then-UN Secretary General Dag Hammarskjöld crashed under suspicious circumstances.  He was traveling to Congo to negotiate a settlement in the conflict brewing in the southern region of Katanga.  There was a secessionist movement led by Moise Tshombe, who was backed, not only by the former colonial power Belgium, but also by the UK and the US. 

Dag Hammarskjöld’s death was deeply troubling in his native Sweden.  He received a state funeral, a rare thing for a diplomat. 

He was more than a political leader, however.  He was a deeply spiritual man.  He seemed to meld together the right balance of the mystical and the political.  We truly need that self-effacing spirit in our world today.  On the fiftieth anniversary of his death, I want to include a quote from his book, Markings, which was published posthumously: 

“The ‘mystical experience.’  Always here and now—in that freedom which is one with distance, in that stillness which is born of silence.  But—this is a freedom in the midst of action, a stillness in the midst of other human beings.  The mystery is a constant reality to him who, in this world, is free from self-concern, a reality that grows peaceful and mature before the receptive attention of assent. 

“In our era, the road to holiness necessarily passes through the world of action.” (103)

14 September 2011

we are Troy Davis

The State of Georgia is now set to execute Troy Davis on Wednesday, the 21st.  Even for those who agree with the death penalty, this should be a matter of urgent concern.  He was convicted of the 1989 shooting death of Savannah police officer Mark MacPhail.  The problem is that there was no physical evidence against Davis, and the weapon used in the crime was never found.  The case against him consisted entirely of witness testimony which contained inconsistencies even at the time of the trial.  Seven of nine witnesses have recanted their testimony.  One of the two failing to do so was also a suspect of the murder. 

I don’t know if he committed this terrible crime, but his guilt has hardly been established. 

So, if you believe that people whose guilt is seriously in question should not be executed, you are Troy Davis. 

In fact, if you believe that people whose guilt has any shadow of a doubt should not be executed, you are Troy Davis.

If you are Troy Davis, speak up for him!

10 September 2011

chaotic waters

Tomorrow is the tenth anniversary of the 9-11 attacks.  There is a powerful resonance with Exodus, which is where we find the Old Testament reading in the Revised Common Lectionary (14:19-31).  It deals with the crossing of the Red Sea.  There’s this wonderful image in verses 21 and 22: 

“Moses stretched out his hand over the sea.  The Lord drove the sea back by a strong east wind all night, and turned the sea into dry land; and the waters were divided.  The Israelites went into the sea on dry ground, the waters forming a wall for them on their right and on their left.” 

The word for “waters” (mayim) is the same one used in Genesis 1, the story of creation.  We’re told that “the Spirit of God was moving over the face of the waters” (v. 2).  That the same word is used isn’t surprising; it’s not an unusual word.  The reason it’s meaningful and powerful is because it represents chaos.  At the beginning of the Bible, “the waters” are the disorder, the disarray, that exists prior to God beginning to establish order. 

In today’s scripture text, the waters are divided.  Chaos is turned aside.  The people are delivered through the chaos in safety.  They are able to travel through the madness.  We still need that kind of exodus today.  We need an exodus that is a true exodus. 

From what do we need an exodus?  To what are we enslaved?  How much of it is self-imposed? 

(The upper image is He Qi’s “Red Sea Crossing”; the lower image is Sarah Harvey’s “Shattered Green Triptych.”)