If the Dead Are Not Raised . . .

On Pascha, it helps to take a look at Paul’s prose in 1 Corinthians 15. Again, because it bears repeating, Paul (along with the other authors of Scripture), does not have a “theology of” or a pre-set view of some issue. Chapter 15 follows chapter 14, which follows 13, all the way from chapter 1. There is a narrative flow.

So there is no Pauline “view” of the Resurrection. Paul, true to Scripture, is taking the promises of God made in the law and the prophets that God’s message will reach the Gentiles, and Paul then explains this message. Anything Paul “says” about the Resurrection is what his predecessors already wrote, which he now presents to the Gentiles.

Because we have been conditioned to think that we need to find pre-Christ references in the Old Testament, we tend to see even the issue of the Resurrection exclusively in this manner, i.e., as being concerned mainly, if not solely, with Jesus Christ. But Jesus, as we have shown in Arc of the Covenant, comes at the end of the Scriptural story, where he carries the entire arc of Scripture to the Cross. As we wrote in part two of that essay, the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead is the Father’s restoration of the entirety of Scripture as a living word that must reach all nations. If Jesus dies and is forgotten, so are the promises of God.

Hence, as we wrote then:

“And so, if the death of Christ was supposed to lead to the loss of the “message of God,” [i.e., by the conspirators who put him to death], then what does the resurrection of Jesus from the dead mean but that this word is a word of life that can never be buried into oblivion?”

And so, to what is Paul referring when he writes that, “if there is no resurrection of the dead, then Christ has not been raised” (15. 13)?

It helps to look at Paul’s imagery in 1 Corinthians. Throughout the letter, he uses the image of the body or a building to help the hearers understand what he is saying. In chapter 15, he introduces the image of a seed (vv. 42 – 44 ff). A seed grows after it is buried into the ground.

What was the purpose of the Resurrection of Jesus? Well, the Resurrection of Jesus from the dead happened only because God had already decided to raise all the dead. But subject to human manipulation, even the word of God could be used to cause harm, as Jesus and the prophets before him showed. Jesus’ interpretation of the law and the prophets, being the only valid one, “protects” the Scriptures as a life-giving word. His being raised from the dead by the Father was done to bring that message to us.

This is why hope is so prominent in the New Testament writings. We now have hope, based upon the teachings we have received as disciples.

But what type of “hope?”

In the Scriptural readings of Holy Week in the Orthodox liturgical cycle, an important “axial” segment were the readings devoted to Jesus’ betrayal. This betrayal was repeated so much one could not lose sight of some important messages: an innocent man was being betrayed, and a judge (Pilate) representing the prized Roman legal system washed his hands of everything and knowingly sentenced an innocent man to death.

Jesus’ death on a cross was simply meant to erase him from history and the face of the earth, to be buried into oblivion. But we remember him and the lessons he taught against the control of the Scriptures exerted by religious authorities and the crimes of unjust judges.

Hope. But God will never forget the needy; the hope of the afflicted will never perish (Psalms 9. 18). Though the world may forget you, cast you into oblivion, God will not. Jesus’ death on the cross is indeed a promise by God that no innocent human being will ever be forgotten by God, and on the “last day,” will not only be justified, by glorified in His kingdom.

Christ is Risen! Truly, He is Risen!

Habakkuk’s Lament

It’s only three chapters long, but the prophecy of Habakkuk packs a decent punch.

It helps, before diving into some of the gems in this book, to repeat a point made throughout this blog — if you read the Bible with pre-set assumptions, or filtered lenses, you will lose sight of what it is saying. As explained recently, in the essay Circling Back to the Text, we can easily overlook, since our assumptions prevent us from looking any deeper, that the fact Uriah is a Hittite is earth-shattering and damning to the Davidic saga. You can only “see” this if you study the text long enough to recognize the connections the authors make for us.

Because of centuries of theological training, it became the norm for people to see the prophets as people “predicting” the future, be it the coming of the Messiah or world events. Lost in this view was a more basic human concern, such as taking up a complaint with God for all the pain and injustices in the world. We tend to overlook this aspect of the prophets, but the prophets are filled with their own very real complaints about how God does things. And they want answers.

Habakkuk is a good place to look at how the authors of Scripture address human complaints against God and what they learn, and we from them, in this process of challenging God. The Book of Habakkuk is essentially the questions of a human being for why the vulnerable suffer in war.

The Complaint

Habakukk’s lament is expressed in the opening verses:

“O Lord, how long shall I cry for help, and you will not listen? Or cry to you ‘Violence!’ and you will not save? Why do you make me see wrongdoing and look at trouble? Destruction and violence are before me, strife and contention arise” (1. 2-3)

Habakukk is expressing the position of being part of a people who are on the receiving end of a war, and with the violence he observes (“destruction and violence are before me”), he is calling on the Lord to answer for this. But the response, far from being an exercise in hand holding, seems to add fuel to the fire. In his retort, the Lord is admittedly proud of raising up foreign armies to punish the disobedient and wayward nations (vv. 6 – 11), including Habakkuk’s!

The Lord’s response in verses 6-11 gives the reader the impression that God relishes war. Not satisfied at all with this reply, Habakkuk continues:

“I will stand at my watchpost, and station myself on the rampart; I will keep watch to see what he will say to me, and what he will answer concerning my complaint” (2.1). In other words, I won’t leave from here until he gives me a decent reply.

In chapter two, verse 2, the Lord responds. What is important here is that we, along with Habakkuk, are learning that the prophet’s original question was myopic.

In his extended response in chapter two, the Lord expresses that his concern is for all the earth (2.8), something absent from Habakkuk’s original complaint: “destruction and violence are before me” (1.2). The key verse in the Lord’s response is 2.4: “Look at the proud! Their spirit is not right in them, but the righteous live by their faith.”

Where are these righteous found? All over the earth (2.14).

The Lord has to teach Habakkuk to enlarge his concern. Noble as it is to lament the violence against our own people, or people like us, the Lord is educating the prophet to also be concerned about the violence against people over the face of all the earth. In other words, compassion is not ethnic, national, or geographical.

After a lengthy song of praise, the prophecy ends with the words, “God, the Lord, is my strength” (3. 19). The only hope for strength is trust in the Lord. Strength is not the number of chariots or the size of the treasury of a state.

In three short chapters, Habakkuk learns that the Lord is not a God who relishes violence. At the same time, he learns also that a human being’s concern must be for all those suffering on the earth. Human compassion must mirror that of God’s.

He Has Been Chosen!

I had a great conversation recently with someone about God’s choices, as what we hear/read in Romans 9. 11 – 13. There, in discussing the birth of Jacob and Esau to Rebekah, Paul writes:

Even before they had been born or had done anything good or bad (so that God’s purpose of election might continue, not by works but by his call) she was told, ‘The elder shall serve the younger.’ As it is written, ‘I have loved Jacob, but I have hated Esau.’

As we learn, Jacob is born, and he is an ambitious fellow who has no problem being conniving and short-sighted, among other things. The question is, would you want him as a brother? A son in law? A son? A husband? A friend? He steals his older brother’s birthright and for this, Esau is exiled by Isaac.

As we addressed in one of the earlier essays, “It’s Good to See You, Bro,” Jacob is of course petrified to learn (as he is finally granted release by Laban to go home) that his older brother Esau is literally over the hills coming straight at him with an army of four hundred plus men. To repeat, Jacob was the reason for why Esau was exiled from his father’s house and became a wanderer, having to fend for himself. But, as we see, God was good to him and to Jacob — well, Jacob struggled his whole life.

So, what benefit did having been chosen bring Jacob? Is chosen-ness a de-facto benefit in Scripture?

Looking at the Bible, it looks more the case that the authors of the Bible are taking a very real human fascination with chosen-ness, which exists in every culture and tribal society — and dynamiting it from within. It’s another construct humans create — in politics, religion, sports (e.g. MVP), you name it.

But behind this outside is an inside that tells a different story. Being chosen is not a priori a safety net, but more the case that God may very well make of you an example.

So in Romans 9, Paul is not really talking about Jacob being preferred over Esau. And he is not creating a “Scriptural approach to election and chosen-ness.” All he is doing is highlighting that, whether or not Israel (another chosen group) followed the Law is irrelevant, because God can even use human failures for His purposes.

Poets and Canons

I recently purchased a copy of the famous Palestinian poet Mahmoud Darwish’s Unfortunately, It Was Paradise (translated and edited by Munir Akash and Carolyn Forche, with Sinan Antoon and Amira El-Zein; UC Press, 2013; Kindle Edition). This is a collection of poems of mourning and his coming to terms with the loss of his ancestral homeland.

By no means am I a reader of poetry; but even a cursory, “first impressions” reading of the first series of poems shows how it is the author who creates a literary canon, and not the reader. What we call “canon” is simply the collection of writings by an author (or school of authors) bound by inter-textual linkages the author(s) creates intentionally.

Briefly, the first four poems in the series are: I Will Slog Over This Road; Another Road in the Road; Were It Up To Me To Begin Again; and, On This Earth.

Th first poem introduces a word or phrase that will then become the main theme of the following poem. For example, in I Will Slog Over This Road, Darwish says: “On the roof of neighing, I will cut thirty openings for meaning.”

The “neighing” (of horses) then becomes the center theme of the next poem, “Another Road in the Road.” He says, “No widow wants to return to us, there we have to go, north of the neighing horses.”

This poem then introduces the image of the rose, “I will have to throw many roses before I reach a rose in Galilee.”

In “Were It Up to Me to Begin Again,” the poet continues with the image of a rose: “”Were it up to me to begin again, I would make the same choice. Roses on the fence.” Later, he introduces the theme of love, and family:

We have on this earth what makes life worth living: April’s hesitation, the aroma of bread at dawn, a woman’s point of view about men, the works of Aeschylus, the beginning of love, grass on a stone, mothers living on a flute’s sigh and the invaders’ fear of memories

In other words, the sights, smells, and memories of home and family life.

This then becomes the basis for the next poem, I Belong There.

This is an example of inter-textuality, and how only a writer can create it, never a consumer.

So, it is the author, in accomplished and serious literature, who set the tone and creates the canon. The readers are left to enjoy, study, learn, and grow from what is written. The Scriptures, then, are the literary gem of a school of writers who worked together and created an interwoven narrative across the entire story, for all ages.

Afghanistan and the Thucydides Trap

As we look at the images from Afghanistan from this past week, it is always helpful to remember why things happen. I thought my posts on Plato and his truly nefarious influence on humanity were done, but then things happen, and the printing press rolls again.

Consider the Think Tanks, the nexus between government power, international corporations, and . . . academia. Yes, the nexus of financialized and weaponized ideas. Like, “wouldn’t it be a good idea if we . . . ?” Afghanistan, against the wishes of Platonists and all variations thereof, is Exhibit A for us that re-wiring shepherd societies does not work, no matter how many books, papers, or counter-insurgency manuals are written and discussed.

But what I want to focus on today is an idea promulgated by American think tankers called “The Thucydides Trap.” It’s a pseudo-intellectual “idea,” really, a half-idea, that uses the ancient Athenian historian Thucydides to justify American foreign policy today. It was, as Thucydides explained, the rise of Athenian power that caused fear in Sparta, and not the other way around.

The Thucydides trap is named after the first serious historian, Thucydides the Athenian, who set out to explain the destruction of Athenian society as a consequence of a very long war against Sparta and its allies. During the Cold War, some American academics used The History of the Peloponnesian War as a kind of blueprint. They saw America as Athens and the USSR as Sparta; in their mindset, the one a democracy, the other a closed society; the one a naval power, the other a land power.

Whatever the facile comparisons, the Trap is up and running again, this time between the US and China, with the same comparisons.

The problem is that, well, one wonders how well the promulgators of this idea . . . actually paid attention to what Thucydides actually wrote. Why do I say this? Because Athens lost the war, and did so because of the same kind of policies we are seeing today — expeditionary warfare, brutal occupations, internal societal tension, and poor leaders (including demagogues), among other things (yes, there was also a plague). In short, they were eliminated by their own empire.

It’s hard, because empires, following the Scriptural approach to these matters (see Tasks), always build too high. It’s the internal logic of empire. Their builders do not realize it’s a fool’s errand to begin, and simply do not know when to stop once they’ve begun.

Circling Back to the Text

In the previous posts In the Same Boat and Who Reveals Whom?, the issue of David’s treatment of Uriah the Hittite came up. One of the points made there was that Uriah, as a Hittite, was a foreigner, and so the horrible abuse David meted out to him should be seen in that light as well.

In listening to some of the recent Tarazi Tuesday podcasts at the Ephesus School Network, I learned something that puts David mistreatment of Uriah in a new light. Uriah is actually not a foreigner; he is living on his people’s (as we would say today, ancestral) land. This new lesson just reinforces that reading and re-reading the Bible without preconceptions brings out important nuances we would otherwise miss if we do not keep reading.

Uriah, as Father Paul reminds us, is a Hittite. The introduction of the Hittites does not appear with the story of David, but much earlier, with Abraham. In Genesis 23, we are told of Sarah’s death. Abraham, as a sojourner trusting God to provide, has no place to bury his wife. So he approaches the Hittites and asks from them a burial place. They offer him the choicest place, gratis. Abraham does not want to take advantage of their generosity, and for a nominal price offers Ephron of Zohar some money. Ephron eventually agrees, and the cave and surrounding land in Machpelah become Abraham’s land to bury his wife.

Abraham receives hospitality and generosity from the Hittites who long inhabited the land. He was a stranger in the land where they lived for generations. He had nothing, not even a plot for his wife and they graciously gave him one. But later, his descendant David would abuse one of the survivors of those people still living on that land, Uriah, and treat him as expendable.

The inclusion of the Hittites in the Bible is thus a powerful indictment of human arrogance, power, and ingratitude.

Sounding out the Readings

We are currently in a cycle of readings centered on the Gospel of Matthew. Textually, none of the four Gospels are actually titled by the authors. The idea that people with the names of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John were the authors is, at a quick glance, more of a product of ecclesiastical tradition and such.

But, then again, maybe not.

It has been a basic thesis of this blog that reading (actually, hearing) the Bible in the original languages is the way to go. The original languages provide the field of vision that makes the story come alive fully. This is because we have a play on words in those languages, or repetition, or parallel poetic structures, and so on, that are authored this way.

It helps to appreciate this, otherwise you might have a hard time understanding why Matthew is called Matthew.

In Greek, Matthew is written as Ματθαῖος. Nothing extraordinary here, so far at least.

Throughout the Gospel of Matthew, however, the word μαθητης is repeated. This is the Greek word that means disciple.

If one compares the name of the Gospel author with the message of the book, then one notices the following:

Ματθαῖος and μαθητης sound similar in Greek. Even though they are spelled differently, the message is clear. The Gospel according to Ματθαῖος is the book of how to become a disciple (μαθητης) of Jesus.

You won’t get that in English.

To Whom Is This Word Addressed?

In the Acts of the Apostles, Peter addresses a group of devout Jews living in Jerusalem, although they are from all parts of the Roman Empire, from as far away as Rome and Egypt (2. 5 – 11).

What is interesting about all this, often times missed in our discussions of Pentecost, is that these people were the ones earlier calling for Jesus to be crucified, that is, they are the same group Jesus asked His Father to forgive from the Cross.

In his first words to this group, Peter begins with the prophet Joel, which makes sense since, as an Old Testament prophet, he is familiar to the hearers. Peter is explaining to the hearers that God’s promise is not an empty word; it has been fulfilled by God.

The next words are important. He says to them:

“You that are Israelites, listen to what I have to say: Jesus of Nazareth, a man attested to you by God with deeds of power, wonders, and signs that God did through him among you, as you yourselves know— this man, handed over to you according to the definite plan and foreknowledge of God, you crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law. But God raised him up, having freed him from death, — because it was impossible for him to be held in its power” (2. 22 – 24).

Notice what Peter says: “You crucified and killed by the hands of those outside the law.” Is this hyperbole? No. Peter is saying to the people there that they crucified the Messiah of God. Not by association. They were the ones calling for his death in Luke 23. How would a devout Jew react to this? How would anyone? What would you do if you thought you were doing the right thing only to realize you were the one who transgressed God’s law?

But Peter does not stop there. The tour de force is how he ends his speech. Responding to their question “what do we do now,” Peter says to them, “Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ so that your sins may be forgiven; and you will receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is for you, for your children, and for all who are far away, everyone whom the Lord our God calls to him” (vv. 38 – 39).

So, the law cannot grant forgiveness of sins; at most it can only identify what sin is. God’s forgiveness is, as Saint Paul will tell the Corinthians later, granted by “the word of the Cross,” but it is also granted by Jesus from the Cross. “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23. 34).

When we repent, we put our trust in God’s forgiveness. Repentance should free us and open our eyes. When our ears open, so do our eyes.

Acts 2.42

As this blog is about “Scripture, Liturgy, and Anything Else,” it helps to make a few connections.

In Acts 2.42, we hear that the early Jewish believers in the Lord “devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”

Teaching, table fellowship, and prayers. In other words, liturgy. Although it is not called that by Luke, but that is what liturgy is — the apostles’ teaching in the context of table fellowship and prayers.

All Orthodox liturgies (outside of Lent), whether they be of Saint Basil the Great, Saint John Chrysostom, Saint James, etc, have these common aspects to them.

And while the current Liturgies celebrated in the Orthodox Church have had their share of developments throughout the centuries, they have maintained these essential characteristics across vast geographical regions. By accident or inertia? No, because Scripture demands this to be the case.

The final aspect is something we should not overlook — Luke tells us the early believers devoted themselves to these. Devotion to the teaching and fellowship is a sign of the Spirit. We talk a lot today about parish renewal, Is devotion to the apostles’s teaching and fellowship the missing link in parish life? Perhaps this is something for us all to consider!

Arc of the Covenant II — Christ is Risen!

In the post Arc of the Covenant, the point was made that Jesus’ arc is actually part of the larger arc of Scripture. His arc, if you will, is to carry the word of God to wherever God leads Him. The decision to crucify Jesus was an attempt by the religious authorities and the state power to bury into oblivion the Good News of the Scriptures. In the absence of Jesus, the word of God could continue to be manipulated by religious and non-religious powers for their own purposes, often times against the weak and the needy.

Hence, the Gospel of Luke has stories and parables of people, like the wounded man saved by the Samaritan, or Lazarus at the gate of the rich man’s house, or the prodigal welcomed back, who could have been erased from memory by having been forgotten and buried by the world. But no, they come to be remembered instead!

And so, if the death of Christ was supposed to lead to the loss of the “message of God,” then what does the resurrection of Jesus from the dead mean but that this word is a word of life that can never be buried into oblivion?

Not only can this word never be buried and forgotten — Jesus’ “interpretation” of the word of God is the only valid and correct one (see https://literaryliturgist.wordpress.com/2021/03/12/hold-it-there/)! So, against the tendency of burying the Old Testament as many like to do — don’t do that! Jesus’ resurrection is a message from the Father that this is a living word!

Moreover, in this sense, the arc of the covenant of Scripture extends as a word of hope, until Jesus returns. This hope necessitated the rise of the New Testament connecting all believers in His word to the promise God made a long time ago that they would all be made a part of His household.

All of it matters, from Genesis to Revelation. Indeed, He is Risen!