Saturday, July 13, 2019

July 28, 2019 - 7th Sunday after Pentecost

                                                            Biblical Words                                               [614]
Hosea 1:2-10; Psalm 85; Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19); Luke 11:1-13

Fathers and children may symbolize God’s disciplining and love, with prayers freeing the children from fears and want. 
Hosea 1:2-10.   
The Lectionary continues its selective survey of Israel’s prophetic books by turning to the book of Hosea
The books of Amos and Hosea differ significantly in style and basic theme:  Amos gives us the Justice of God determining Israel’s life; Hosea gives us the Love of God determining Israel’s life. 
Background.  Hosea was a contemporary of Amos (around 750 BCE), but, uniquely among the Biblical prophets, Hosea was a native of the northern kingdom of Israel.  His prophetic messages are passionate condemnations of Israel’s turning away from the Lord Yahweh.  Israelites were attributing the cyclical works of nature to the baals, Hosea insists, instead of to the one God in Israel’s life, Yahweh.  (Hosea 2:5, 8; 11:2; 13:1.) 
What is going on here, and had been going on before Hosea’s time, is a great demythologizing of the millennia-long essence of Canaanite religion. 
As we see Canaanite mythology in its Ugaritic epics (from the 14th century BCE), the cosmic world was shaped by the interplay of the gods Ba‘al (lord or master), Yamm (cosmic Sea), Mot (Death), and Anath (virgin-sister-consort who avenges Ba‘al’s death by slaughtering Mot).  In this mythic cycle Ba‘al fights intensely against the lord of chaos, Yamm, and having defeated him establishes a great temple for himself with the consent of the high god ’El.  The power of Death (Mot), however, overcomes Ba‘al, who dies as the season of drought and barrenness prevails in the world.  Anath pursues Mot, threshes him into small pieces (like grain) which are sown over the fields, and makes possible the gospel of the new season:  Ba‘al lives!  (See, among many discussions, John Day, “Baal (Deity),” The Anchor Bible Dictionary, Doubleday 1992, Vol. I, pp. 545-49.) 
The daring thing about Hosea is the way the language of Canaan has been taken into the Israelite tradition.  The language of love and conflict between gods has become the language of love and betrayal between Yahweh and Yahweh’s people. 
Our reading.  In our passage, we have a report of Hosea being told by God to enact in the social life of his city a parable of God’s love and discipline.  Go find a woman who has the qualities and perhaps the established practice of a professional whore.  (See the details of such a life when Tamar temporarily adopts the life of a zōnāh in Genesis 38:12-23.)  Such a woman, by the nature of her social status, does not maintain a single relationship in her sexual activities.  She lives by the payments of many lovers.  Hosea is to take such a woman, marry her – thus setting up a single relationship for her – and have children by her. 
The real point of the enacted prophecy is not the woman; the point is the names given to the three children.  The names announce progressive devastation for the northern kingdom.  The first child, “Jezreel,” means defeat in war:  “I will break the bow of Israel in the valley of Jezreel” (verse 5, NRSV).  The second child, “Lo-ruhamah” [not-compassioned], means lack of compassion in a time of distress (verse 6).  And the third child, “Lo-ammi” [not-my-people], means a complete denial of the covenant relationship, “for you are not my people and I am not your God” (verse 9).  The parable demonstrates that up to this point the love of God is only disappointed and defeated.  God’s partner is a whore, and the children’s names symbolize the alienation between them. 
However, as in the old Canaanite ethos, death and alienation are not the last word.  It is clear that some words of hope were inserted by later Judeans who preserved the Hosea tradition (so verse 7), but elsewhere in this book Hosea experiences God as disciplining, not totally destroying, Israel.  We will see this especially in next week’s reading, but here (verse 10), the transmitters of Hosea’s words were compelled to look beyond total alienation between God and Israel. The reversal will come.  “Not my people” will again be called “Children of the living God.” 
Psalm 85. 
The Psalm reading is a liturgy for those waiting for the great reversal – the reversal that Hosea’s followers added to his enacted prophecy (Hosea 1:10). 
The first word of the liturgy recalls the past reversals from God’s anger to God’s graciousness, when God “restored the fortunes of Jacob” (verses 1-3).  Thus there is precedent from the past for God’s gracious restoration of the people. 
The second word is a prayer in the present calling upon God to “Restore us again! … Will you be angry with us forever?”  (verses 4-7). 
Then we hear a speaker in the first person concentrating full attention on the divine word of salvation which is about to be uttered from the sanctuary (verses 8-9). 
Finally, the liturgy culminates in the glowing prospect of what can be expected when God does speak the word of salvation (verses 10-13). 
In this final exuberant dance, the covenant qualities are personified.  “Steadfast love” (hesed), “faithfulness” (’emeth), and “righteousness” (sedeq) interact like independent powers, meeting, kissing, growing from the ground, descending from heaven.  Their blessings are summarized, “the Lord will give what is good,” and all will know that God’s people are restored. 
Colossians 2:6-15, (16-19). 
If Hosea shows the love of a supreme God who displaces all former local powers, the Epistle reading carries a similar message about the heavenly reign of the Risen Christ. 
The second big scholarly discussion about Colossians (after the “Christ hymn” in Chapter 1) is the “heresy” or false teaching that seems to be referred to in our reading. 
There is no clear description of the teaching and practice, so scholars have had to “reconstruct” it from the hints in Colossians 2.  This is a topic that has fascinated scholars, and there are many reconstructions, with similarities but differences in details.  Broadly, they disagree about whether the Colossian teaching was mainly Greek cosmic and mystery religion lore or more heavily Judean-style doctrines and practices.  Personally, I doubt that there was any “system” to the Colossian lore.  I think the allusions in the letter are to many different ideas, theories, ritual practices, etc., that never added up to any single consistent body of doctrine or practice.  (Some other scholars have recognized this.)  Thus, the following points. 
Colossians is not another letter to the Galatians.  There is no panic, no great urgency that the Colossians are in dire crisis, as there is in Galatians about the issue of circumcision of non-Judeans. 
The hints about the false teaching are a conglomeration:  The hearers are warned against “philosophy” and “empty deceit; “elemental spirits of the universe”; perhaps something about circumcision (verses 11-13); cosmic “rulers and authorities”; matters of food, drink, and festivals; self-abasement; worship of angels; visions (serially in verses 8-18, NRSV). 
Most of us have observed that any community of faith that has been around for some time attracts a fringe of “religious hobbyists” (my term).  These folks have some secret or little-known interpretation or ritual to share with those really “in the know.”  While they will talk to you endlessly, if you allow, they have no real substance; only repetitions of old ideas newly offered and inside practices they’re prepared to share. 
The Colossians were a settled Jesus community, probably in their second generation.  The great fire of the early commitment had become too familiar, and the enticements of new and novel religious curiosities were attracting many, perhaps especially the educated and the young.  (There is much emphasis on knowledge and understanding in this letter.)
These early Christians were tempted to include horoscopes, astrological readings, and various hallucinatory rituals in their religious life to enhance what Christ did for them.  The writer insists that the Christ who was the fullness of divine reality (verse 9), who took on the flesh of circumcision and death, this Christ who died and rose again, now reigns over all such superstitious powers. 
All the believer needs is the baptism that is a dying to the worldly powers and the rising to a new life in God’s power, free from all the demons and spirits of a misguided universe.  “He [Christ] disarmed the rulers and authorities and made a public example of them, triumphing over them in [his triumphal procession]” (verse 15). 
Luke 11:1-13. 
The Gospel reading offers the life of prayer as the answer to the ongoing needs of the Lord’s disciples.  The whole passage Luke 11:1-13 is about prayer, with the Lord’s Prayer, in Luke’s version, at its head. 
The whole is bracketed by expressions describing God’s fatherly character, the Father addressed in the model prayer (verse 2) and the human father who knows how to give good gifts to his children (verses 11-13; verse 11 reads literally, “what father among you…”).  Most of what is between the brackets is about persistence in asking the father for what is needed, especially bread or other food. 
The prayer taught to the disciples, then, asks
·        that this family head be honored and esteemed at his true worth by all others (hallowed be his name),
·        that his plan for everyone’s welfare may succeed (his kingdom come),
·        that his children, who accompany him on his campaign (daily bread = daily rations), may have food as needed,
·        that they be forgiven their misdemeanors, and
·        that the trials they encounter not be excessive. 
The following teaching about asking and receiving builds on examples of common human expectations.  The “friend” asked for bread in the middle of the night cannot be expected to respond simply out of friendship, but will respond to a neighbor in need.  (The previous chapter just told about the Good Samarian.)
Furthermore, doors were made not only to keep people out, but for knocking on.  Keep on knocking, is the wisdom here. 
And in the business of giving, trust the giver, perhaps a fatherly type, to know what to give.  It won’t be a snake instead of a fish.  This theme suggests that WE may not know what we most need, but can trust the fatherly giver to provide it, allowing us to then recognize what our need truly is. 

Finally, the supreme gift that the heavenly Father knows we need is the gift of the Holy Spirit (verse 13).  That will be provided for those who continue the “journey” of Jesus right on to Jerusalem – and beyond.  

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