Archive for November, 2019

Apocrypha: Ecclesiasticus

November 30, 2019

Also sometimes known as the Wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach, this is an example of the literary genre wisdom literature.  And I have to admit, I’ve never been much of a fan of this genre.  The name Ecclesiasticus evolved because this work is  considered by  some a good collection of teaching, appropriate for church  use and spiritual discipline.  However, it wasn’t considered canonical by the Jews and therefore enjoyed a conflicted status among Christians as well.  Overall, they could affirm it as having a lot of good wisdom in it even as they cautioned against some of it’s blatantly unScriptural teachings (particularly in regards to women and their status compared to men, the freedom of the human will to not sin, and a very limited view of life after death).  It was composed sometime in the early second century BC and was translated into Greek about 132BC.

There are slightly different versions of this book, some shorter and some longer.  Mostly I see wisdom literature as reiteration or summary of what should have been taught to you as you were growing up.  Modeled  by parents and other elders and authority figures.  To come to it late would be confusing and probably not very helpful, unless you had reached a point where you knew you needed some other form of wisdom than whatever you were currently equipped with!

Many of the admonitions are good.  But helpful strategies for living are hardly new and hardly exhausted.  While it’s good such compendiums exist for the confused, they just aren’t very interesting to me.  And frankly, that’s because nearly all of the wisdom of Jesus Son of Sirach is found already in Scripture, making this particular piece of literature redundant.  Particularly this is seen in the final few chapters, where a series of Biblical personages are each praised through a short list of their accomplishments.

Missionary Thanksgiving

November 28, 2019

We hosted Thanksgiving dinner, as we have practically every year for the last 15 years, since we moved away from our home  state and our families to embark on the process of graduate work and ordination and life as a pastor and family.  And while we miss family this time of year, we also appreciate the opportunity we’ve been afforded to establish our own traditions, the foremost being opening our house to whomever wants to come by and join in.

This year we had two and a half Russians, two Swiss students, a Brazilian girl, a Belgian guy, a retired lawyer from the eastern United States, the spouse of one of the Russians, and a South African surfer/photographer/missionary.  There were at least two others who were slated to come but didn’t.  It was a big group, when you add these to our family of five and our two dogs!

We’d never met half of these people.  The other half have gradually become part of our extended family over the past months and years.  Most people think we’re crazy for doing this sort of thing, and there are moments throughout where we know we are.  But, it’s who we are.  If God the Holy Spirit grants gifts to his people, they aren’t all going to look and act the same.  And what is well out of one person’s comfort level may fit someone else just right.

And that’s what it comes down to.  As a family of mostly introverts, it isn’t that we open our house and our lives for comfort or because it’s our first inclination.  But we do it in hopes that somewhere along the line the Holy Spirit will prompt something that leads towards a Gospel conversation.  We love these people, friends old and new.  We love them here and now and as they are, but hoping and praying that we can love them as brothers and sisters in eternity as well as for Thanksgiving dinner.  It isn’t bait and switch, it isn’t I’ll-be-nice-to-you-now-so-I-can-ambush-you-with-Jesus, but rather a continuum.  I love you here and now ultimately because of Jesus and his love for you eternally.  I prayed before the meal, and not one of those generic sort of un-offensive things that doesn’t address anyone or anything, but a good Trinitarian prayer with Jesus and everything.  Not the Gospel, but a statement that we are Christians and perhaps that is why we do what we do.  And we pray now for opportunities to follow up, to continue discussion, to deepen relationships to the point where talking about Jesus isn’t weird.

It takes time, but the Gospel is being shared.  Repeated conversations with some of these people where we address larger cultural issues and have the opportunity to share what our faith and the Bible has to say about these things.  Finding places of overlap and commonality that can lead back to the God who created all things and our responsibility in messing them up and his faithfulness in insisting on restoring them.

That’s what matters most, is giving thanks to the God who does everything for us and despite us.  Not just once a year but every moment.


Be at Church

November 25, 2019

I came across this article a few weeks back and tucked it away.  Go have a read for yourself.

First off, yes, it is hard to find a church.  Showing up at any new place where you don’t know anyone and aren’t sure what is going to happen is uncomfortable and difficult.  This  doesn’t make you a bad person and it doesn’t mean you aren’t a church person and it doesn’t necessarily mean this isn’t the particular church for you.  It just means you’re human.  Take a deep breath, own this, and push through it.

I recommend trying a church for a minimum of three weeks.  This  should give you a fairly good idea of what that church is like.  Are people friendly or stand-offish?  How is the pastor?  What is  his (or her) style?  How  is the sermon?  Yes, the sermons matter, particularly when you’re evaluating whether or not a church is for you.  Down the road, when the pastor changes and the sermons are not so good, that’s the time to take the author’s advice and stick  it out for the community.  Church is not a sermon.  Church is the body of Christ, and you need to be a part of it if Jesus and the Biblical Triune God is your higher power or the God of your understanding.  For you, church is not optional (Hebrews 10:19-25).  That doesn’t mean church is a new law or requirement of faith.  Rather, it means we were designed for life together, rather than apart.  If you’re trying to justify not going to church, odds are something deeper is at play than you just being a particularly spiritually sensitive soul.

Three weeks.  You’ll have a good sense of a place by then.  How do they handle the Sacraments?  What is fellowship like before and after?  If the pastor seems good but the congregation is  not welcoming, make an appointment to talk with the pastor to ask what’s up.  Don’t be accusatory, just point out you’ve been there three weeks and nobody has said hello or introduced themselves.  Pastors need to know this.

While I get the author’s reluctance to put too heavy an emphasis on the sermon, you should pay attention to what is being said.  Is it Biblical?  Is the focus you or Jesus?  Is the focus grace or law?  Is the focus punitive or threatening?   Do you live more aware of the love of Jesus or the condemnation of the law?  These things matter.  Pay attention.  If the focus isn’t Jesus but rather what you need to be doing to change the world, or what the congregation needs to be doing to change the world, or which political party or candidate to vote for, be wary.   Especially if all three weeks focus on this topic.  It’s easy to preach something other than Christ, and if that’s what is happening, this is not a good church.  Well-intentioned, no doubt.  But not healthy.

Don’t simply look for  what you like.  Don’t pin it all on the music, just as you shouldn’t pin it exclusively on the sermon.  The people in the community go a long way, but they aren’t the whole enchilada either.  Cults can be very friendly and welcoming while providing a deadly poisonous message.

All of this assumes that you’re in the Word.  That you have someone you can read the Bible with and who can help you make sense of it.  Otherwise, you aren’t necessarily going to know whether the sermons are on track or not and you may end up relying more on whether you like the music or not or whether people look and sound like  you.

I find the authors suggestion of trying a radically different kind of church a very interesting one.  Certainly, if you have bad experiences with a particular type of church or denomination, consider another one.  And the idea of trying to hear the gospel from a different point of view or perspective is fascinating and potentially very helpful – as  long as it’s still the Gospel of Jesus Christ!

Yes, finding a church is hard, but necessary.  For lots of reasons.  Doctrinally.  Socially.  We have an enemy and he works best by isolating us from other believers.  Those who might hold us accountable.  Those who might steer us back onto the right path if we get off course.  And as you grow in the faith, remember that you have an obligation to your brother or sister in the faith.  You need to be in church not  just for you, but because someone else  might need you to be there.  To welcome them.  To empathize with a situation you went through in your life.  To speak the word of forgiveness in Jesus Christ in a way they need to hear.

Reading Ramblings – December 1, 2019

November 24, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: First Sunday in Advent – December 1, 2019

Texts: Isaiah 2:1-5; Psalm 122; Romans 13:(8-10)11-14; Matthew 21:1-11 or Matthew 24:36-44

Context: Advent is a liturgical season of preparation, remembering our Lord’s incarnate arrival as a baby some 2000 years ago. The season of Advent has murky origins, historically. Some speculate the season as we know it to be a blending of two separate traditions – one penitential, similar to Lent, and the other more celebratory. As such, Advent has elements of both. While many churches recognize a deep blue as the color of Advent, it was until recent times purple, just like Lent. Properly understood, we are not anticipating the birth of our Savior. That is a historical reality that cannot be anticipated. But as we prepare to celebrate that birth, our eyes should be drawn to the promise of his return, which is the focus of Christian faith (John 14:1-7; Acts 1:6-11).

Isaiah 2:1-5 – To a people living in fear of the growing power of the Assyrian empire in the mid to late 8th century BC, these words must have sounded strange. Predictions of dominance and authority and power? How strange when the gods of the Assyrians seemed to dominate the stage! How odd for us, in an age and culture where science and scientism have become the new idols of the age. That our God is and will be declared the greatest power of all? That the Word of God increasingly despised and ignored in our culture will one day be sought out for guidance and direction as the best and highest truth and rule for human life? It seems hard to believe, and there are many who would scoff at the notion. Yet many scoffed at Jesus during his ministry. Yes his tomb remains empty to this day, and his promises of grace and forgiveness through repentance and faith remain extended to anyone. The promises of God, starting with Eve in Genesis 3, always seem outrageous. Yet God is faithful to his Word, and calls us to trust his promise of our Lord’s return and the establishment of his kingdom based on his faithfulness to his Word in the past.

Psalm 122 – This psalm dovetails beautifully with the reading from Isaiah, and likely the Holy Spirit directed Isaiah to this psalm as a basis for wording his prophecy. While this is one of the psalms of ascent, psalms sung and recited by pilgrims on their way to Jerusalem for celebration, it is also fitting for people of all backgrounds drawn together in one family through faith in Jesus Christ to use. Jerusalem in this sense is more than just the historic or contemporary city. It exemplifies the City of God, the city of the faithful as Revelation 21-22 point us to. There thanks and praise will be given to God and the Lamb forever.

Romans 13:8-14 – The summary of the Law is to love God and love our neighbor. Culture may tell us it is possible to love one another better by ignoring God’s Word, but clearly this is not the case. The author of creation is the one who best knows how it works, and whenever we substitute our own ideas and preferences for God’s, disaster inevitably ensues. Christians profess this truth and seek to live it out to the best of their abilities. We have been called from darkness into the light. And with that call comes the assurance that history and time are not circular and endlessly repetitive but rather linear, with a clear beginning point and end-point, and we are moving towards that end-point which is the return of our Lord in glory and power to usher in a new creation, a reunion of heaven and earth, God and creation. Our lives of obedience, imperfect as they are, anticipate this end-point which is a beginning point. We seek imperfectly to live now as we will one day live perfectly. We seek to obey the Law of God not from fear or to earn his love or forgiveness, but as acknowledgment we have already received these things in Jesus Christ, and one day this will be made plain as our sin is stripped from us, enabling us to continue living the way God created us to but without the impediment of sin. Living in this way ultimately is not depriving ourselves at all, but rather a rejection of those sinful impulses which one day will be removed.

Matthew 24:36-44 – We begin a new 3-year cycle of readings with the Revised Common Lectionary (RCL) – LC-MS edition. As such, the Gospel for this year is Matthew. The majority of Gospel lessons will come from Matthew. Does it seem odd to talk about our Lord’s return? While our television sets and radios and Internet feeds constantly try to draw our attention away towards the latest disaster, the latest catastrophes, and the latest promises about who and what can prevent them from happening again? Does it sound strange to talk of our Lord’s return as we deal with the day-in and day-out issues of paying bills, managing medications, looking for time with family and the countless other issues that demand our focus?

Such is our life, but these things must occupy our attention only as foreground. We engage in them always with the knowledge that our Lord will return one day, and this and only this is the ultimate hope and goal of every Christian life. We pay our taxes, perform our work, fulfill our duties as neighbor and citizen, our blessings as family members with the knowledge that one day all of these things will be transformed, purified, even as we are already purified in our Lord’s sacrificial death and resurrection. We do not wait in fear or anxiety but in joy. We wait in anticipation, knowing that nothing can be better than that day and hour, and every day and hour until then is an opportunity to grow in love of God and love of neighbor.

We will be surprised by his return, but not as those who never thought it would come. We will be surprised, but not dismayed. We wait in his grace and forgiveness and therefore we can wait joyfully. The Master is returning home. All will be well again.

Weekly Devotion

November 20, 2019

Colossians 1:13

Thirty years ago, the world was surprised and delighted when almost without warning, the Berlin Wall fell. The bitter bricks that divided a nation, a city, a people – suddenly gone. People clambering from the eastern side of the wall safely to the western side and, before long, the wall itself dismantled. Portions spirited away for personal and family memorabilia and public museums.

For 28 years life in Berlin was defined by which side of the wall you lived on. On the Eastern, Communist side, life was conditioned by the State. Eyes and ears were everywhere, listening in on citizens held captive. Many of them never had the opportunity to decide which side of the wall they lived on. They were born there. It was all they knew. Drab architecture, the bleakness of food and other essential shortages. Lack of opportunity to pursue the kind of work they wanted or the type of education they wanted. Lack of freedom to discuss certain topics. Lack of freedom to worship. Hemmed in on all sides by the State who desired to keep captive those who would not choose its authority freely.

And then in October 1989, those who had spent their lives imprisoned were set free. They entered into a new city, a new nation, a new state of being. They were free. The State no longer had any control over them. That State continued to exist for some time, but they were no longer part of it. They had crossed over into a domain not of darkness but light. Not of enslavement but freedom. There could be no comparison between the two. A whole new way of thinking, acting, and living was required. It was an adjustment, but one happily made!

This is what has happened to us in Christ. We have been brought through faith and trust in the Son of God’s death and resurrection on our behalf, out of the slavery of sin and death and Satan. We are no longer subjects in that domain. We are transferred by God the Father to a new domain, to the domain of forgiveness, grace, and Christ. We had no choice about which kingdom we were born into, and we were helpless to change it. But in accepting the good news of Jesus Christ for ourselves, we have received new identity and citizenship that will never end. All of this not of our own doing but solely the good grace of God the Father conveyed to us by God the Holy Spirit through trust and faith in God the Son. To God alone is the glory – to us is the blessing!

Reading Ramblings – Christ the King Sunday

November 17, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Christ the King Sunday, November 24, 2019

Texts: Malachi 3:13-18; Psalm 46; Colossians 1:13-20; Luke 23:27-43

Context: Traditionally a feast day, Christ the King Sunday concludes the liturgical church year, focused on our Lord’s return in glory, the culmination of his victory over sin, death and Satan. It provides the perfect pivot point of continuity with the beginning of the new church year in Advent, focused on our Lord’s arrival. The readings this morning are bound together around this theme of the Kingship of our Lord, though they may seem odd at first blush, particularly the Gospel reading from the crucifixion. But these passages are pertinent to us today, just as they were pertinent to God’s people when the Holy Spirit first inspired and caused them to be written down. We are in need of reminding that though evil appears to have carried the day, the battle has already been won, and our God – Creator, Redeemer and Sanctifier – is victorious. It is necessary to remind us, as we conclude the church year, that our ultimate and final allegiance belongs to the King of kings and Lord of lords and to nobody and nothing else.

Malachi 3:13-18 – Once more we hear from the final prophet of the Old Testament. In this section, faithlessness is contrasted with faithfulness. Faithlessness sees love of God and obedience to his ways as pointless, unprofitable. Unsatisfied with lives as God directs us to live – in love of him and love of neighbor – faithlessness substitutes self-seeking and personal glory. Those who arrogantly flaunt their wealth or power are the admired ones, rather than those of faith and piety. In such a situation the evil prosper. The limits of their self-worship seem to know no boundaries or limits, and face no circumstances. But God watches and sees and knows. But He watches not just those who flout his name and will, but those who cling to him in faithfulness. Who encourage one another with the Word of the Lord, and recall his promises to them rather than seeking the favor of worldly celebrities. Their faithfulness is noted and not forgotten, though the world may laugh at them and spit on their graves. They shall not lose their reward, and their faithfulness will one day be vindicated by the God of glory himself.

Psalm 46 – This psalm matches the book of Revelation, composed roughly 1000 years later, incredibly well. Descriptions there of great natural disasters may shake even the most faithful heart. But in the midst of this we are called to remember our Lord’s power and strength. He who afflicts creation in the final days, driving people towards repentance or apostasy is also capable of keeping and sustaining his faithful. Likewise the book of Revelation describes the city of God descending form heaven to become the abode of God’s faithful people. Revelation 22 describes the river that flows through this city, and describes the effects of God’s perfect restored reign, as nations are healed. God is exalted once again above all creation, now as the one who has restored perfection to creation eternally. It is fitting and necessary that God’s people remember these things despite the apparent crumbling of the world around them. They will not be lost!

Colossians 1:13-20 – Paul praises God the Father who has gifted us with faith in the salvific work of his Son which provides us with forgiveness of sins and buys us back from the penalty of the Law with his own perfect obedience. Then at verse 15 Paul launches into an eloquent, poetic description of this Son of God. As the Word of God He is the source of all creation (John 1), whether physical and material or spiritual and immaterial. No power in all of creation is above him. Nothing precedes him in chronology or eminence. He is the head of the Church, the first to be raised from the dead to eternal life, according to his human nature, so that even in eternity Jesus remains first, preeminent, unchallenged in glory or honor. In his divine and human natures Jesus accomplishes the redemption of all creation. This is done through his blood, the final blood sacrifice that incorporates and exceeds all other sacrifices. Our redemption has a cost, and it is the very human blood of the incarnate Son of God, Jesus of Nazareth, the Christ. For this He is worthy truly to be King of kings and Lord of lords.

Luke 23: 27-43 – This may seem to be an odd text for Christ the King Sunday. Jesus hanging on the cross? Disgraced? Beaten? Rejected? Mocked? Yet it is through this final experience of his life that Jesus earns the crown of glory, that He might convey it to you and I. It is in his obedience, to even this most miserable of deaths that fulfills his mission and work and accomplishes the perfect will of God the Father on behalf of fallen creation. It is here, near death on the cross, that the King of Glory promises to a lowly thief on a cross eternal life. It is here the King is already bequeathing the blessings and benefits of the victory He has nearly won. This thief does nothing to merit this other than express the hope that Jesus is who they mock him for being. That He truly is the Son of God, and that He truly has a kingdom to welcome this rebel and perhaps murderer into. The first deathbed conversion. A confession of faith so bare bones many Christians might even deny it was adequate, had Jesus not himself affirmed it to be adequate.

This is our hope. That if the thief on the cross can be saved, then we can as well. We cling to Jesus’ promises to that nameless man for ourselves. We echo the thief’s words – remember us. And He does. Now and for all eternity, we are remembered, we are promised, we are saved.

Friends in Low Places

November 14, 2019

I spend a lot of time in institutions.   Hospitals.  Skilled  nursing facilities.   Rehabilitation facilities. Assisted living facilities.  All institutions made necessary and profitable by the large wave of aging folks known as the Baby Boomers.

Few people want to be clients in these places. And if news reports and other anecdotal sources  are accurate, few people want to work in these places. At least at the lowest level of care providers.  Anyone from the janitors to the non-credentialed employees who assist with moving patients, changing them, cleaning them, feeding them,  even delivering pills to them.

It isn’t glamorous work.  The halls echo with the moans and shouts and cries of the lonely, the confused, the needful.  It takes a special kind of person to work in these places, regardless of what our society may think of them.  To a culture obsessed with glamour and youth and power and prestige these are low places filled with low people.

When I first met her nearly three years ago she was fairly mobile.  Walking with difficulty.  Living with her sister.  She became a member, dependent on her sister to take her to church, which didn’t always work out.  A year later or so, I received a note from a friend of hers out of state indicating she wouldn’t be coming to church any more  but would like Communion at home.  I contacted her, confirmed this, and began regular visitations.   I learned she suffered from a rare degenerative neurological condition.  So rare, a major research university in the north of California requested her brain and spinal column after her death, and would handle all the necessary costs for those issues.  It was a waiting game at this point.

She moved to a hospice house and I continued to see her regularly.   She outlived her prognosis, and her Medicare coverage for that facility, so earlier this year she  moved to a new facility.  Not a house but an institution.  Over these few years she became wheelchair bound.  Then bed-bound.  The condition slowly paralyzes her.  First it was just the left side of her body.  Now she can only move her head ever so slightly to the left and right.  Her eyes are always active.  Her mind is keen and she’s always looking and listening to everything around her.   Speech grows more and more  difficult..  Thankfully, she has no pain.

But she’s in an institution, and institutions are large, impersonal places.  It’s easy to get lost in the shuffle.  It’s easy to be on the neglected end of a system that employs the bare minimum number of staff to provide adequate care for all of the patients and clients.  But adequate care is not necessary personal.  Not necessarily timely.   And for someone now immobilized, that can be terrifying.

She has a wonderful personality.  A faith as strong as any I’ve ever witnessed.  She’s ready to go, but God apparently isn’t ready for her yet.  We talk about this often, which sometimes elicits loud wails and tears, which come more easily as a result of her condition.  When the research university called to check in on her last week, they asked her sister – who spends hours every day with her – whether she was afraid or not.  Good grief, no.  She’s not afraid!  She knows what lies ahead.

In the meantime, until God is ready to bring her home, she becomes a joy to everyone who meets her.  Staff pop in to say hi to her, knowing she’s almost  always smiling.  She’s a rare source of sunshine in a place often filled with clouds of confusion and despair.

But with shift changes every day,  and with changes in institutional ownership that further affect who stays and who goes and who is hired on, friends are rare and special things in an institution like this.   An institution that tries to do well and by and large does, but still operates within the broken confines of a sinful creation.

But friends can ease that brokenness.  They can attend to her quickly when she needs them.  They remember she needs her food pureed now because swallowing is becoming more difficult.  They are as close to clockwork as is possible in a place like this with the hoyer lift, an amazing device that enables a single elderly caregiver to hoist this woman from her  bed and deposit her in a wheelchair, and visa versa, almost every day for a few moments of cherished fresh air and sunshine and a cigarette outside.  Friends help ensure she doesn’t sit alone in her wheelchair for hours on end because nobody remembered to return her to bed.  Friends remember to bring her pills on time.

Friends make things bearable.  Little touches of God’s grace for a woman who has lost everything but her mind.  Who is kept awake most nights by her insomniac roommate.  Whose family is all the way across the country and isn’t able to get out to see her very often.  Friends offer a smile, a bit of humanity in a place that can be very dehumanizing.  Friends help her sister rest easier, knowing she is taken care of for the other 20 hours a day she can’t be at her side.

It’s not a glamorous place or glamorous work but it so vital and necessary, and when it’s done with a little bit of care and love, with a smile, it means the world to the one receiving it.  Who can’t do anything but smile back and try to speak her gratitude, try to share a bit of the love of Christ with whomever is with her at the moment.  Who prays and worries when her friends aren’t on shift when they should be, and rejoices for and with them when she learns it was just a cold and not a layoff.

Friends in low places are beautiful things.  Pity they aren’t the heroes of our days.  Pity they aren’t the ones feted and followed by the Instagram crowds.  Pity that sex tapes and obscenity are more revered and respected than honest, difficult, sometimes very unpleasant work.  But thanks be to God for those people who do this work anyways.  I hope they know how special they can be when the become not just an employee of an institution, but a cherished friend of the patients because of  a little love and care and extra effort.

Weekly Devotion

November 13, 2019

Psalm 98

Last week in Bible study there was a discussion about the nature of, well, nature. If sin has affected not just humanity but all of creation (Genesis 3, Romans 8), nature will be restored or recreated when our Lord returns as well. I shared my odd suspicion that when this happens, we’ll learn our convenient classifications for things (animal, vegetable, mineral) and the attendant qualities associated with these classifications have been inadequate. Possibly even inaccurate. We trust these classifications in their assertions about the nature of nature. Plants are alive but not conscious. Animals are conscious and live. Rocks and minerals are neither conscious nor alive.

But what if we’re wrong?

What if creation itself is far more intricate and alive than we presume it to be? There are plenty of places in Scripture where nature is treated in a personal way, and the psalms are a primary ground for it. The earth is exhorted in this psalm to give praise to God, with certain elements – the seas, rivers, and hills – singled out. It is appropriate for all of God’s creation to praise him, not just human beings. It’s exciting to think that the creation we take for granted and all too easily take advantage of will one day give praise to God in ways appropriate for it to do so!

In this age of eco-awareness, Christians should be at the forefront of concerns about how we use the resources God has provided in creation. We do so not in a spirit of fear for the future, but in terms of love of God and his creation, and respect for our God-given roles as stewards of that creation. Whether it’s figuring out how to be better at recycling or more efficient with our water use, we care for God’s creation, knowing that this creation is a fellow recipient of the redemptive work of God the Father through the death and resurrection of God the Son.

Maybe our classifications will continue to work well in eternity. Or maybe we’ll better be able to see and experience the miraculous richness and depth of our God’s creation. Whatever the case, we know there will be unlimited reasons and opportunities to give him thanks and praise!

Lutherans vs. Catholics

November 12, 2019

Straight from the horse’s mouth, so to speak.

A nice little article about a Papal audience for Catholic and Lutheran pilgrims who journeyed to Rome together.

I appreciate Pope Francis’ words.  It is encouraging to hear the Pope acknowledge that despite being divided theologically, those divisions are not exclusionary from the broader umbrella of the Christian faith.  This is something I try to reiterate to people I work with each week who tend to think in terms of Christian or Catholic.

I’m glad to hear of a commitment to further dialogue, but of course working together in acts of charity is not the same thing as theological dialogue aimed at some sort of reconciliation.  That’s far harder. Nothing prevents us from working with each other in charitable efforts.  But to seek to reconcile – that’s something I doubt either side puts a lot of actual stock in, unfortunately.

Apocrypha: Tobit

November 11, 2019

I’m staking my claim here and now: in the unlikely event I ever form a band, its name will be Tobit’s Dog.

The dog is one of the more fascinating elements of this apocryphal book, the more so because of the superfluousness of his presence.  He’s mentioned only twice in the book – as a journey is undertaken and then again as it is completed.  Some suggest the dog is an angel, an answer to a father’s prayer for angelic companionship and protection for his son and his fellow traveler (5:17).  If this is the intended meaning, it is not without irony that this angelic canine is all but ignored and invisible to everyone in the story but the reader/hearer.

Tobit is basically a story about a young man (Tobias) who undertakes a journey at his father’s (Tobit) request, to retrieve a sum of money Tobit entrusted to a friend earlier.  Tobias is accompanied on his journey by the angel Raphael, though Tobias and everyone else but the reader/hearer is unaware of this identity until towards the end of the story.   Along the way, Tobias acquires a wife, dispels a demon, and finally upon return provides a curative for Tobit’s blindness.

But frankly, the dog is the most curious part of the story.

This story is not well constructed or well told.  It lacks the tight narrative style of Ruth.  It is interspersed with moral exhortations clearly contradicted (in the temporal sense) by the actual story itself.  Tobit is a minor character with superhuman holiness – which is rewarded only by blindness, poverty, and suffering.  This despite repeated claims throughout the story that God rewards his faithful and preserves them from all harm.  And while this is shown to be true in the end, I doubt many people would consider eight years of blindness much of a divine reward.

Characters are perfunctory and one-dimensional.  Events are laid out in barebones fashion without any sense of real drama or uncertainty.  There is little to nothing in this story that links it to anything else in the Old Testament, and worse still, there are aspects to it that stand in contradiction to the rest of the Old Testament (such as Raphael’s ‘magical’ solution to driving a demon away).  As a moral tale, it is flat and uninteresting despite  the possibility of a great deal of good dramatic (or even darkly comedic) circumstances.

Frankly I don’t see the point in recommending this as reading to someone, let alone debating whether it should be a part of the Biblical canon.  While there’s the potential for  harm here (magical solutions, curious portrayals of angels and demons, etc.), it offers nothing not better conveyed by other books of the Old Testament.  It echoes Job and Ruth and other stories in Scripture but in a far reduced capacity and beauty.

This book was treated as canonical by Christians as early as the 4th century and confirmed in that status by the Roman Catholic Church at the Council of Trent in the 16th century.  However the Jewish people do not acknowledge it as part of their Scriptures (the Old Testament).  It is presumed to have been written not much earlier than the 3rd century BC, and perhaps as late as the close of the 2nd century BC.

But that dog.  That dog is a curiosity!