Thursday, January 1, 2009

New Year's Day - Year B

In honor of Public Domain Day, all quotes given are from the public domain World English Bible (WEB). Being in the public domain is only one of the reasons I use the WEB translation regularly. Today's image is not public domain, but it is under a Creative Commons license.

3 angels blowing trumpets with branches from pine tree in the background, captioned Happy New Year 2009 to All of You (c) 2008 CIEBILSKI Photography (released under Creative Commons Attribution / Non-Commercial License)

There are actually 2 potential reading for January 1st, one for New Year's Day and one for the Holy Name of Jesus/Mary Mother of God. The intention is that a congregation can celebrate one or the other.  Since I'm not feeling particularly spiritual at the moment, I'm doing the readings for New Year's Day.

The lectionary readings for New Year's Day are:

I've always liked this reading from Ecclesiastes 3:1-13, which is probably better known these days as the song Turn! Turn! Turn! You can listen to it using the widget below, which comes from one of my employer's business partners who I therefore know is very careful about getting legal permissions to stream songs (Lala.) (Not one of our artists though!)

The thing I like about this reading - beyond the poetry of it, which is fantastic - is that it reminds us that there is a time for all things. It is not necessarily that war or recession or hording stuff is bad, it is that it has it's place and we need to determine if now is the proper place and time. Likewise, when it is the time for things that are difficult, bad, sad or uncomfortable, the time for their opposite - the easy, good, happy, and comfortable will come. We don't always have to love everyone, build up, and be joyful - sometimes those aren't appropriate responses. I also very much like the meaning in the later (9-13), less poetic verses:
What profit has he who works in that in which he labors? I have seen the burden which God has given to the sons of men to be afflicted with. He has made everything beautiful in its time. He has also set eternity in their hearts, yet so that man can’t find out the work that God has done from the beginning even to the end. I know that there is nothing better for them than to rejoice, and to do good as long as they live. Also that every man should eat and drink, and enjoy good in all his labor, is the gift of God.[WEB]

We should enjoy our work and our time off. We should do good as we can. We should party (rejoice) as we can. And although it's clearer in the NRSV than the WEB, God has given us the gift of understanding past, present and future so that we can take comfort and strength from past memories and future plans.

Psalm 8:5-8 :
For you have made him a little lower than God,
and crowned him with glory and honor.
You make him ruler over the works of your hands.
You have put all things under his feet:
All sheep and cattle,
yes, and the animals of the field,
The birds of the sky, the fish of the sea,
and whatever passes through the paths of the seas.[WEB]

along with Genesis 1:26-30
God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness: and let them have dominion over the fish of the sea, and over the birds of the sky, and over the livestock, and over all the earth, and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.” God created man in his own image. In God’s image he created him; male and female he created them. God blessed them. God said to them, “Be fruitful, multiply, fill the earth, and subdue it. Have dominion over the fish of the sea, over the birds of the sky, and over every living thing that moves on the earth.” God said, “Behold, I have given you every herb yielding seed, which is on the surface of all the earth, and every tree, which bears fruit yielding seed. It will be your food. To every animal of the earth, and to every bird of the sky, and to everything that creeps on the earth, in which there is life, I have given every green herb for food”; and it was so.[WEB]
and Genesis 9:2-3
The fear of you and the dread of you will be on every animal of the earth, and on every bird of the sky. Everything that the ground teems with, and all the fish of the sea are delivered into your hand. Every moving thing that lives will be food for you. As the green herb, I have given everything to you.[WEB]
are often used to prove that God has given the earth for people to use. What doesn't seem to be taken into account in those discussions, and I think should (particularly since it's in the context of BOTH the Genesis stories and I think to a large extent the point of putting it in the psalm), is that "with great power comes great responsibility."

I think the point of this section of the psalm is that God thinks so much of us that he trusts us with this amazing responsibility. And the counter-point of trust is living up to it, not taking advantage of it, as I think most people - myself included, tend to do. My friend, Craig, has a video highlighting humanity taking advantage of dominion over cows called bovinity. It's somewhat disturbing and I don't necessarily agree with all of his presentation (I'd highlight things he ignored and ignore some he highlighted if I were doing it), but he's a very interesting videographer and it's definitely on topic.

An aside on the source of "with great power comes great responsibility". I went looking for the source of this quote so I could properly attribute it. In his blog, Rabbi Josh Waxman attributes it to a maamar (formal statement/discourse by a rabbi) by Rabbi ben Chaviva (details and background including an earlier reference to the Mishnas here.) My Hebrew scholarship is not good enough to find a date. There are a number of other theories as to it's origins, including references to similar statements in the New Testament (Luke and one of the Epistles.) All three of these originate in Judaism in the 3 centuries before or after the birth of Jesus, so Waxman's attribution is probably correct. The many people who attribute the original quote to Stan Lee - well they are probably wrong, even if Mr Lee is extremely talented.

As for the Matthew reading, first off, I believe that the last line (25:46) where Jesus sends those who were uncharitable into eternal punishment(WEB), we are seeing the human side of Jesus. He is still human at that time and I personal believe that God is too good to eternally damn anyone (Yeah, yeah, pesky unitarian) and that we have ample evidence to show that. (That said, I'm not saying I believe God lets you be purposely mean and evil and have no consequences in the afterlife. Something like the LDS viewpoint seems like a good explaination to me, see here and here.)

However, I also think it is very important for us to remember and practice verses 36 & 36:

.. I was hungry, and you gave me food to eat. I was thirsty, and you gave me drink. I was a stranger, and you took me in. I was naked, and you clothed me. I was sick, and you visited me. I was in prison, and you came to me.

where "me" is clarified in verse 40 as inasmuch as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you did it to me[WEB - equivalent translation from notes] Remember that this is not only a Christian tradition, there are similar statements about hospitality toward strangers and those in need in the Hebrew bible. I'm guilty of not always living this one. I'm very good at remembering that the stranger, the poor, the homeless and the vulnerable is a person just like me and speaking to them as such, but I'm not as good at pitching in and helping them. Part of this is because I feel vulnerable to being taken advantage of or worse (as a short female who tends to see the best in people and be nice, I think I get taken advantage of more than most people.) And part of it is because I feel powerless to do anything that is truly helpful, rather than condescending, enabling, or well-meant but detrimental. (My friend, Terrie Lynn Bittner, has an excellent article about this here.) Or at least, I feel powerless to do something actually useful without putting myself in a potentially dangerous situation. In my defense, however, I have had people come back to me and tell me that my treating them with compassion and as an equal when they were troubled strangers made all the difference to them. However, I would still like to be able to back my words with effective actions.
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1 comment:

joshwaxman said...

sorry, that was me that you were quoting, and I was making a rather stupid joke.

chaviva is Aramaic for Uncle (also beloved, parallel to Hebrew "dod"), and ben can mean son, but in this context meant Ben.

So "Ben Chaviva" was a joking reference to Uncle Ben from Stan Lee's Spiderman, who was indeed the one who first said the statement (or maamar).

Sorry for the mixup,