Tag Archives: Jewish tradition

Yom Kippur: Scapegoats And Nonviolent Politics

Azazel (Supernatural)

Azazel (Supernatural) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

For observant Jews, The Day of Atonement has reasoning behind its history found in the pages of Leviticus, chapter 16. There are two animals, one is a bull who is to be sacrificed on the altar for the sins of the people, while the other one is exiled from the camp, and the community’s sins leaving with it. In mainline and evangelical communities, the idea of social sin has been lost, that and along with a lack of knowledge of the First Testament, the meaning of scapegoats are lost on us.

A modern interpretation of Azazel as a Satanic...

A modern interpretation of Azazel as a Satanic, goatlike demon, from Collin de Plancy’s Dictionnaire Infernal (Paris,1825). (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This goat in Jewish mythology and the writings of the Mishnah (scholars say starting around the 2nd Temple era), represents Azazel, (“a goat that departs”), a leader of angels that rebel much like some stories of satan. Here we have a religion where every year, the ritual life of a community is centered on the victim. The story of the victim told and told year after year decenters our stories of the victors of history so that the losers have a voice. May the words of the Pharisee and apostle Paul for us “to remember the poor” as he has come to our minds. May we remember the words of the rabbi Yeshua of Nazareth whom Christians call the Messiah, that there will be a day when the goats (who still participate in the scapegoating mechanism) will be separated from the sheep (those who obey God to fight against scapegoating) expose our violent ways.

Mazel Tov!

For more sources concerning this view, please see S. Mark Heim’s Saved From Sacrifice: A Theology of the Cross

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Jesus, binding, loosing, and Biblical sexual ethics

I was reflecting on Jesus’ words regarding divorce the other day. Jesus was asked point blank how he felt about it. His answer draws on the ideal situation presented in Genesis 2. It is God who has pronounced that a man and a woman become one flesh when joined together, therefore we shouldn’t rush to undo that. Nevertheless, Jesus is quick to point out that humanity doesn’t always function according to the ideal, so God shows that the divine meets us where we are and grants that the ideal is not always possible where humanity is involved. So God allows divorce.

A thematically similar thing happens in the Hebrew scriptures. The patriarchs all had more than one wife. Or concubines. Or slaves with which they acted married. None of them even came close to Genesis 2 ideals.

Then there is King David. Validated as a man after God’s own heart, even though he was an adulterer, a bigamist, and had a ton of concubines. Far far away from the Genesis 2 sexual-relational ideal.

Now to switch gears a bit. There is a Hebrew concept of Torah interpretation called “binding and loosing”. This is the process by which Rabbis interpret certain laws to be more important than others and give instruction on whether to keep them or break them in certain circumstances. Jesus does this, for example, when he teaches that it is lawful to heal or rescue a donkey on the Sabbath.

Therefore when Jesus tells his followers that whatever we bind on earth will be bound in heaven and whatever we loose on earth will be loosed in heaven, he is giving us permission to make interpretive judgements about scripture, and that God, at least on some level, will honor those calls.

Given these things, I believe it is appropriate to reconsider our stances on homosexuality. Nowhere in scripture does God advocate doing away with the Genesis 2 ideal of marriage because of the hardness of the human heart. But what is validated is making a person’s sexuality a non-issue as we strive towards God together. God honored the binding and loosing of marriage and divorce, sexuality and multiple partners. I advocate that we honor the sexual-relational ideal of Genesis 2, but for our time, allow a person’s sexuality to be a non-issue while we get on with the business of weightier matters, much in the same way God did with David, the Patriarchs, and those who divorce. A sort of “doing good on the sabbath”. Loving others and treating them with respect is weightier than a sexual purity law, at least according to every example in the Bible. Except Ezra. But he was a jerk.

Message for iNeed service 2/28/2010: In the end, Love.

Scripture: John 3:14 (my translation) and 1st Corinthians 15:54-57 (The Voice)

  • When I first got here, teaching Sunday school, explaining the story of Paul and Silas, telling them this happened a long time ago.  Lower elementary kids, asked me, are Paul and Silas dead? It came naturally for me to say that the Bible was written a long time ago, but the kids didn’t know. And then I was asked: What happens when you die? I had to explain to them, not some formula I learned at seminary, but about how God loves us, sent Jesus, and rose him from the dead.
  • if you were asked the average person walking in the street what they think the final judgment will look like, a probable answer would be that when we die, our souls separate from our bodies as we are transported to another world called heaven with some bearded giant guy sitting on his throne all alone, waiting for you and I, with a huge television screen replaying all of our good and evil deeds in front of strangers, our friends and family.
  • Today. Love. Resurrection in the Gospel of John and 1st Corinthians.
  • I have heard, because of the popularity of John 3:16 as well as the appearance of two of the verbs for love in Greek (both agapw and filw respectively) at least thirty-nine times in the fourth Gospel, that John should be called, “the apostle of love.”  And if you ever been to a wedding, you probably more than likely, just like in the movie Wedding Crashers, can expect to hear 1st Corinthians 13. Paul’s love letter to the church in Corinth.
  • Judgment is a power shared by the Father and the Son.   John 5:22 says, “For the Father judges no one, but has given all judgment to the Son.”  The ability to pronounce judgment on humanity is a gift from God the Father to Jesus of Nazareth, the Son of Man.
  • Jesus is the Son of Man, and in the Jewish tradition, like in the book of Daniel 7, the Son of Man is a person who lived in heaven, and at the end of the world, he was to come to the earth to judge people at the final resurrection. The Son of Man appears a lot in the Gospel of John.
  • I have translated: “And just as Moses raised up the serpent in the desert, thus it is necessary for the Son of Man to be raised up.”   Traditionally this is interpreted as a foreshadowing of Jesus’s death on the cross, and I agree with that view, but I also believe that just as Moses lifted the serpent up, so did the Father and the Holy Spirit raise Jesus from the dead.
  • we cannot separate the Crucifixion and Resurrection events as part of God’s revelation, God’s love for us.
  • At the end of the world, John insists that the Son of Man will call out to the graves and all of the dead bodies will rise at the sound of his voice (John 5:28).
  • The apostle Paul also talks about the Resurrection. Two chapters after he explains what love is, Paul starts to discuss how God loved Jesus, the Son of God, that he raised him from the dead (1st Corinthians 15: 3-5)  According to the scripture. The First/Old testament if you will, just as there are hints about Jesus’s death, there are also hints of Jesus’s (and our) bodily resurrection.  Take the instance of Jonah; Jonah was in the belly of a whale for 3 days. Know what that means: When an animal is trying to ingest something, there are acids that are released to dissolve whatever was consumed.  According to some scholars, jonah was good as dead, until God freed him from the giant fish.
  • We also have Ezekiel 37, and some say that the story of Issaac may be a resurrection story.
  • Without the resurrection, continues the apostle Paul in verses 16-19, our faith is not worth more than yesterday’s trash.
  • Some Christians today try to say that the God of the New Testament is nicer than the one of the “Old” testament.  That they are not the same.  This is just no true.  In fact, in the Christian tradition, that is a heresy. As I have shown, there is no separating God’s love from God’s judgment.  The resurrection is both a sign of God’s love and judgment.
  • My favorite verses: 1st Corinthians 15:54-57
  • This is such a beautiful passage, but you see the thing is, Paul is quoting the First Testament.  The Prophet Hosea 13:14.  There is only one God, of the Jews and the Christians; the God of the Resurrection.
  • Jesus is not some “ice dancer in an all-white jumpsuit, and doing an interpretive dance of my life.” Or “a mischievous badger” “or “a ninja fighting off evil samurai” or “someone with angel wings, singing lead vocals for Lynyrd Skynyrd.”   He is the Risen Lord.
  • In the early 19th century, there were a lot of things being said about the historical Jesus. Particularly in Germany, before World War II.  A lot of folks say that the Nazi Germany was godless and I agree, but you see, they did have uniforms with badges that said, “God with us.”  Karl Barth, however, disagreed with these folks years before they came into power.  He said, in his “Letter to the Romans”: ‘The Gospel of the Resurrection is the action, the supreme miracle, by which God, the unknown God dwelling in light unapproachable, the Holy One, Creator, Redeemer makes himself known (Acts 17:23)  No divinity remaining on this side the line of the resurrection; no divinity which dwells in temples made by human hands or which is served by the hands of man; no divinity which needs anything, any human propaganda (Acts 17:24-25),–can be God.  God is the unknown God, and precisely because He is unknown, He bestows life and breath and all things” (35-36).
  • Outside of the Resurrection, there is no God.  There is no life.  God’s Yes to Life is Our No to Sin.
  • A lot of good people claim to believe in God.  In 1831, there were some good people who believed in God, working for Congress, but they forced some 15,000 Native Americans to move from Tennessee to Oklahoma on the Trail of Tears.  Did these good congressmen believe in the God of Resurrection? Thank God for the few good Christian missionaries who showed these First Nations peoples the love of God.
  • Is the God in the Pledge of Allegiance the God of the Resurrection?  Is the God in “In God We trust” the God of the Resurrection?  When we say “God bless America,” are we talking about the God of the Resurrection? Someday, I hope so.
  • But, as our praise band sang this morning:  There is none like our God.  There is none like our God.
  • The God of the Resurrection.