Thursday, August 7, 2014

The Apocalyptic Discourse - 19th Sunday of Ordinary Time [Proper 14]


     

Genesis 6:1-8 OR Zechariah 9:1-8 (9-12) 13-17
Psalm 37: (1-2) 12-38 (39-40)
Matthew 24:(36-44) 45-51 OR Luke 12:(35-40) 41-48
1Corinthians 11:2-22 (23-26) 27-34

Opening Prayer [from GREATER ATTENTION: LERW, YEAR D]
Lord Jesus Christ, we know neither the day nor the hour when you will come again to gather up your church or to stand upon the earth, but we do know that we are to remain awake, dressed and ready for action, with our lamps lit as servants awaiting the return of their Master. To think, even for a moment, that you are delayed is to risk falling asleep, and therefore, we invite you to draw near to us now, for you have promised to do so, saying, “I am with you always.” Therefore, by the swift wind of your Spirit, raise our expectations, O Lord. Let no one go through the motions of worship without becoming acutely aware that you are near, indeed, that you are here, watching, waiting, examining every heart. Surely you will speak, O Lord, through the Word, written, read, and preached, and you will feed your people—you, the Christ, the living bread, you, the Holy Spirit, of whom we all partake as we drink from same spiritual drink, the spiritual rock of Christ.


The Apocalyptic Discourse - 18th Sunday of Ordinary Time [Proper 13]


    

Genesis 19:1-29
Psalm 59
Matthew 24:23-35 (36-44) OR Luke 17:20-37
1John 2:3-29 OR 2John OR 2Peter 2:1-22


Thursday, July 24, 2014

An Opening Prayer for the 17th Sunday of Ordinary Time (Year A)

Opening Prayer [from LIGHTNING FROM THE EAST: LERW, YEAR A]
In faith, we see how you work on us, O God. In hope, we consider how you pray for us. In truth, we know that you govern us, O Lord. In love, we trust that you have saved us for the eventual completion of the joy of Jesus Christ. Thus, we gather to seek your presence, to rejoice in your wondrous works, and to glorify your holy name.



The Apocalyptic Discourse - 17th Sunday in Ordinary Time [Proper 12]

Deuteronomy 4:32-40 OR Isaiah 65:10-65 OR Ezekiel 7:(1-9) 10-27
OR Zechariah 14:(1-3) 4-9 (10-21)
Psalm 50: (7-8) 9-21 (22-23) OR 105:(1-6) 12-15, 26-36 (37, 43-45)
Matthew 24:15-22 OR Mark 13:14-20 OR Luke 21:20-24
1Corinthians 10:(14-17) 18-11:1



    

Prayer of Confession [from GREATER ATTENTION: LERW, YEAR D]
Holy and merciful God, we confess that we have acted wickedly. We have forgotten your words, cast off discipline, and spoken against those whom you love. We all too quickly assume that you are just like us, that we know your mind, that we may speak judgment against others with impunity. Forgive us, O Lord, for we have too often forgotten how far you have come and how much you have done to save us from death, depravity, and despair. We have neglected to pay our vows to you, to whom we have promised lifelong loyalty. Cleanse us from every sin, forgive our every transgression, wash us thoroughly in the blood of the Lamb, our Lord Jesus Christ, and receive once again our sacrifice of thanks and praise. This we ask in his name.

Wednesday, July 16, 2014

The Apocalyptic Discourse - 16th Sunday in Ordinary Time [Proper 11]

Deuteronomy 31:23-29 OR Micah 7:1-7 OR Daniel (11:40-45) 12:1-13
Psalm 54
Matthew 10:17-22a; 24:9-14 OR Mark 13:9-13
1Corinthians 9:1-15

  

COMMENTARY

Matthew 10:17-22a; 24:9-14 OR Mark 13:9-13
Jesus tells of many persecutions to come, but somewhat surprisingly this section of Mark (13:9b-12) has been used in Matthew’s missionary discourse (10:17-22a), which suggests the essentially apocalyptic nature of the evangelical mission and the essentially missional nature of the apocalyptic discourse; in short, the fact that the material appears interchangeable at points suggests certain patterns of resistance will be met with by the first disciples, even during Jesus’ earthly ministry, as well as by those who, generations later, will testify before “governors and kings” (Matt 10:18; Mark 13:9). Also common to both passages is the promise that the Holy Spirit (Mark 13:11) or “the Spirit of your Father” (Matt 10:2) will do the speaking, therefore the disciples are not to rehearse or be anxious about what to say.

The preacher has the option, of course, to simply choose one version of the apocalyptic discourse or the other, in which case it is not necessary to use the material from Matthew’s missionary discourse, but the preacher should be aware of the differences. The Matthean arrangement (above) taken from two chapters makes for the more thorough reading, but the same results could be achieved by reading both Mark 13:9-13 and Matthew 24:10-14 (in that order), which would capture the unique material in each, while duplicating very little material, the primary exception being the important phrase: “But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Mk 13:13b; Matt 24:13), regarding which see below. The primary points to recognize are as follows.

First, although this material from Mark (13:9-13) does occur elsewhere in Matthew (10:17-22a), neither version appears in the RCL. Although the Lukan parallel (21:12-19) does occur within the gospel lection (21:5-19) for 33rd Ordinary (Year C), that parallel does not include the promise of the Holy Spirit per se (since Luke 12:11-12 is not in the RCL), but simply the promise of “a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict” (21:14-15).

Second, the uniquely Matthean material (24:10-12, 14) should not be missed, which contains important warnings against betrayal, hatred, false prophets, going astray, and falling away (vv. 10-11); especially important is the warning that, as lawlessness increases, “the love of many will grow cold” (Matt 24:12). Here, as elsewhere, we should realize that the question in the foreground is not when, but what … and how. Preachers should recognize and remind their congregations at this point that love forms the basis of the Great Commandment (Matt 22:34-40); love is the matter of greatest importance, greater than the avoidance of suffering, greater even than faith itself (1Cor 13:13), though in no way at odds with it; it is said to be the very nature of God himself (1Jn 4:8, 16); thus, for all the warnings and dire predictions mentioned in the apocalyptic discourse, none is more sobering than the possibility, indeed, the certainty that the love of many will grow cold. That the RCL has excluded this most important warning of all (Matt 24:12) is lamentable, to say the least, and could explain in no small measure the general state of health of our mainline denominations today.

Third, as Jesus finally turns to address the question of when, the very question the disciples asked in the first place, another uniquely Matthean verse confirms what we have said above, namely, that the apocalyptic discourse is thoroughly missional in its aim: “And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come” (Matt 24:14). In other words, the end will not come until the church’s witness is complete (cf. Mark 13:10). “Note that in the series of historical signs listed in Mt 25:31-46, the last and culminating sign is the work of the community” [Karl Barth, Church Dogmatics, III.2: The Doctrine of Creation (Edinburgh: T & T Clark, 1960) 507]. This does not mean the church must build the kingdom and complete it before Jesus comes again, but it does mean that all the nations must have heard the Word and witnessed the light of the gospel through the testimony of the church.

More than this, however, in the context of this question regarding the return of Jesus, the presupposition of the absence of Jesus must not be allowed to remain unquestioned or stand unqualified. In his discussion of “Jesus, Lord of Time,” Karl Barth warns of “two opposite but closely connected errors” that need to be avoided. Both concern the presumed absence of Jesus: “In the first case He is absent because there is no recognition of the consoling power of His resurrection for the present life of the community. In the second, He is absent because no serious account is taken of His future and its critical power for the present life of the community” [Barth, CD, III.2, 511]. The first amounts to “a failure to recognize the consolation of the Holy Spirit in whose work the community may find full satisfaction at every moment in its time of waiting [509]. The second results from “a failure to recognize the criticism of the Holy Spirit, whose work keeps the community moving towards its Lord in dissatisfaction with its present condition, from regarding its condition as absolute. When this is not perceived, (the Church) forgets that it is on the march, and that though the inauguration of Jesus’ revelation of His glory is behind it, the consummation is still to come” [510].

While it is tempting to see these errors at work in different branches of the church, the sad reality is that both the “underestimation of the origin of the community in (Jesus’) resurrection” [509] and the “exaggerated estimation of the greatness of the community in consequence of an equally exaggerated estimate of its present existence in relation to the parousia” (what Barth calls “the ‘de-eschatologising’ of Christianity with a vengeance!”) [510-11] are in evidence in the mainline churches today, wherein the RCL is used. The simple fact that Year D must labor so to reintroduce the eschatological discourse into the preaching rotation of the church, a rotation derived from the lectionary of the Roman Church, which Barth designated (in 1960) “the typical form of this de-eschatologized Christianity” [511], clearly demonstrates that this error remains a major problem long after Vatican II and the Constitution of the Sacred Liturgy. Yet even in this short section of the apocalyptic discourse, we have identified a specific omission that would offer, in the midst of the apocalyptic discourse itself, the present-tense consolation and inspiration of the Holy Spirit; hence, the former error, of spirit-less Christianity, remains just as likely as well.

Finally, having emphasized the uniquely Matthean material above, we should not fail to make clear what the synoptic evangelists stress with unanimity, namely the essential imperative to perseverance, and no effort to gather the fragments of this discourse should allow us to overlook it: “But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matt 24:13; Mk 13:13b; Lk 21:19). “The end,” we should note, is not the εσχατον as such, but το τελος, which connotes no mere termination of history, but completion, perfection, and fulfillment of purpose. In short, any repetition of this phrase that will arise from reading both the Marcan and Matthean material, while obviously redundant, may well serve to drive home the main idea in this text. [TMS, June 7-8, 2010]

Psalm 54
This is a classic example of an individual psalm of lament, a fourfold plea for God to save and vindicate the psalmist (v. 1), to hear and “give ear” to his prayer (v. 2). These four imperatives are followed by a threefold description of the insolent, ruthless, and godless enemies, with the central emphasis falling on the fact that they are trying to kill the psalmist (v. 3). There follows the typical “turn” from complaint to a profession of faith in God’s covenantal role and identity as the psalmist’s “helper” and “upholder of my life” (v. 4). A subsequent expression of assurance that God will “repay my enemies for their evil,” is supplemented with an imperative petition to “put an end to them,” and this appeal is warranted by God’s “faithfulness” (v. 5). Finally, a further future tense declaration, this time of the psalmist’s resolve to sacrifice and give thanks to the good name of the Lord (v. 6), is causally rooted in the Lord’s actions on behalf of the psalmist, though now those actions are stated in the past tense. “For he has delivered me from every trouble, and my eye has looked in triumph on my enemies” (v. 7).

Although this “Maskil of David” is never once quoted or alluded to in the New Testament, it certainly seems a fitting prayer to offer in relation to this section of the apocalyptic discourse, in which Jesus foretells so many persecutions at the hands of an anonymous enemy; those who will hand over the disciples to be beaten, etc., are simply designated “they” (Mark 13:9; Matt 24:9), with no indication as to the specific identity of the enemy. Are they the false Christs (Matt 24:5), the uprising nations (v. 7)? Very likely, “they,” the εθνη, are not so much national entities, butthe pagans” in a more amorphous sense, though it is just possible that certain false Christs are intended who may feel empowered to take their perverse sense of justice into their own hands. The psalm is scarcely more specific, but those “who do not set God before them” (v. 3b) is a fitting, if vague, description.

Whatever the case, one should not attempt to be too narrow in one’s interpretation of this psalm, but allow it to remain open and available to all who find themselves persecuted, in whatever generation, for bearing the name of Christ. In light of the formidable list of persecutions mentioned in the little apocalypse, this simple lament, with its encouraging turn to faith and praise, is a most reassuring prayer; thus this psalm, or one very like it, that transforms complaint into doxology should be used in conjunction with the gospel text to remind the listener of the faithfulness of God, even when one is surrounded by a hoard of ruthless enemies.

If any difficulty attends its use, it is the question of whether or not one can pray this psalm with one’s love in tact, that is, with love for one’s enemies. If one examines the psalm carefully, there appear only three trouble spots, namely, the cry for vengeance (v. 5a), the petition that the Lord would “put an end to” the enemies (v. 5b), and the evident satisfaction expressed when the psalmist declares, “my eye has looked in triumph” on them (v. 7b). The first may be dealt with simply by recognizing that there is a righteous resignation in the psalmist’s deference to the Lord’s vengeance, that is, that he does not seek to take vengeance into his own hands.

As to the second and the third, the question may simply be asked, what does triumph look like through the eyes of love? How does love view the “end” of the enemy? From a New Testament perspective, might love not, perhaps, view triumph and termination of enmity in terms of, say, reconciliation? Does an enemy not meet his “end” when he is no longer an enemy, but a friend? Is there not a loving sort of satisfaction that one may enjoy, free of all smugness, when reconciliation recasts the entire situation? These are at least possibilities that should be considered before one becomes overly scrupulous about praying this psalm in its entirety, with no redactions.

On the other hand, must we iron out every unpleasant wrinkle, every invective, every outburst from the Psalms in this way? Are we not under an ethical obligation to make precisely this sort of editorial judgment that has resulted in a reduced Psalter? The case can be made, once again, from scripture, from theology and historical tradition, and from many other perspectives, that, no, we are not under such an obligation, not when we understand the Psalter as given and canonical, as the revealed word of God in written form, as the songs of the Holy Spirit, and the prayers of Christ himself, which we offer in his name. This is not the place to elaborate these arguments, but we simply note them by way of reminder that our project is to restore the full complement of the psalms to their maximum functionality in the worship life of the church, and this we undertake as an act of faith, trusting in the Spirit to use them according to God’s own purposes. [TMS, June 8-9, 2010]

1Corinthians 9:1-15 (16-18, 23)
Once again reminded of the semi-continuous arrangement of the epistle reading at this juncture, we should not expect or forcefully impose any direct correspondence between this lection and the apocalyptic discourse. Nevertheless, it is certainly not outside the bounds of responsible exegesis to remark once more upon Paul’s missionary and eschatological perspective, and on the way this perspective informs the way in which he goes about seeking to fulfill his apostolic commission.

Paul was never one to take his apostolic authority for granted, but unlike the twelve, he felt the need to defend and explain it numerous times (in addition to 1Cor 9:1-14, see 2Cor 2:14-3:6; 10-13; and Gal 1:11-2:21), not least for the fact that his rhetorical contention: “Have I not seen Jesus our Lord?” (v. 2), was based upon a heavenly vision (Acts 9:1-9) rather than a contemporaneous sharing with Jesus in his earthly ministry, as the twelve were able to claim (Acts 1:21-26). Here, Paul’s argument for the rights of the apostle are not made for himself only, but for Barnabas and others as well (1Cor 9:6). Further, his case is not finally made based on his own experience, but on scripture itself (vv. 8-9).

Notice that the nature of the argument is that the servant, whether working in the military, planting a vineyard, or tending sheep, should not be deprived of incentive, or stripped of the hope in sharing in the benefits, the profits, the fruitful produce of his work (v. 7). Paul’s appeal to scripture likens the laborer to an ox, who is not to be muzzled and thus unable to help itself to the grain that he treads out (vv. 8-9). How much more should a human apostle share in the benefits of gospel ministry than an ox, and how much more should he share in the material benefits when the good work he has done is of a spiritual, and thus eternal and enduring, nature? There is a strong argument here for the appropriateness of compensating fairly those who are called to the apostolic ministry, but the wise preacher will not take this argument up to make it for himself or herself; moreover, the preacher should be alert to where Paul is going with this, for he is about to raise the stakes by voluntarily foregoing the very benefits for which he has made such a strong argument.

The defense of his apostolic authority and his case for the rights of an apostle, of course, are not Paul’s true aim; rather, these form the presupposition for his explanation as to why he freely chooses not to make use of these rights (vv. 12b, 15, 18), and here his point is entirely missionary: “we endure anything rather than put an obstacle in the way of the gospel of Christ” (v. 12b); “woe to me if I do not proclaim the gospel!” (v. 16); “What then is my reward? Just this: that I may make the gospel free of charge” (v. 18); “I have become all things to all people, that I might by all means save some. I do it all for the sake of the gospel, so that I may share in its blessings” (vv. 22-23).

Again, the preacher should be aware that Paul’s driving missionary motivation here is of a piece with his eschatological outlook, but this should in no way mitigate the force of his argument, as though Paul was mistaken to hold such a view, as is often fallaciously argued. On the contrary, it is precisely such an outlook the preacher of this material, the preacher of every generation, should hope to foster in the mainline congregations with the aim of awakening the churches to a new sense of evangelical mission, a fresh sense of urgency, and a driving desire to make “the most of the time” (Eph 5:15; Col 4:5).

Deuteronomy 31: (1-22) 23-29
This passage should probably include the entire chapter from v. 1 through at least v. 29. Several features are repeated, such as the foretelling of Moses’ death (vv. 2, 14, 16, 29), the identification of Joshua as Moses’ successor (vv. 3, 8, 14, 23), the admonition to Joshua to “be strong and bold” (vv. 7-8, 23; cf. Josh 1:6, 7, 9, 18), which admonition is issued to Israel as well (v. 6); this repetition both demonstrates continuity and makes it possible to shorten the reading while retaining the main thrust. The chapter as a whole is built around these words of encouragement to (vv. 7-8, 23) and the commissioning of Joshua (vv. 14-15), which function as hinges between the major sections: the promise that the Lord will grant the Israelites conquest of the land (vv. 1-8); the prescriptive conditions for covenant renewal by keeping the festival of booths every Sabbath year (vv. 9-15); the prophecy that the people will break the covenant and face “many terrible troubles” as a result (vv. 16-23); and provisions for reminding the Israelites of this prophecy by the ceremonial displaying of the law (v. 26) and the singing (v. 28; cf. vv. 19, 21) of the Song of Moses (31:30-32:47) that will serve as a testimony against them. Clearly one can detect a certain sense of deterioration in the successive panels, so to speak, of this chapter in four frames. Unless the preacher elects to read the entire chapter, s/he would be well advised to carefully consider the distinct emphasis of each section. Is the message the Lord’s promise of fearless conquest? Is it a call to renew the covenant? Is it a word of judgment for forsaking the Lord and breaking the covenant? Such questions should guide the preacher in selecting which section of this chapter to emphasize, though if the latter section is emphasized, it should not be without some reference to the Song of Moses itself. Thus the boundaries of this reading should be considered perhaps more fluid and flexible than most.

Patrick Miller’s reading of this passage is helpful in that he identifies three strands: the naming Joshua as Moses’ successor (31:1-8, 14-15, 23), the “reading and keeping of the law” (31:9-13; 24-29), and the “song of witness” (31:16-22, 30; 32:1-47) [Patrick D. Miller, Deuteronomy: Interpretation: A Bible Commentary for Teaching and Preaching (Louisville: John Knox Press, 1990), 216-35]. With respect to the former, what impresses one is the sense in which this material, as we reach the end of the Torah, takes such pains to establish firmly a sense of continuity with what comes afterwards, not only in terms of individual leadership, but primarily “with assurance of the Lord’s presence” (218). Where Miller’s reading is especially helpful, however, is in his distinguishing the tightly wound strands of the law and the song of witness.

While the Song of Moses itself occurs in Year D as a reading unto itself on the 9th Sunday of Ordinary Time, here the preface to the song is included by virtue of the testimonial connection between the song, as well as the book of the law, as a witness against the people (Deut 31:19, 26) [NB: Miller associates this section with the second use of the law in Christian theology, an unsettling counterpoint to the vitality promised by the Torah generally (222-23)] and the prophetic, testimonial role the disciples will play when they are under persecution (Matt 10:18). This connection, by way of the construction [εις μαρτυριον], subtle as it may appear, is explicitly noted in Nestle-Aland; it is not unlike the tension we find in another important Year D text, namely, John 12:47-50 (Christmas Day and Christ the King), wherein the Word incarnate both refrains from judging in order to save, while allowing the word he has spoken to serve as judge on the last day. Hopefully it is just this sense of verbal fixity that the preacher will bring to this apocalyptic material; as inscrutable as it appears now, there will come a time when what has been foretold will occur and then the word that Jesus has spoken – and here Moses – will be vindicated.

Typologically, of course, the transition across the Jordan, from wilderness to the promised land, has often been associated with the eschatological hope of the church, as is especially clear from a glance at Christian hymnody. “When I tread the verge of Jordan, bid my anxious fears subside; death of death and hell’s destruction, land me safe on Canaan’s side.” (William Williams). How the preacher may choose to integrate this chapter into an exposition of the apocalyptic discourse, or to simply preach it in its own right, may rest in large part on the inspiration of the Spirit, but certainly it should not be done without a clear sense of (1) the continuity of this material with the overarching salvation narrative (Heilsgeschichte) (thus a certain degree of recapitulation would be entirely appropriate here), or without (2) a wary eye on the prophetic role of the Song of Moses to stand as a warning, or as Nicetas of Remesiana described it: “a fear-inspiring canticle” that serves “as a sort of testament to the people … to teach them the sort of funeral they should expect, if ever they abandoned God.” [Liturgical Singing, cited in Joseph T. Lienhard, S.J., ed., Ancient Christian Commentary on Scripture, Old Testament III: Exodus, Leviticus, Numbers, Deuteronomy (Downers Grove: InterVarsity Press, 2001), 331]. [TMS, July 2, 2010]

Micah 7:1-7
Like many such texts (see Pss 12:1; 14:1-2; 53:1-2; Isa 53:6; and Rom 3), this oracle laments the total absence of any righteous: “The faithful have disappeared from the land and there is no one left who is upright” (Mic 7:2a). Particularly alarming is the sweeping description of violence on every front: “they all lie in wait for blood, and they hunt each other with nets” (v. 2b; cf. Ps 12:8). The depth and totality of the depravity to which the prophet testifies is such that it reaches from the leaders of the community (“the official and the judge”) to the members of one’s own household; one’s closest friends, even one’s spouse - not to be trusted! (v. 5) Here (v. 6) is found the source text for not only the allusion that occurs in the section of the missionary discourse (Matt 10:21) which Year D pairs with the Olivet speech, but also for the direct quotation that we find later in Matthew’s missionary discourse [see Matt 10:35; 12th Ordinary (A)], a warning that Jesus prefaces by saying, “I have not come to bring peace but a sword” (Matt 10:34), one that causes division within families. Yes, Jesus himself will make use of this text to claim responsibility for undermining trust in one’s closest relationships, presumably to realign such ultimate reliance to, and reserve it for, himself.

Clearly the most important and weighty verse here is the resolution of the prophet (v. 7), who, like the psalmist of many lamentations, sets himself apart from the worldly corruption that surrounds him, or we might say “herself/her,” since the speaker in v. 1 is feminine, an apparent reference to the nation, land, or people of Samaria (though the feminine is not maintained through the remainder of the lament). At this point, it is tempting to assert that this resolution, “But as for me,” undermines the prophet’s earlier description of thoroughgoing corruption, or at least throws it into the category of hyperbole. But the preacher should be clear that the exceptional character of the prophet here is not based on moral superiority, but solely on the conviction that “my God will hear me,” the resolution to “look to the Lord,” to “wait for the God of my salvation” (v. 7). It is the resolution of “one who endures to the end” and thus “will be saved” (Matt 10:22). Thus, while there is evidence of a social or even a national dimension to this lament, it is important not to drop this imperative to perseverance into a sort sloppy sloganeering for “social justice.” Rather, as with all true justice, faith in God, giving the Lord his due glory, adoration, devotional, service, faith, hope, and love, is always its primary expression; and in the apocalyptic scenario described here, justice toward God entails endurance in faithful expectation of his salvation and explicit distrust of one’s neighbor. At some point contemporary Christian theology and ethics really must grow up and take stock of this fact, namely, that the love of neighbor is always rooted first in the love of God and then, more often than not, requires a healthy (though not absolute) distrust of one’s neighbor, or put another way, a healthy respect for the power of sin to corrupt even the best of neighbors. This is a clear implication of the doctrine of total depravity that is portrayed in this oracle, a doctrine which has rightly informed and given rise to the need for checks and balances in both Presbyterian (ecclesial) polity and in secular government, though few today have the stomach for naming this reality baldly. Nevertheless, both church and state would be far better off if a new generation of courageous preachers were to explain it carefully and realistically, as well as graciously and with compassion, and this lament would seem to serve as an excellent basis on which to do so. [TMS, July 3, 2010]

Daniel (11:40-45) 12:1-13
Preaching this text is extraordinarily daunting, not least for the fact that the text itself twice bears a label stating (each time in parallel fashion) that it is to remain “secret (…) and sealed until the time of the end” (12:4, 9). Should we preach it all? Certainly we should preach it, insofar as it actually reveals something, but just as certainly we should not presume to preach that which it does not, and does not intend, to reveal just yet.

Another reason for exercising a certain prophetic modesty is that scholars, even those writing for an evangelical audience, differ over such basic questions as what to do with predicted actions that were not fulfilled by Antiochus Epiphanes IV (11:40-45) and whether or not the end-time antichrist figure is intended to fulfill them. John E. Goldingay [Word Bible Commentary, Vol. 30: Daniel (Dallas: Word Books, 1989), 305] says not, while the editors of the popular NIV Study Bible are unabashed in their assertion that the antichrist is the one to fulfill these verses.

The difficulty with the former assertion is that one must finally attribute non-literal interpretations of what appear to be very concrete events to the imagination of the seer Daniel, as Goldingay does, which begs the question, ‘What are these verses doing in scripture, if they are neither fulfilled nor to be fulfilled in the last days?’ The difficulty with the latter is that there appears no discernible basis for the leap into futuristic interpretation from the mid-second c. B.C. to the eschaton, for although we have the phrase, “At the time of the end” (v. 36), we find it is still attached to the indefinite pronoun “him,” while the search for an antecedent leads us inescapably into the tangled thicket of such pronouns in Dan 11.

While Dan 11:40-45 is included in Year D as a matter of the principle that we should keep an open mind with respect to unfulfilled prophecy and not shelve it prematurely, it is clear that the prophecy of Dan 12 aligns itself more directly with this section of the apocalyptic discourse, namely, in the forecasting of a period of unprecedented anguish (12:1a), though other apocalyptic themes are consolidated here as well: the deliverance of “everyone who is found written in the book” (12:1b; cf. 10:21; Pss 9:5; 40:7; 51:1; 69:28; 139:16; Phil 4:3; Heb 10:7; Rev 3:5; 13:7; 17:8; 20:12; 20:14; 21:27); the (double) resurrection of the just and the unjust (12:2-3; Jn 5:28-29); the increase of evil until the end (12:4, 10; Rev 22:11); the enumeration of days that constitute the final period of endurance (vv. 7, 11-12; cf. Rev 11:2-3; 12:5-6, 14); and the erection of the desolating abomination (12:11; cf. 9:27; Matt 24:15; Mk 13:14). Many of these themes and texts will occur at other times in Year D (e.g., John 5:19-30 is assigned as the Gospel lection for Easter Sunday). Thus the preacher should in no way consider this the one and only opportunity to address these various themes. On the contrary, what is most appropriate is to identify the claim that arises unambiguously from the mist of that which is destined to remain mysterious until the end: there will be a resurrection and a judgment; the saints will ultimately share in the glory of heaven; they are to endure and undergo sanctification to the end, despite the ongoing reality of increased wickedness in the world and the fact that the degenerate will lack understanding; those who persevere (for a finite period of time) shall attain (eternal) happiness in the end; etc. Such claims are consistent with Christian doctrine, verifiable by way of the broader witness of the canon of scripture, and broadly applicable. They do not overbid on fortunetelling or set the preacher up as a psychic or diviner; but they do offer encouragement to the saints, all the while upholding and reiterating the received tradition of scripture, inspiring the imagination, and clarifying what, in God’s grand scheme of things, is at stake in keeping our faith, hope, and love fixed on Jesus Christ. [TMS, July 5, 2010]

UPDATED [May 1, 2011]: One thing we can and should say, however, without being immodest, i.e., by simply applying ourselves to the work of translation, is that the temporal references to a specific number of days that call for endurance have been consistently mistranslated. I have yet to find a  major translation, or even a minor one, that properly renders the prepositions in Dan 12:11, which should include the word "to" before "the abomination ..." In other words, "(And) from the time that the regular burnt offering is taken away (and) to (!) set up [or to the setting up of] the abomination of desolation, there shall be 1290 days." What this means, quite simply, is that the removal of the daily sacrifice and the installation of the abomination do not take place on the same day (as is implied when the second preposition is omitted). On the contrary, there is an interval in between, of 1290 days, in the same way that there was apparently an interval (of some two months) in between the removal of the LORD's altar and the installation of the pagan altar by Antiochus Epiphanes IV in 165 BC [see NIV Study Bible, p. 1312, and the note on 8:13]. For the parsing of the verb [velateth] in 12:11, see J. J. Owens, Analytical Key to the Old Testament, Vol. 4, p. 757, where Owens denotes it as: conj. - prep. - Qal inf. cstr. (678). Oddly, Owens translates it: "And ... is set up." But that again does not recognize the proposition [le-] that Owens himself identifies. A. B. Davidson's Introductory Hebrew Grammar, p. 114, clearly shows the infinitive construct of n-t-n as teth. Thus, velateth should be translated: "and to set up ..."

In short, what this means for endurance, is that the difference between the 1290 days and the 1335 days, or the final 45 days - at the end of which the enduring will be blessed and happy (v. 12) - are (or will be) the days of the most intense suffering, when the sacrilege, "whatever the hell" it is, will be in full operation, and the faithful will likely be tested to their very utmost. The good news in this reading of this admittedly daunting text is that we are not talking 3 1/2 years of absolute in extremis, but more like 6 1/2 weeks, call it seven for good measure. And that is something at which those who observe the fasts of, say, Lent and Advent, should be well practiced. 

Monday, July 14, 2014

Prayer of Confession for 15th Ordinary (Year A)

Redeeming God, we confess that we frequently set our minds on matters of the flesh and fail to submit ourselves to the rule of your life-giving Spirit. How can we please you when we shrink from trouble and persecution, when we lack the courage and faith to withstand times of testing? How can we please you when we allow the cares of the world to lure us away from you, when we so easily surrender your blessing and joy? Forgive us, O God, and give us courage, strength, and healing! Help us redirect our aims and our attitudes toward you. Let the seal of your Holy Spirit remain upon us and the Spirit of Christ abide within us, that we might share in the eternal life of the One who died to set us free from sin.


Do the rhetorical archaeology ...

... that is to say, read the whole article here (it's not long), and you will find that at the earliest point the progenitors of this important thought were preachers. Yes, Jonathan Swift was a preacher, though he is not best known for it. All of which is to say that preachers would do well to recognize that Brandolini's Law is not the sole province of software developers or scientists and engineers, though it would seem to be especially applicable in the political sphere. No, it is a major task of preaching the gospel of Jesus Christ to refute BS. Thankfully, we have the Holy Spirit to help us ascend the requisite order of magnitude in order to do so. [h/t to Bulldog at Maggie's Farm.]