Nov. 6 – 12
Haggai 1: 15b – 2:9
Emperor Cyrus of Persia freed the Jews enslaved at Babylon and Chaldea in 538 BCE and permitted them to return to their home. They found their lands in ruins. Jerusalem and the Temple were rubble. They decided not to try to revive the old duel kingdoms of Israel and Judah; instead they formed a new nation called Judea. There was conflict between the rabbis and synagogues who held to a new word-oriented worship, and the conservatives who held to the cult sacrifices. Though the conservatives wanted to rebuild the Temple, they were delayed. Here Haggai comes forward: God, he says, is impatient to have his house rebuilt. He urges the newly-elected governor, Zerubbabel, and the new high priest, Joshua, to get going: build a house that is more splendid than the old Temple, and I will fill it with riches. They went to work, but it was not completed until 515. It is sometimes referred to as Zerubbabel’s Temple, as the earlier had been called Solomon’s Temple. But it was not Zerubbabel who was the prime mover; but the conservative Haggai, or rather, God speaking through Haggai.
ALTERNATIVE FIRST READING
Job 19: 23 – 27a
Job, you may remember, is made to suffer on a bet that God makes with Satan. Torture him enough, says Satan, and he will curse you. I bet not, says God. Satan loses. Satan, with God’s unspoken approval, takes from Job his children and all his possessions and then sends sores all over his body, leaving him sitting in the dust scratching at the sores with a pot shard. Yet Job refuses to do what his wife tells him, “Curse God and die.” Although he does not curse God, like a tragic hero he insists over and over, quite correctly, that God is unjust to him and to many others. Yet in the middle of this blaming of God, Job unexpectedly says the words that we hear today. They strongly suggest that justice will be done in an afterlife. This puzzles historians because the concept of a resurrection did not appear (or reappear) until three hundred years after Job was written. Christians, of course, love the passage because they see in the redeemer the figure of Christ. At the end of the story God does not appear as a redeemer, but as a Jewish god of Job’s time: he relents his harsh treatment and rewards Job with wealth beyond what he had before, new lands, new cattle, and new children. How, I ask, can new children make up for the deaths of older children?
2 Thessalonians 2: 1 – 5, 13 – 17
A sort of melancholy hangs over this passage. Paul expects soon to die, and he prepares his followers for death. Though it contains some beautiful, treasured lines, it reveals to me a Pauline doctrine that I find difficult. He addresses a congregation of followers whom he assumes are saved, already “chosen…as the first fruits for salvation,” or as the passage is rendered in some of the most ancient manuscripts, “already chosen from the beginning” for salvation. This is too exclusive for me. Members of God’s club are saved and everyone else is damned? For me Christ is, as we say in the Agnes Dei, the “lamb of God who taketh away the sins of the world.”
©Arthur H. Cash