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Archive for January, 2010

Surely we are due some credit!

We have labored long, we have wept, we have worked our way to exhaustion and back, we have sacrificed leisure, friendships, even love for a most high calling. We asked very little and have only rarely complained. No one knows the price we have paid—and willingly—for the cause.

Then comes this damned Jesus-story about day-laborers hired at intervals by a landowner. The best and the brightest, the earliest risers, the young, ambitious and hungry have worked their butts off from earliest light to put bread on the table and pay a little ahead on Junior’s college tuition. (more…)

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It can be a violent swing to lurch from, say, Jesus’ apocalyptic words to the this-worldly cadence of the biblical Proverbs. ‘Whoever is not with me is against me … Do not think that I have come to bring peace, but a sword!’

These are the kairos-inflected call to decision that come from Jesus lips, though hardly the only tone that he struck.

Yet living in accordance with biblical tonalities requires also that one know how to bring grace and harmony to this earth, not only to decide viscerally to ally one’s self with Jesus’ incoming kingdom.

The proverbs wish one to learn to be a good neighbor:

(more…)

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The norm in the historiography of the other is to write him out of meaningful history. If it is inconvenient to demean one’s adversary—or if doing so requires too much energy—the obvious alternative is to ignore him.

So does it become possible to make the too trite claim that history is written by the victor. That mantra is more than a half-truth but falls short of the whole. It fails to reflect the complexity of who records and interprets the flow of lives and events and who does not. (more…)

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El estudio de Levítico en el siglo veinte no puede ser resumido sin destacar el nombre de Jacob Milgrom. Los escritos magisteriales de Milgrom dan evidencia de una amorosa imersión en la literatura sacerdotal.

Este erudito crítico logra mostrar en cada sílaba de su acogedora prosa un profundo respeto por los valores que el libro procurar transmitir. Es más, Milgrom considera los ritos sacerdotales como valores inscritos en ceremonia. No se puede comprender una ley levítica en su espléndido—o tedioso—aislamiento. Al contrario, es necesario ver cada pronuncamiento como un elemento en un sistema global que pretende llevar a Israel a la escuela para que ahí aprenda los valores que necesita para realizar una vida significante en la presencia de YHVH.

Si presentas una ofrenda de cereal cocida en la sartén, la ofrenda será de flor de harina sin levadura, amasada con aceite. La partirás en pedazos y le echarás aceite. Es una ofrenda de cereal.

Milgrom afirma que las palabras fallan. Por un lado, no penetran a la comprensión de las personas menos ‘letradas’. Por otro lado, es fácil olvidarlas. (more…)

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John the Baptist appears in the gospels as one of those existential purists who gives himself to few causes, but with all-consuming energy. Fearless before the people who trek to the Jordan to hear his fiery rants, he is equally fearless before a profligate pseudo-king. John cannot be bought. John gives the lie to cynical refrain that ‘every man has his price’. Perhaps most do, perhaps nearly all. Not John.

Yet even this passionate martyr-in-the-making must be conceded a space for his doubts. Imprisoned, John wonders not so much about the veracity of his own calling as about his quick identification of Jesus as the one whose emergence on the scene would signal the successful performance of the Baptist’s task.

When John heard in prison what Christ was doing, he sent his disciples to ask him, ‘Are you the one who was to come, or should we expect someone else?’ Jesus replied, ‘Go back and report to John what you hear and see: The blind receive sight, the lame walk, those who have leprosy are cured, the deaf hear, the dead are raised, and the good news is preached to the poor. Blessed is the man who does not fall away on account of me.’

John had correctly perceived that YHWH’s next move would prioritize the needy beyond all conventional proportion. He had discovered an antecedent, even in his mind a prediction, of his fiery calling in the vocabulary of the book called Isaiah. That prophetic vision had manifestly anticipated YHWH’s healing presence and both his announcement and enactment of transformative good news for those with empty hands and grumbling bellies. (more…)

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The Jesus whom Matthew presents to us sounds positively Johannine for an instant in Matthew’s eleventh chapter.

At that time Jesus said, ‘I praise you, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because you have hidden these things from the wise and learned, and revealed them to little children. Yes, Father, for this was your good pleasure. All things have been committed to me by my Father. No one knows the Son except the Father, and no one knows the Father except the Son and those to whom the Son chooses to reveal him. Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.’

These words come fast on the heels of Jesus’ denunciation of those who will criticize any of his Father’s messengers. They will find John the Baptist’s severe austerity equally as off-putting as Jesus’ party-going. Criticism becomes a convenient and effective tool in the hands of those who simply will not hear.

It is in the wake of this negative appraisal that Jesus’ words turn fondly and with a tone unaccustomed in the three ‘synoptic’ gospels towards the ‘little children’. (more…)

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El horno reclama su espacio en el mantenimiento del equilibrio entre Israel y su Dios cercano.

No puede faltar la participación de manos que saben no quemarse, dedos que han aprendido a ejercer su debida agilidad con fuego y calor que pueden destruir la piel de un ser humano o producir el pan que sustenta si vida.

Si presentas una ofrenda de cereal cocida al horno, ésta será de panes de flor de harina sin levadura, amasados con aceite, o de obleas sin levadura untadas con aceite. Si presentas una ofrenda de cereal cocida en la sartén, la ofrenda será de flor de harina sin levadura, amasada con aceite. La partirás en pedazos y le echarás aceite. Es una ofrenda de cereal.

Los sencillos elementos de la vida cotidiana, en su indicada combinación, agradan al Creador del pueblo en una forma que no se distingue tan radicalmente de su efecto entre la misma comunidad humana que sabe aprovechar de la lluvia y el sol que YHVH crea para sembrar, cosechar y hornear para que la vida continúe un día, una temporada, un año más.

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La cantidad de personajes involucradas en la transacción del holocausto es reducida. Resulta ser una operación sencilla y, en el mejor de los casos, íntima.

El texto que estipula las acciones requeridas es precisa y exacta, pero deja cierta duda con respecto al sujeto de ciertos verbos de acción. Por ejemplo, parece—pero no sin discutir—que el hombre que ofrecía el ganado en 1.3 y pone su mano sobre la cabeza del animal en 1.4 es también el sujeto que degolla el ganado en 1.5. De ser correcta, esta interpretación, el ofrendador asume una función activa en el rito. Su participación es parte de la transacción que pretende restaurar o mantener el equilibrio en su relación con YHVH.

Pero existe una participación anterior a este detalle. En por lo menos dos de los tres escenarios presentados en el primer capítulo de Levítico, el ofrendador trae un animal que él mismo crió. Su ofrenda no depende de la suerte de la calle ni la de la caza. Es más, es un macho sin defecto. Es decir, la ofrenda es costosa.

Lo mismo es cierto, aunque la dinámica económica es distinta, en el caso del pobre que ofrece un ave (1.14-17). El también asume el costo de adquirir el ave; presumiblemente, se lo compra a una tercera parte.

La sencillez o intimidad del rito en conjunto con la provenencia del animal ofrendado se combinan para amarrar al ofrendador y su familia en un proceso notablemente personal. El ofrendador ofrece lo suyo; él se identifica con el animal en su experiencia; él mismo lo degolla.

Solo el ofrendador, el animal, el sacerdote, y YHVH están presentes. En la legislación levítica, el papel del sacerdote se limita al instrumental.

Un participante no sobrevive la transacción. Uno se prepara para repetir su función instrumental con el ofrendador que sigue. YHVH, conforme al resultado que el texto nos invita a anticipar, abandona la distancia o inquietud que hubiese sentido para con el ofrendador. Éste se va con la paz que resulta a partir de la harmonía restaurada.

Se ha pagado un precio. Se ha realizado una transacción.

El deficit relacional ha sido correspondido.

La vida puede continuar.

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Jesus’ twelve disciples figure prominently in the construction of an alternative Israel, one in which belonging is a function of allegiance to Jesus himself. They are the new patriarchs, sires of a new nation whose procreative dynamic is not physical but spiritual. The twelve-apostles-as-patriarchs-of-New-Israel scheme claims not to supplant the legacy of the age-old nation, but rather to fulfill its deepest promise and most-desired ambitions.

He called his twelve disciples to him and gave them authority to drive out evil spirits and to heal every disease and sickness. These are the names of the twelve apostles: first, Simon (who is called Peter) and his brother Andrew; James son of Zebedee, and his brother John; Philip and Bartholomew; Thomas and Matthew the tax collector; James son of Alphaeus, and Thaddaeus; Simon the Zealot and Judas Iscariot, who betrayed him.

The tradition rolls these names over on its tongue. It savors the memories associated with each man, from notorious and ever-prominent Simon Peter to the little-known Thaddeus. Curiously, little is known of each of them except that Jesus called him. It is Jesus’ selective principle and initiative that alone explain the new-patriarchal identity that each of the twelve assumes. Nothing is said of their fitness or capacities. We know almost nothing of their personalities or promise.

Although one must resume that each was precious to Jesus and that a hard-won camaraderie bent their hearts and hands in time to make common cause and to share the intimacy that alone emerges from shared and sacrificial service, they are to us almost a mere cipher.

About most of them, we know just two things: Jesus called them and each, in his way, said ‘yes’.

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El sistema sacrificial afirma la importancia de lo creado, lo natural y lo cotidiano.

Si alguien presenta al SEÑOR una ofrenda de cereal, ésta será de flor de harina, sobre la cual pondrá aceite e incienso.

Cuando YHVH por medio de su agente Moisés establece las formas y las acciones por medio de la cuales los israelitas mantendrán una correcta relación con su deidad, él escoge materiales que nutren la vida en la diaria rutina del pueblo. Vaca, oveja, pájaro, grano … estos son los fundamentos de la vida. Se tocan, se elaboran, se cultivan, se crían. El ser humano entra en relación corporal con estos elementos de la vida. En su momento, él los consume. Sin ellos, la vida termina. Dadas cantidades adecuadas de ellos, el pueblo come y sobrevive un día más.

El sistema levítico digna lo fisico y lo cotidiano. El sistema valora los materiales y los ritmos de la vida normal, considerándolos adecuados para mediar la relación entre los israelitas y YHVH. No se acude a medios místicos ni exóticos. Se emplea lo creado y lo normal para fines que ponemos en riesgo cuando les atribuimos el adjetivo ‘religiosos’.

Cultivo mis matas. Cuando convierto su grano en harina, tal y como lo hicieron mis padres, mis abuelos, y los padres de mis abuelos, le doy de comer a mi familia y presento una porción a YHVH y una parte de ésta a los sacerdotes.

YHVH está cerca. Los medios de servirle, aún más.

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