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Part Two: Easter Jesus in old stories
More kings: Nothing is holy now.
It would have been great
if succeeding kings of
There was, in fact, a great show of religion in all the succeeding reigns. Solomon built a great temple to the Lord (and an even more magnificent palace for himself). As his kingdom grew in wealth, so did the extravagance of the sacrifices and other observances in the Lord’s name in the temple. But then Solomon also sponsored the worship of every other god of his many foreign wives. That was just good foreign relations, and Solomon’s foreign relations were very good. The royalty with its bureaucracy, the merchants, and the priests and other religious officials were awash in material wealth. All of this success, however, was paid for by the common people through taxes and slave labor. There was not much identification except by rich with rich and poor with poor.
Prophets like Amos, Hosea,
and Isaiah condemned the worship of foreign gods, but they had unkind words for
the sacrifices to
I hate and despise your feasts; I take no pleasure in your solemn festivals. I reject your sacrifices. Let me hear no more of your chanting, but rather let justice flow like water and integrity like an unfailing stream. (Amos 5:21)
was rampant in the Southern Kingdom as well. Here’s Hosea prophesying about the
same time as Amos: (Ephraim is another name for the Northern Kingdom and
What shall I do with you, O Ephraim? What shall I do with you, O Judah? Your love is like a morning cloud, like the dew that goes early away.… For I desire steadfast love and not sacrifice, the knowledge of God, rather than burnt offerings. (Hosea 6:4-6)
And Isaiah a little later:
What to me is the multitude of your sacrifices? … Bring no more vain offerings; … learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; defend the fatherless, plead for the widow.” (Isaiah 1:11, 13, 17)
The prophet’s message: If the “poor of Yahweh” are not holy enough to be treated justly, then nothing is holy.
Eventually God got what
seems to be his wish. The Israelite sacrificial system came crashing down,
first in the North and then in the South. In 722 BCE (Before the Common Era)
the Northern Kingdom was destroyed by
With no land of their own
Around these and around
new interpretations by prophets and priests trying to cope intellectually with
tough circumstances, a new phase of the people’s religion developed. Synagogue
worship, featuring a reading and an interpretation—the ancestor of the first
part of the Catholic Mass—replaced sacrifices in the
God relented. The Jews and their religion survived. Here’s how God justifies letting his people off, spoken by either Hosea in hope or a later editor after the fact, that is, after the Exile ended:
How could I give you up, Ephraim, or deliver you
Jesus gives us an interpretation of this passage in parables like the Lost Coin and the Lost Sheep. There’s nothing but rejoicing in the finding of the lost item, even though it costs the woman an exorbitant amount of energy, sweeping the whole house for one coin, or entails tremendous risk for the shepherd, who leaves 99 sheep behind. These are two more examples of Jesus’ weird story-telling art. But God is like that. A prophet in the Isaiah tradition but writing after the Exile and much later than the actual prophet Isaiah explains:
mother comforts her child, so I will comfort you; you shall be comforted
The Bible also says it’s God who rescues the Jews. God acts like the mother who forgives simply because she has to be who she is.
Thinking about the main point: God is always ready to forgive, to include even unsavory characters back into his family. Are we necessarily happy with that?