The Living Bird is Let Loose

 

“And the Lord spoke to Moses and Aaron, saying: “When a man has on the skin of his body a swelling, a scab, or a bright spot, and it becomes on the skin of his body like a leprous sore, then he shall be brought to Aaron the priest or to one of his sons the priests.  The priest shall examine the sore on the skin of the body; and if the hair on the sore has turned white, and the sore appears to be deeper than the skin of his body, it is a leprous sore.

The above quote is the opening to The Law Concerning Leprosy as recorded in Leviticus 13.

Leprosy: Chronic skin-disease characterized by ulcerous eruptions and successive desquainations of dead skin.

Jewish Encyclopedia

~~~

In Luke’s gospel account, chapter 17 vs. 11-19, we learn of ten lepers who plead for mercy (“Have pity on us!”) at a distance from the crowd. Keeping a distance from others was in keeping with the law proscribed in Leviticus 13. Any leper who was examined after several specified intervals and then declared unclean was isolated, sent to the outskirts of a city. The “unclean” would be required to yell “Unclean!” to any passersby.

Most of us know from a Sunday School lesson what happens in Luke’s gospel account: ten lepers are completely healed by Jesus. The ten are sent by Jesus, in keeping with the Law, to a priest for examination. Only one of the lepers returns to give thanks to Jesus.

The_Healing_of_Ten_Lepers_(Guérison_de_dix_lépreux)_-_James_Tissot_-_overall

The Healing of Ten Lepers by James Tissot

“Is it really the case that the only one who had the decency to give God the glory was this foreigner?”

The healing occurs as Jesus passes along the borderlands between Samaria and Galilee on his way to Jerusalem. The formerly leprous foreigner, and not the nine formerly leprous Israelites, is the one who returns to Jesus to give thanks. Like the Samaritan women who would gladly eat the crumbs under the master’s table, this foreigner knew that Israel’s God was different from all other gods. How different, this foreigner would come to find out. The difference would make his skin tingle.

Jesus made it clear to his disciples that his mission on earth, his vocation, was to his covenant people, the Jews. The Jews were the people God chose to bring light to the nations. But the Jews failed in their vocation. Rebellion, idolatry, stiff necked obstinacy, you name it. The people resisted their calling even after witnessing the extraordinary events of the Exodus – the Plagues, the Red sea dividing, the cloud by day, fire by night, manna on the ground in the morning and water flowing from a rock. The Covenant people resisted their calling even when given a tutor-personal words from God-to keep themselves from sin and sickness and to bring healing to the nations.

One leper returned to give, “God the glory.” Did those hearing Jesus words to this foreigner think about their vocation? Did God’s covenant people, Israel, presume a right to be an entitled people of God’s goodness. Were God’s people like the nine newly restored lepers with a focus on themselves? (Imagine a people focused on a right to healthcare.)

As one can see, the ten-leper account is an analog of the Israel’s history through the centuries. Leprosy is an analog for sin. Sin is that chronic soul-disease characterized by ulcerous eruptions of wickedness and successive offenses and sins of the walking dead.

Early on, Israel was told to eradicate idols from their lives. They were to be a separate and distinct people from the nations around them. When Israel became like other nations and chose to believe that God is not all that He was proclaimed to be, God sent prophets.

The prophet Isaiah, in the presence of God, declared as “the foundations of the thresholds trembled at the voice of him who called out, while the temple was filling with smoke. “Woe to me!” I cried. “I am ruined! For I am a man of unclean lips, and I live among a people of unclean lips, and my eyes have seen the King, the LORD Almighty.” -Isaiah 6:5

In God’s presence, Isaiah was made aware of his and Israel’s’ condition. Isaiah would prophecy against Israel-the Northern Kingdom. Corporately, Israel was rich and prosperous under the rule of Jereboam. But individually, Israel was very corrupt. Israel would be expelled from home. By 621 B.C. Israel would be conquered and carried into captivity by the Assyrians.

In exile, Israel pleaded for mercy (“Have pity on us!”).

 

Let’s return to the ten lepers. After healing them Jesus tells them, “Go show yourselves to the priests.”

The following quote is The Ritual for Cleansing Healed Lepers as recorded in Leviticus 14:

Then the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, “This shall be the law of the leper for the day of his cleansing: He shall be brought to the priest.  And the priest shall go out of the camp, and the priest shall examine him; and indeed, if the leprosy is healed in the leper, then the priest shall command to take for him who is to be cleansed two living and clean birds, cedar wood, scarlet, and hyssop.  And the priest shall command that one of the birds be killed in an earthen vessel over running water.  As for the living bird, he shall take it, the cedar wood and the scarlet and the hyssop, and dip them and the living bird in the blood of the bird that was killed over the running water.  And he shall sprinkle it seven times on him who is to be cleansed from the leprosy, and shall pronounce him clean, and shall let the living bird loose in the open field. He who is to be cleansed shall wash his clothes, shave off all his hair, and wash himself in water, that he may be clean. After that he shall come into the camp, and shall stay outside his tent seven days. But on the seventh day he shall shave all the hair off his head and his beard and his eyebrows—all his hair he shall shave off. He shall wash his clothes and wash his body in water, and he shall be clean…

“Then the priest shall offer the sin offering, and make atonement for him who is to be cleansed from his uncleanness. Afterward he shall kill the burnt offering. And the priest shall offer the burnt offering and the grain offering on the altar. So the priest shall make atonement for him, and he shall be clean.”

Do you see any analogs in the above passage? What is it about the two birds? One is killed and the other set free. And, what about that earthen vessel in which one bird is killed?

 

In Leviticus 13, the priests were required to check the skin of the individual who was observed to have an ulcerous skin condition. The priest did this over several prescribed intervals. Each time the priest would examine the individual to determine if…

“If, after the scales of leprosy have spread over nearly the whole body, a bleeding and scaleless ulcer (miḥyah) is observed, the subject is unclean. Similarly, if the scales, having covered almost the whole body, fall off in one place and uncover an old bleeding ulcer, the subject is unclean.”Jewish Encyclopedia

It is interesting to note that in the next verses following the account of the lepers, Luke 17 vs. 20-21, that Jesus refers to what is observed to answer the Pharisees question, a question which was on every Jew’s mind. He reminds them of what you can see with Kingdom eyes:

“The Pharisees asked Jesus when the kingdom of God was coming.

“God’s Kingdom,” replied Jesus isn’t the sort of thing you can watch for and see coming. People won’t say, ‘Look, here it is,’ or “Look, over there!” No: God’s kingdom is within your grasp.”

In giving the lepers a renewed humanity and by restoring them to their communities and Synagogues from exile Jesus was doing the work of the Kingdom on earth. He hoped the nine of Israel (and the crowd) would have grasped this. We are told that the only one to “give God the glory” was the foreigner. Do you think he kneeled and grasped Jesus’ feet in thanksgiving?

The Injustice of Ungratefulness

Setting 1:

The Healing of Ten Lepers by James Tissot

The Healing of Ten Lepers by James Tissot

You’re a leper, one of ten who live quarantined outside the city. You hear of a miracle worker. You leave your colony and head for the crowd.

The crowd seeing you parts quickly, gasping. No one wants to be near you. But you are focused to where Jesus is standing.

Before Jesus you plead for a mercy healing. “Teacher, please.” You are immediately healed. Utterly healed.

ten lepers

You are told “Go, show yourselves to the priests” so that they may examine you before you return to society and its center, the synagogue. You go and are subsequently released back into the world you had once known.

Nine of your healed friends return home for Thanksgiving dinner and to watch a soccer match in their newly restored bodies with their newly restored relationships. But you, you are too excited to eat or to drink or to sleep. You can’t do anything until you say “thank you” to the One who made your flesh whole.

You find Him and throw yourself before the Word made flesh. You pour out your words of thanksgiving at his feet.

You acknowledge your Indebtedness and the Other. You do this, not in kind, but in thought and deed.

“The external act is an expression of an inner assent: the other is acknowledged and confirmed in what is due him (Josef Pieper, The Four Cardinal Virtues, (emphasis added))

Acknowledging the other and confirming what they have done for you is the justice of Thanksgiving.

The nine lepers who decided to ignore the Other and who calculated no indebtedness committed the injustice of ungratefulness. Their temporal well-being was all that mattered.

Setting 2:

Joseph, the 11th of Jacob’s 12 sons and Rachel’s firstborn, received a beautiful garment from his father – a token of a father’s love. Jacob loved Joseph more than his other sons.  Joseph and the Coat of Many Colors

Jacob’s gift, perhaps, was in anticipation of the promise of the Abrahamic covenant being fulfilled through his blood line. But, the brothers didn’t care about the reason. Jacob’s gift to Joseph and none for them was for them “inequality.” Their jealousy turned into the injustice of ungratefulness.

Though the older brothers all anticipated some fraction of a vast inheritance they quickly became envious of Joseph, of this material gift and of his spiritual gifts – Joseph could interpret dreams. You could almost taste the bitterness of their words:

“Why did Joseph, that little punk, get that gift from dad? “I never got anything like that from dad. Every day we take care of father’s land and flocks and Joseph is lying about at home or sitting on dad’s knee. “We have to eat sheep jerky and stale bread. Joseph gets fresh bread, kabobs and dates…yaddah, yaddah, yaddah.”

Pop psychology, one of the enablers of the inequality mindset, would say that father Jacob was being unfair and creating inequality. And even though Jacob was disposed to favoring Joseph more than his other sons, Jacob had every right and the prerogative to give whatever he wanted to whomever he pleased. Joseph’s brothers, already harboring expectations of their father and now creating new expectations, created the inequality in their own minds.

Joseph’s brothers should have acknowledged Joseph and their father and rejoiced with them. Instead Joseph was handed over to slave traders by his envious brothers. And…the rest of the story is found in the book of Genesis.

What? Giving thanks for what someone else has received? Isn’t that rewarding injustice? No, it is not. In God’s economy there is justice in the positive acknowledgement of the other receiving something good without making demands of or being acknowledged by the giver in return. It is the world’s zero-sum thinking that always ends in the injustice of ungratefulness.

Setting #3:

We live in a time of unprecedented well-being. We profit from new age technology, advanced medicine, online material goods access and massive individual consumption (aka Black Friday). We are overwhelmed by the multitude of choices. And around us there are fewer people living in poverty than ever before. But you wouldn’t know any of this by the constant and ubiquitous griping and whining. Such injustice of ungratefulness, though, usually occurs when the world around the grumbler is flush with good things. Expectations skyrocket during booming times.

“It can be persuasively argued that the postmodern critique of justice, like the postmodern critique of rationality, draws its pathos from the self-stultifying tendency to generate false expectations and then harbor disappointments when they fail to be fulfilled. It places impossible demands on a notion of justice, despairs over them not being met, and then declares all general notions of justice impossible and undesirable.” – Mirosalv Volf, Exclusion and Embrace, A Theological Exploration of Identity, Otherness and Reconciliation

Postmodern “justice” seeks to deconstruct Justice, from blind universal “J” to individual “I” “j’s’ and then re-packages it back into universal “J” form.

“…the liberal notion of justice: all should respect all; none should respect those who do not respect all.” – Mirosalv Volf

Bottom line “Justice”, in essence, has thus become a universal political-speak term for “someone has something that I do not have.” “I demand a debt be created that owes me something!” “I don’t care how. I want it now.”  Willy Wonk I want it now

And so, we arrive at the Sanders Claus List:

“I want world economic justice now because someone in this world has more than I do.”

“I want environmental justice now so I can feel better about the world around me while I’m in my online virtual environment texting and tweeting.”

“I want health justice now because “health insurance must be a right because Europe has health insurance coverage and I don’t.”

I want rights justice now because someone gets to be something I am not.

I want education justice now because those before me have something I do not have – education and money.

I want wage justice now because I should not have to work and merit the money like most plebeians.

I want speech justice because the use of the gift of free speech by the ‘other’ affects my Disney world. And, even though my universal justice says that individual differences are to be accounted for, the ‘other’s’ words do not account for my individual justice and is therefore unjust.”

 

These days the demand side of life is ever promoted and never the supply side of Thanksgiving. Democratic “Demand” Socialism, whether of the European or Sanders or Clinton variety, is the golden cornucopia that the many have created and now worship in their quest for their self-serving “justice”.

Such an idol breeds contempt for the other and beyond that, the tyranny of materialism and the injustice of ungratefulness.

~~~

Thankful-leper

Jesus asked:

“Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Was no one found to return and give praise to God except this foreigner?”

Then he said to him:

“Rise and go; your faith has saved you.”

Thanks be to God.

 

 

Added:

For the Beauty of…Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving Day.  The eponym-iest day of the year for me. I have been brining in blessings all year.  It’s time to give thanks.

Of course, I love the smell of food that wafts into memories. I love seeing all my kids all at the same time. I love the murmur of kith and kin. And then I love to go back to bed and leave the dishes for the next day.

 Every year I wake up early in anticipation of the day’s preparation. This year was no different.  I woke at 3:00 am this morning: “There must be something I have to attend to,” I told myself under a warm and indifferent comforter.

 But beyond the expectancy of joy and beyond the fact that I will tell everyone my concerns about how the mashed potatoes will fare I do remember that the day is Thanksgiving Day and that I have plenty to give thanks for. PLENTY.

 We live in a world where everywhere I turn, it seems, there is a Scrooge~like spirit of ungratefulness ~ a blatant demand for one’s “fair share” and for one’s own painful memories to be performed “LIVE” over and over again.  This ungratefulness is put onto the front burner of one’s every thought, word and deed.  And, there it simmers and then smolders and then burns down into a burn~your~eyes~and~nose~charred~and~smoking bitterness. You don’t want to ingest ungratefulness no matter how it is cooked ~ rare, medium, well-done or burnt.

 Now, if I had to capture the essence of thanksgiving into words and let those words have a voice I would choose the hymn “For The Beauty of the Earth.”  This will be the hymn sung at my funeral, but I’m not waking up early for that.

   “For The Beauty of the Earth” captures only some of what I will say for eternity. 

 

Occupy Thanksgiving

Words you will never see on a OWS or union protest placard:  “THANK YOU”.

At the table this Thanksgiving there will be those who give thanks. There will also be those who pull up to the table demanding more. This latter group will echo Obama’s class warfare rhetoric griping about inequities and fairness.

There are those who do not give thanks. They will be waiting for their demands to be met. They will beg for “this, that or the other thing”, bemoaning their own situation as being intolerable.  For them there is never a thought of thanksgiving even when their most dire needs have been met.  I am reminded of the historical account of Jesus healing the Ten Lepers:

 “As he (Jesus) was going into a village, ten men who had leprosy met him. They stood at a distance and called out in a loud voice, “Jesus, Master, have pity on us!”

 When he saw them, he said, “Go, show yourselves to the priests.” And as they went, they were cleansed.

 One of them, when he saw he was healed, came back, praising God in a loud voice. He threw himself at Jesus’ feet and thanked him—and he was a Samaritan.

 Jesus asked, “Were not all ten cleansed? Where are the other nine? Has no one returned to give praise to God except this foreigner?” Then he said to him, “Rise and go; your faith has made you well.” (emphasis mine)

As this account reveals people will gladly seek benevolence from others but they will often do so out of the understanding that they deserve such gifts or benefits.  This is especially true if government has become the benefactor.  And because our government has deep pockets full of other people’s money these same people may certainly feel that they have “right”  to demand things from the government bureaucrats who have set themselves up as demi-gods of benevolence. These people believe that they “justly” deserve government beneficence because they feel that they are victims of society and also because the politicians they have put in office promised them “hope and change”; “hope and change” outcomes promised in terms of benefits on the barrel head in exchange for their vote.

Our U.S. Constitution provides for the protection of life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness. The 5th Amendment offers protections to our “life, liberty, or property,” noting we cannot be deprived of any of them without due process of law. Our Constitution does not guarantee the end results under that protection.

In effect, you are promised a fence around the rose garden but not the roses themselves. I learned from my Dutch grandfather that roses require sun, rain, good soil, fertilizing, protection from frost and rabbits and substantial pruning. It takes lots of time and energy, lots of individual attention to create an American Beauty rose. Yet, some people don’t want to work that hard or to be so dedicated.  So, they ask the government for the cut roses from someone else’s garden. They do this to make their lives just a little “nicer”, a little “richer”.  But, these cut roses quickly whither and dry up and the same people are back asking for more of them.

Dismissing the U.S. Constitution’s accumulated knowledge, wisdom and Judeo-Christian roots as outmoded and not rational for today’s society, social justice advocates demand equal outcomes.  They do so by demanding that others be deprived at any cost so that others will receive the benefits they so desire.  They do not care about another’s personal property, property such as an accumulated wealth. They care solely about their own accumulated gain. They see inequity not as a summit to climb but as a lot of work and effort that can be easily circumscribed with political action.

These advocates make their demands through willing politicians like Obama, Reid , Pelosi, Barney Frank (MA), Dick Durbin (IL), etc.  These politicians campaign with promises of changing the social landscape to favor their own version of utopian socialism. They usurp the black and white meaning of our U.S. Constitution by “intuitively” reading it so as to give the government the power to mandate social change via taxation, via the commerce clause and via the politician’s own self-interest of encapsulating power via re-election.

Speaking of self-interest, capitalism is a person who out of self-interest seeks to barter or sell a good or a service to another. The ‘other’, thinking he will benefit from the exchange, makes the trade-off. The exchange is made and both parties are happy, satisfying each their own self-interest.

Utopian socialism is a one-way exchange. It is taking from Peter to pay Paul. It is depriving Peter of what he has earned, grown, protected with his life, it is taking his savings and his wealth and then giving it to Paul for no other reason that Paul may need or want the same things. This is what is now being called “social justice” but it is not justice. It does not give Peter what is due him – the right to his property. It does not give Paul what is due him – the right to pursue happiness. This exchange is more accurately described as highway robbery.

These social justice advocates presume that the U.S. Constitution meant for them to have equal outcomes or perhaps even that the Constitution is outdated, archaic and without justice as they see it.  The social justice protestors cry out “Have pity on us, government, give us what we think we need and what we so badly want. You have the means. We gave you the place of authority.”

In 1993, during a lecture titled “The Meaning of “Justice””, Russell Kirk of the Heritage Foundation said:

“In this disordered age, when it seems as if the fountains of the great deep had been broken up, our urgent need is to restore a general understanding of the classical and Christian teaching about justice. Without just men and women, egoism and appetite bring down civilization.  Without strong administration of justice by the state, we all become so many Cains, every man’s hand against every other man’s. The humanitarian fancies himself zealous for the life impulse; in reality, he would surrender us to the death impulse.  The humanitarian’s visions issue from between the delusory gates of ivory; justice issues from between the gates of horn.”

 Today’s OWS protestors plead for pity from others using lawlessness.  They are being urged on to political violence by men who should know better. They also do not seek God for their daily bread. That would require humility on their part.

Just as ten lepers were healed and only one returned to give thanks, nine out of ten of us may likely think that we deserve such a “gift” and just walk away, pleased with ourselves having pled for pity and receiving something in return for our “effort”.  The exclusion of “Thank You” from the placards of men’s lives reveals the lifting up of “MY Rights” and the idolatrous nature behind most dissent and protest. The idea of justice, “to each his own”, is being  replaced with “feed me and then ask of me virtue.”

The Greatest Disparity in our society is between those who with contentment give thanks to God and their neighbor and those who, like leeches, demand ever more and more from government and their neighbor.

  It is time to Occupy Thanksgiving without asking for anything in return. And, let us give God what is due Him:

“Give thanks to the LORD, for he is good; his love endures forever.”   Psalm 107:1

“Thank You” Psalm

Now, a “Thank You” March
For a God beyond my means,
His pleasure to want me,
Mine to respond:

O Son of God, O Son of God.
Thank You, Thank You.

© Sally Paradise, 2011, All Rights Reserved

Days of Heaven

It is no mistake.  Thanksgiving is my favorite day of the year.  Thanksgiving Day, for me, ends one spiritual year and starts a new one.  This day, set aside for giving thanks, is the proper response to a life well-given from God.

As much as I relish Thanksgiving I have no taste for Christmas. At least not the Christmas that is now cradled in commercialism. Bah-humbug and then some!

As I sat in a restaurant last night waiting for an order to go, I heard, in the background, Christmas carols being played with elevator trance-like mantra-ese. O Little Town of Bethlehem has now become cool jazz! The angels of the big-screen bar TV announced the coming of a Savior – a Black Friday sale.  Outside the window I could see streets lined with wreaths, decorative lights and people scurrying about in cars, driving into the silent night of sales.  Bah-humbug, squared!

Christmas aside, my life, stuffed with good things, is something to give thanks for. Here is a short list of what I am grateful for …

The colorful and cuddly afghans my mother knitted for her grandkids.

 My father’s love for music and art and his leadership downloaded into me.

 A paycheck for the last four years.

 Another year of not receiving anything from the government except freedom.

 A God fearing mother and father who continue to serve the Lord.

 My parent’s marriage of 56+ years still going strong.

 My four children, each one healthy and strong

 A great church home; godly priests and friends

 The Common Book of Prayer

The Eucharist: the body and blood of my Lord

 A car to use, a bed to sleep in, food to eat.

 Recovery from a rear-end car accident.

 And, the Exceptional Country I live in:  freedom of speech, freedom of religion, freedom from dictatorship, freedom from religious oppression, freedom from strife, freedom to work and pay my way, freedom to become.

The good news of Jesus Christ, the Gospel:

God has dealt directly with evil (anti-creation, anti-love, destroyer of God’s good space, time and matter) thru the death and resurrection of His son.*

 Death, the final enemy, has been dealt a death blow by Jesus Christ:  “One short sleep past, we wake eternally; and death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.” John Donne*

 Tomorrow begins another year of my spiritual journey, a journey which will prayerfully take me past the road-stops of greed, self-pity and shallowness into the fully sated days of heaven.

*see N.T. Wright’s book, Evil and the Justice of God, IVP books, copyright 2006

For The Beauty of the Earth…