Bible Quizzes for Smart People LXVII
Bill Long 3/3/07
Quiz the Last
Though I am running out of space for quizzes (I normally write 66 or 67 essays on a "page"), I still have loads of Biblical verses to use in testing you. I will finish with several here, but I have decided I won't necessarily finish on an "up" note; I will let the moral and historical ambiguity of the Scriptures continue to speak as I try to listen to it. Let's begin on an upbeat note.
1. "And you shall hallow the fiftieth year and you shall proclaim liberty throughout the land to all its inhabitants. It shall be a jubilee for you..."
In the course of writing these quizzes, I learned a new word: jubilarian. A jubiliarian is "one who celebrates his or her jubilee; esp. in Roman Catholic Church, a priest, monke or nun who has been such for fifty years." Well, now you know the Bible passage from which this is derived. But this passage is significant for another reason; it enshrines a commitment to economic egalitarianism in Ancient Israel. Every 50 years ancestral land would be returned to its original owners. The reason for this practice is stated later in the chapter: "The land shall not be sold in perpetuity, for the land is mine; with me you are but aliens and tenants." You wonder how, with such a clear doctrine of divine ownership of property, we in the West became so enamored of John Locke and the sacredness of private property. In any case, we don't know whether Israel actually celebrated a jubilee in its ancient history; nevertheless, the words are striking and deeply evocative. Since the words about liberty have sunk so deeply into the American consciousness, why not have the words about non-permanent ownership of land do the same? Where are these verses?
2. "Do you want to be made well?"
The words are spoken by Jesus to a man who is infirm. He is about to heal the man, but first he asks him this question. You might think that this is rather irrelevant question, one that is simply a waste of breath. But the man whom Jesus is about to heal has been lying around paralyzed for 38 years. He has become pretty invested in his life as a paralytic. After hoping in the beginning possibly for a cure and being disappointed, you gradually lose hope. Then, after a while you begin not only to think that nothing can change but you might even be afraid of any change that might come. We get accustomed to our routines, our grooves, our ruts, and we don't like anyone to wrench us out of them. Actually, when Jesus asked this question of the paralytic, he didn't really give Jesus a "yes or no" answer. The man explained that he often tried to get down into the water (there was a story that once the water was stirred, the first lame person to make it into the water would be healed--this forms the background for the Negro Spiritual, "Wade in the water...the Lord's gonna trouble the water..."), but he never was there "first." I think Jesus took this answer as an indication that the man hadn't given up hope; that even after 38 years he still was desirous of being healed. Jesus' question skillfully opens the man's heart to the work of God in his midst. Perhaps we can hear that same question coming at us when we are bogged down and complaining in our lives. Do we really want things to be better? Do we want to be made well? So much is captured in this story. Where do you find it?
3. "It is hard for thee to kick against the pricks," KJV. The NRSV has something completely different. The preceding verse is, "I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting," and then there follows: "But get up and enter the city, and you will be told what you are to do."
So we have textual problems here (just as there were textual problems in the previous quotation; the KJV had the more expansive reading about troubling of the waters). The better version eliminates the words that have come down to us for hundreds of years as very useful words: "It hurts for thee to kick against the pricks." These words suggest a truism about life--that often we rush headlong down our own path, heedless of dangers or the way that we are affecting others. We think that if people get in our way, well, too bad for them! But this text, from the KJV, encourages us to think about whether our efforts to hurt others are not just hurting ourselves. I remember in some of my more difficult days in life that I wanted to hurt others; I felt by so doing that I would be noticed for who I was; that people would honor me properly; and that life would improve. I was self-deceived, however. I was "kicking against the pricks;" I was really hurting myself more than I was anyone else. I feel fortunate today to be in a better situation in life, but still the words of the KJV ring in my mind. Too bad the verse was probably never in the original manuscript. The words are almost too good to lose.
4. "Happy shall they be who take your little ones and dash them against the rock!"
Oops. We were thinking for a moment that the Bible is primarily a book about "good news." But this verse tells us how vitriolic and violent can be the spirit of the Old Testament (we will see that in the NT in the next example). This verse appears in a Psalm that is one of the most heart-wrenchingly wonderful in the Psalter--which makes the imprecation at the end all the more stunning. Make no mistake about it; the author had enemies, and he wanted the enemies to get their comeuppance in the strongest possible manner. I am not sure how to "explain" this verse, but I know it is there. Maybe you can do a better job than I. Where do you find it?
5. "for you suffered the same things from your own compatriots as they did from the Jews, who killed both the Lord Jesus and the prophets, and drove us out; they displease God and opposes everyone by hindering us from speaking to the Gentiles so that they may be saved. Thus they have constantly been filling up the measure of their sins; but God's wrath has overtaken them at last."
Whoa! This is from the New Testament, and it was written by an author who was pretty upset at the Jews. The earliest Christians, most of whom were Jews, were in a sort of battlezone with the Jewish synagogue at the time. Whenever a religion is breaking off from another there will be extreme animosity between the two expressions of faith. People who formerly were "one" with each other are now at each other's throats. The verses just quoted are an expression of this hostility. In our day we are committed to celebrating the "Judeo-Christian tradition," which means that Jews and Christians hold to certain basic shared values. But this really isn't the perspective of the New Testament. You have the spirit of antagonism betweeen synogogue and emergent church. The Romans may have killed Jesus, but no reader of the Gospels can deny that the Jews are characterized there, in general, as hostile to Jesus. I greatly honor Judaism and its wonderful Scriptures and mode of legal reasoning. Indeed, I look forward in the future to joining a Talmud study class when I live in a place where there are more Jews than my current home town. But we shouldn't be afraid to face the words of the Scriptures, especially if you are a person who wants to take the words of the Scriptures seriously. What do you do with this passage and where do you find it?