Christian Whole Life

There are material dimensions to our life.  We are flesh, not just a spiritual soul.  We know about physical beauty and wealth.  If you are wealthy and the right race, does that prove that God loves you?  In reality, the physical world is morally neutral and can be an asset or a liability.  A disability can lead either to self-pity or courage.  Sex can either be an act of love or manipulation.  Wealth can be a power to help others or a path to greed.  We have to accept ourselves and who we are.  Thus, we have to let God shine through us.  We must bring our senses of touch, smell, and hearing into our faith.  We have to appreciate the beauty in the world around us.  Christians believe in an incarnation theology.  Jesus was truly in this world.  Do not fear the body, imagination or the aesthetic sense.  Your imagination uses myths and images to help you describe God, whether it be in music, art, or literature.

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The pestilence (Am 4:10-4:10)

“‘I sent among you

A pestilence,

After the manner

Of Egypt.

I killed

Your young men

With the sword.

I carried away

Your horses.

I made the stench

Of your camp go up

Into your nostrils.

Yet you did not

Return to me,’

Says Yahweh.”

Amos has another oracle of Yahweh that picked up on the same theme of devastation, but still with no return to Yahweh. He sent a pestilence, like the Egyptian plagues in Exodus, chapters 7-11. Yahweh killed their young men with the sword. He took away their horses. He made them smell the stink of their own camp. Despite all this, the northern kingdom Israelites refused to return to Yahweh.

Praise for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego (Dan 3:27-3:28)

“The satraps,

The prefects,

The governors,

The king’s counselors,

Gathered together.

They saw

That the fire

Had not had any power

Over the bodies

Of these men.

The hair

Of their heads

Was not singed.

Their tunics were

Not harmed.

Not even the smell of fire

Came from them.

King Nebuchadnezzar said.

‘Blessed be the God

Of Shadrach,

Of Meshach,

Of Abednego,

Who has sent

His angel!

He has delivered

His servants,

Who trusted in him.

They disobeyed

The king’s command.

They yielded up

Their bodies

Rather than serve,

Rather than worship,

Any god

Except their own God.’”

All the important people of the Babylonian kingdom were gathered together, including the satraps, the prefects, the governors, and the king’s counselors. They all marveled that the 3 men had survived the fire unscathed. Their hair was not even singed and their clothes were not harmed. They did not even smell like smoke from the fire. King Nebuchadnezzar then praised them and their God. He blessed God, just as they had done in the fiery furnace. The king noted that an angel of God had saved the 3 of them. They had trusted in their God by disobeying the king’s command. Then they suffering the consequences. They gave up their bodies, rather than serve and worship another god. They were truly blessed by their God.

Idol food offerings (Sir 30:18-30:20)

“Good things poured out

Upon a mouth that is closed

Are like offerings of food

Placed upon a grave.

Of what use to an idol

Is a sacrifice?

The idol can neither eat

Nor smell.

Thus this one

Is punished

By the Lord.

He sees

With his eyes.

He groans.

As a eunuch groans

When embracing a girl.

So is the person

Who does right

Under compulsion.”

Why would you bring food offerings to the idols? This would be like giving food to someone who does not open their mouth. This would be like bringing food to a grave site. What is the use of this sacrifice? However, the various biblical books often talked about food offerings for Yahweh at the Temple in Jerusalem. Nevertheless, these idols cannot eat or smell. Thus the Lord will punish those who worship at these idols. He sees with his eyes. He groans like a eunuch when he embraces a young woman. Eunuchs were men whose testicles were removed or not working. They were impotent so that they would not be excited about embracing a girl. Sirach has a condemnation of someone who does the right thing because he is forced to do so.

The beauty and aroma of wisdom (Sir 24:15-24:17)

“‘Like cassia,

Like camel’s thorn,

I gave forth perfume.

I spread my fragrance,

Like choice myrrh,

Like galbanum,

Like onycha,

Like stacte,

Like the odor of incense in the tabernacle.

Like a terebinth,

I spread out my branches.

My branches are glorious.

My branches are graceful.

Like the vine

I bud forth delights.

My blossoms become glorious fruit.

My blossoms become abundant fruit.”

Sirach continued with his personification of wisdom. Here wisdom compares herself to various fragrances and fruit trees. First, she uses the fragrances of cassia, a kind of cinnamon bark, and camel’s thorn, a sweet coffee smell. Then there are fragrances that came from the gum resins of trees that became the incense used in the Temple, myrrh, galbanum, onycha, and stacte. Thus wisdom smelt like the incense used in the Jerusalem Temple tabernacle. Just as the terebinth tree spread its branches, so too, wisdom seemed to have wide branches. She was also like vines and blossoms on a fruit tree. Wisdom was then beautiful to look at and wonderful to smell.

Trusting friendly neighbors (Sir 22:23-22:26)

“Gain the trust of your neighbor

In his poverty.

Thus you may rejoice with him

In his prosperity.

Stand by him

In time of his distress.

Thus you may share with him

In his inheritance.

One should not always despise

Restricted circumstances.

One should not admire

A rich person who is stupid.

The vapor of the furnace

Precedes the fire.

The smoke of the furnace

Precedes the fire.

Thus insults precede bloodshed.

I am not ashamed

To shelter a friend.

I will not hide from him.

But if harm should come to me

Because of him,

Whoever hears of it

Will beware of him.”

Friendship happens in good times as well as bad times. If you trust your neighbor in his poverty, you can rejoice with him in his prosperity. If you stand by him in his distress, you can share with him in his good times. On the other hand, you should not admire a rich stupid person or despise those in poverty. Where there is a smell and smoke, there surely will be a fire. So too, insults often precede bloodshed. So be careful! Sirach was not ashamed to shelter a friend. However, if any harm came to him because of that friend, this would be a reminder to others to be wary about what his friend had done. Even this friendship is a little shaky, so that you should always be on guard against false friends.

The futility of other gods (Ps 115:4-115:8)

“Their idols are silver and gold.

They are the work of human hands.

They have mouths,

But do not speak.

They have eyes,

But do not see.

They have ears,

But do not hear.

They have noses,

But do not smell.

They have hands,

But do not feel.

They have feet,

But do not walk.

They make no sound in their throat.

Those who make them are like them.

So are all who trust in them.”

The contrast of Yahweh with these gold and silver idols is stark. These idol gods are the works of human hands. They have mouths, eyes, ears, noses, hands, and feet. However, they cannot speak, hear, see, smell, feel, or walk. Thus these impotent idols could not utter any sound. The idols were like those who had made them. They were trusting in themselves. The implication here was that Yahweh, whose name was in the Temple, had the anthropomorphic ability to speak, hear, see, smell, feel, and walk among his people. Many of the Israelite prayers assume this ability as they often pray that Yahweh might speak, hear, and see them.