Sunday, January 15, 2017

Sanctity of Life Sunday

Sanctity of Life Sunday is usually the Sunday closest to January 22nd, the day in 1973 that the US Supreme Court handed down the Roe v. Wade decision that made abortion legal in all nine months of pregnancy. This year it is on the actual anniversary and this place holds special significance because Jane Roe (Norma McCorvey) and District Attorney Henry Wade were from Dallas. The landmark case that changed America originated right here.

Abortion is still the leading cause of death in the United States. We have things to give thanks for (declining numbers of abortions and an increasingly pro-life outlook among young people), but there is still much work to be done. And our concern is not just for the unborn and for their mothers, but also for the forgotten and marginalized members of our society—the poor, the elderly and disabled, prisoners on death row, and those wrestling with suicide.

S. Francis Parish has participated for years in the local March for Life, in offerings for Pro-Life ministries, and in training and equipping young women who make the choice to keep and raise the child to make positive life choices and improve their life skills. I am humbled to be a part of a parish with this commitment.

As a church, we are committed to standing for and with those who are most vulnerable in our society. This commitment is reflected in the founding documents of the province: “God, and not man, is the creator of human life. The unjustified taking of life is sinful. Therefore, all members and clergy are called to promote and respect the sanctity of every human life from conception to natural death.” (Anglican Church in North America - Constitution and Canons, Title II, Canon 8, Section 3).

Let us pray especially for changed hearts, for healing for all who have been involved in abortion or other end of life situations, and for a renewed appreciation of the value and respect for human life that is fitting for human beings created in the image of God.

Monday, January 02, 2017

Hosanna to the Son of David

This Christmastide, Ive been reading from Raymond Brown's monumental work The Birth of Messiah. In the second appendix (pg 505ff), he considers the issue of the Davidic descent of Jesus.

Brown notes that the majority of scholars think that the claim that Jesus is descended from the house of David is historically reliable. But there is also many who argue that the claim is a theologoumenon (a historicized theological assertion). The argument goes: "the Christian community believed that Jesus had fulfilled Israel's hopes; prominent among those hopes was the expectation of a Messiah, and so the traditional title 'Messiah' was given to Jesus; but in Jewish thought, the Messiah was pictured as having Davidic descent; consequently Jesus was described as 'Son of David'; and eventually a Davidic genealogy was fashioned for him" (pg 505). Those who argue this point to the example of Zadok the high priest, who rose to power but (it would seem) had to invent the pedigree in 1 Chronicles 6:1-8 that gave him the authority to exercise that priesthood.

Brown is not convinced. Like the majority of scholars, he finds the idea that Jesus' Davidic claim is historical to be more believable that the alternative. Some of the support he offers is intriguing.

1. Relatives of Jesus were known in the primitive Church. If the family was not Davidic, why would anyone have given credit to the claim? and why would they have gone along with it?

2. Why did Jesus' enemies never raise a protest to this Davidic claim if it was historically questionable? Brown explains: "One would expect to find traces of a polemic, especially on the part of the Pharisees, denying Jesus' Davidic status as falsified. But, while there are Jewish attacks on Jewish legitimacy, there is no polemic against his Davidic descent as such" (pg 507).

That brings to mind another aspect that Brown does not mention, which is that while we find frequent attack upon Jesus' origin with claims that Mary was raped or had an affair, no one seems to claim that Mary and Joseph just had premarital sex and weren't careful about pregnancy before the marriage was (at least ceremonially) consummated.

That Joseph was Jesus' natural father would seem to be the natural argument to make, for someone arguing against any supernatural element in his conception. The fact that no one was making that argument is because the whole purpose of the attack was to undermine Jesus' family claim to be the Messiah (anointed) Son of David. If Joseph was the natural father, the Davidic bloodline is sure and his Messianic claim solidified; the attack would be undermined.

3. Brown also points out that it has been claimed that St. Simeon of Jerusalem, son of Clopas and cousin of the Lord Jesus, was martyred more because he was a Davidid, not so much because he was a Christian. Brown notes that Rome was concerned local uprisings and power grabs, and thus about Davidic claims. "Hegesippus is cited to the effect that, after the capture of Jerusalem in 70, Vespasian issued an order that the descendants of David should be ferreted out, so that no member of the royal house should be left among the Jews" (pg 508).

4. Another interesting detail I had overlooked is the parallel expectation among the Jews of Qumran was of a kind of parallel priestly messiah from the tribe of Levi along with the political kingly messiah from the tribe of Judah, which is kind of what we got with John the Baptist and Jesus.

5. Lastly, Brown notes that evidence for the Davidid claim is early, first showing up in Romans 1:3 (written c. 58) and Paul here is simply quoting an older creedal formula. Would Paul have done so if there was any question about the Davidid claim? Brown explains: "To a man with Paul's training as a Pharisee, the Davidic ancestry of the Messiah would be a question of paramount importance, especially in the period before his conversion when he was seeking arguments to refute the followers of Jesus. Paul, who twice insists on his own Benjaminite descent (Rom 11:1; Philip 3:5), would scarcely have been disinterested in the Davidic descent of Jesus" (pg 508).

Brown sums up his appendix on the issue by stating, "The New Testament evidence that Jesus really was a Davidid outweighs, in my opinion, doubts to the contrary" (pg 510).