Sunday, October 27, 2019

Haggai 1.5b-2.6: Seals and Signets

How do you know it's real? How do you know that you've gotten the word straight from the mouth of the horse...or king...or God? One way is that the one in authority has a stamp, a seal, a signet. When a document bears the proper stamp, seal, or signet, the hearers/readers know that the contents are real and true.

Darius had a seal:
The Darius Seal. 6th century BCE - 5th century BCE. Chalcedony and prase. London: British Museum. 
The cylinder seal is rolled across (and pressed into) the clay or wax that sealed a document. Darius' official seal shows the ruler in a chariot driven by a charioteer and pulled by two horses (two heads are shown but only one body). A lion stands on its back feet facing the chariot, and a lion cub is face-down on the ground under the horses' hooves. Above the scene is a winged sun-disc form that is part  bearded male but also has wings and a tail. There is a ground line on which grow fruit-laden palm trees and vertical inscription panels. The inscriptions, written in Old Persian, Babylonian, and Elamite say: I (am) Darius, the king. The Babylonian translation says, "I [am]Darius, the king. The Babylonian adds "great" before the word king.

Darius was able to use this cylinder to stamp an impression that everyone understood as a sign that the accompanying message was authentic. Interestingly, later in Haggai 2, this idea of a means of identifying authentic messages comes up again. Haggai 2:20-23 says:
20 The word of the Lord came a second time to Haggai on the twenty-fourth day of the month: 21Speak to Zerubbabel, governor of Judah, saying, I am about to shake the heavens and the earth, 22and to overthrow the throne of kingdoms; I am about to destroy the strength of the kingdoms of the nations, and overthrow the chariots and their riders; and the horses and their riders shall fall, every one by the sword of a comrade. 23On that day, says the Lord of hosts, I will take you, O Zerubbabel my servant, son of Shealtiel, says the Lord, and make you like a signet ring; for I have chosen you, says the Lord of hosts.

Zerubbabel becomes God's signet ring. Not a stone cylinder but a living human.

Is this Zerubbabel's Temple? See this week's Art&Faith Matters on Facebook.
For additional thoughts on Haggai 1:5b-2:6, 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17, and Luke 20:27-38, click here

Sunday, October 20, 2019

Luke 19.1-10: Out on a Limb

When they saw it they all murmured. (Luke 19:7) Oh, those murmurers. Murmurers can make anyone (or everyone!) feel like they are out on a limb.

Zacchaeus was literally out on a limb. Unable to see Jesus, he climbed a tree. By end of the story, Zacchaeus hadn't just seen Jesus, he had spent time with Jesus, had hosted Jesus in his home. But people had murmured about Zacchaeus, the head tax collector.

Jesus went out on a limb inviting himself to anyone's home, much less the home of the chief tax collector. "Today I'm going to your house, Zacchaeus" and Zacchaeus climbed down from the tree and walked home with Jesus. But people murmured about Jesus, who ate with sinners.

They murmured about Jesus. They murmured about Zacchaeus. Some people may have even murmured about the sculpture shown here. The piece has all the right elements: two men and a tree, with one man in the tree. We expect to see those elements. You may have noticed that the artist went out on a limb by dressing neither man in "Bible clothes." The carver, John Mack Walker, chose to set Bible stories in 1950s Appalachia (the USA mountain south). In this piece Jesus and Zacchaeus both wear suit-style coats and sturdy work shoes. Light reflects off Zacchaeus' bald head as he looks down at Jesus looking up at him. You can imagine the murmurings when people see both a savior and a tax collector dressed like them.

The murmurers didn't change Jesus' mind or Zacchaeus' mind. But Jesus changed Zacchaeus' heart. Zacchaeus found a new way to live, and Jesus sought and saved one more lost soul. Going out on a limb worked out for both of them.

(Above) John Mack Walker. Invitation to Zacchaeus. 1979. Walnut 30.5" x 12" x 12".

For thoughts on both Luke 19 and Habakkuk 1, click here.
For additional thoughts on Habakkuk 1, see Art&Faith Matters on Facebook.

Sunday, October 13, 2019

Joel 2.23-32: Olive Oil and Grasshoppers

I will repay you, God says through the prophet Joel. I will repay you for the crops destroyed by the locusts or eaten by the grasshopper (Joel 2:23-32). Instead of bare fields eaten by insects, there will be vats of wine and olive oil. There will be plenty to eat, and God's spirit will be poured out on all people.
Vincent Van Gogh. Olive Trees.  1889. Nelson-Atkins Museum of Art. Kansas City, MO. 
Vincent Van Gogh's painting "Olive Trees" shows olive trees in full leaf against a brilliant blue sky. The coolness of the painting is further enhanced by the blue shadows cast by the trees. The ground is a greenish-gray mixed with white. This is a time of plenty. This is the time of repayment. But what about the grasshoppers? How are they "repaid" for the destruction they left in their wake?

Oddly, this painting has a statement about that as well. In 2017 the Nelson-Atkins Museum undertook a close examination of the painting as part of research about fugitive paint colors (those colors that fade over time and change what the artist intended). The examination yielded questions about a red paint that Van Gogh used. But it also yielded the revelation that since Van Gogh sat outside with his paints and canvas, this painting has been the final resting place of...a grasshopper.
A paleo-entomologist determined that the grasshopper was already dead when it found its way to the canvas (there are no signs of struggle in the surrounding paint). But here, in the shade of these full olive trees, this particular grasshopper has been repaid. For all time.

To see the embedded grasshopper and read more about the painting, click here.
For thoughts on Luke 18:9-14, click here.

Sunday, October 6, 2019

Jeremiah 31.27-34: There's Nothing Good About Sour Grapes

No longer will one generation suffer for what their ancestors did. In the days that are surely coming, self-responsibility is the name of the game. If your teeth are on edge it's because YOU ate sour grapes (Jeremiah 31:27-34) not because one of your ancestors did. That seems fair.

But another cultural take on sour grapes has to do with not eating the grapes. Aesop's fable about the fox and the grapes gives us the contemporary meaning of "sour grapes." In the fable, the fox sees a bunch of beautiful grapes hanging from a vine that is intertwined with tree branches. The grapes look delicious, so the fox jumps to grab the bunch in his mouth. He wasn't even close. So he stepped back, ran toward the tree and leaped at the last minute. Still nothing. A third attempt. No grapes. So the fox sat and looked again at the bunch. He walked away from the tree and the grapes saying (in paraphrase), "You know, they are probably sour anyway." It's easy to despise what you can't get. That's the moral of the fable.
The Fox and the Grapes. Watercolor. For the artist's Etsy shop, click here.
So is it getting the sour grapes that sets teeth on edge? Or is it not getting the grapes that sets your teeth on edge? Either way, there doesn't seem to be anything good about sour grapes. 

For thoughts on Jeremiah 31:31-34, click here.
For thoughts on Luke 18:1-8, click here.