Friday, December 10, 2004

Ne timeas, Maria.

The question of God and nations is ultimately the question of power: who gets to wield it?

The history of the Hebrews as portrayed in the Hebrew scriptures, is fundamentally about power coming from God, and no one else. The Hebrews are enslaved in Egypt and led out of Egypt not because God is vengeful, but because their treatment is unjust. (And yes, God "hardens the heart" of Pharoah to prove God's power, but the fundamental issue of our relationship to power remains).

Once they were established as a nation, they had judges to settle matters, not to wield power. The desire of the people for a king is disputed by God, because the power then would flow into human hands. God is not jealous of human rulers, but knows what problems will come. The problems start with Saul, and continue with David. Finally, the power is so corrupted that Jeremiah tells the king, who has forgotten where the power comes from: "Though your cedar is so splendid, does that prove you a king? Think of your father; he at and drank, and all was well with him. He upheld the cause of the lowly and poor; then all was well. Does not this show he knew me?"

Yes; and the kings who didn't, lost the whole nation in the Babylonian Exile. Then they returned, and tried to re-establish Israel; and Rome came calling. Finally, any dream of a nation ended in 70 A.D. when, according to Josephus, the streets of Jerusalem ran red with blood, and the Jewish diaspora became a permanent fact of life. The notion of a nation of God went from a nation-state, to a group of people, connected across time, but not necessarily organized in one place.

The emphasis of the revelation shifted from the preservation of the nation, to the preservation of the faith. And the test of faithfulness turned from wielding authority in the world, to living by wisdom. And the reality of power became clear: there is no power without resistance.

Ne timeas, Maria, Gabriel says to Mary. Do not be afraid. Zechariah is, and is silenced for his disrespect. Mary is not, and sings her song of the fall of nations as her blessing. The Magnificat is an amzingly subersive song; perhaps that's why its hardly mentioned in most Protestant worship. but it isn't about wielding authority. It's about removing resistance. It's about how there is no power without resistance. It's about what power really is.

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