Keep the Bible Open: Covenant Edition

Lest I be accused of cherry picking or quote mining, I have decided that for the most part, when I am going to look at the bible, I will take the readings from the lectionary of the Catholic Church™, Inc.  Now, I do have to be honest and say, that of course, I am still being selective since I am not commenting on the bible every day.  And week days have two readings and Sundays three.  But still, these are actually being read in thousands of Catholic churches so people must hear them.

I am actually drawing from Friday’s readings, I saw it Friday, but didn’t have time to write, so here it is a bit late.  The reading is from Hebrews, 8:6-13.

Brothers and sisters:
Now our high priest has obtained so much more excellent a ministry
as he is mediator of a better covenant,
enacted on better promises.

For if that first covenant had been faultless,
no place would have been sought for a second one.
But he finds fault with them and says:
Behold, the days are coming, says the Lord,
when I will conclude a new covenant with the house of
Israel and the house of Judah.
It will not be like the covenant I made with their fathers
the day I took them by the hand to lead
them forth from the land of Egypt;
for they did not stand by my covenant
and I ignored them, says the Lord.
But this is the covenant I will establish with the house of Israel
after those days, says the Lord:
I will put my laws in their minds
and I will write them upon their hearts.
I will be their God,
and they shall be my people.
And they shall not teach, each one his fellow citizen and kin, saying,
“Know the Lord,”
for all shall know me, from least to greatest.
For I will forgive their evildoing
and remember their sins no more.

When he speaks of a “new” covenant,
he declares the first one obsolete.
And what has become obsolete
and has grown old is close to disappearing.

I guess the first thing that needs to be said is that Hebrews is among the epistles that is widely held not to be written by Paul.  However, because it is not claimed to be written by Paul in the letter, it would not be totally accurate to call it a forgery.  Suffice to say that a homily (it is not really a letter) by an unknown person somehow became “gospel truth.”  But that is not very important right now.

In this homily we are being told that we are in for a treat, a “new covenant.”  That is a new promise from God to stay on our side.  Perhaps a little history lesson is in order.

Let’s start at the beginning.  God creates Adam and Eve, they screw up, he gets pissed and out they go from the garden of Eden with this ringing in their ears:

16 To the woman he said,

“I will greatly increase your pangs in childbearing;
    in pain you shall bring forth children,
yet your desire shall be for your husband,
    and he shall rule over you.”

17 And to the man[b] he said,

“Because you have listened to the voice of your wife,
    and have eaten of the tree
about which I commanded you,
    ‘You shall not eat of it,’
cursed is the ground because of you;
    in toil you shall eat of it all the days of your life;
18 thorns and thistles it shall bring forth for you;
    and you shall eat the plants of the field.
19 By the sweat of your face
    you shall eat bread
until you return to the ground,
    for out of it you were taken;
you are dust,
    and to dust you shall return.”

OK, so Paradise didn’t last very long.  But even before Adam’s bone’s can turn to dust, god get pissed again and decides to start over.  Only one guy was good enough for him, everyone else was gonna drown.  And so they did.  Afterwards god sorry for his snit fit, promised never to do it again.  This is referred to as a covenant.  Is that the first covenant Hebrews refers to?  Oh and here is what the best guy on earth was up to soon after the ark beached:

20 Noah, a man of the soil, was the first to plant a vineyard. 21 He drank some of the wine and became drunk, and he lay uncovered in his tent. 22 And Ham, the father of Canaan, saw the nakedness of his father, and told his two brothers outside. 23 Then Shem and Japheth took a garment, laid it on both their shoulders, and walked backward and covered the nakedness of their father; their faces were turned away, and they did not see their father’s nakedness.24 When Noah awoke from his wine and knew what his youngest son had done to him, 25 

This passage might seem a bit strange except that some scholars say that “saw the nakedness” is a euphemism for sex.  Yep, Noah and his son.  Ewwww.  No wonder Noah cursed him.  No word from god on this one.  What a way to start a covenant!

Later, god kept his promise not to destroy the world, but couldn’t resist picking off a few cities.  And in those cities he found one really good guy.  Lot.  After god zaps the cities, men, women, children and even animals, just Lot is left to pick up the pieces.  What happened?

30 Now Lot went up out of Zoar and settled in the hills with his two daughters, for he was afraid to stay in Zoar; so he lived in a cave with his two daughters.31 And the firstborn said to the younger, “Our father is old, and there is not a man on earth to come in to us after the manner of all the world. 32 Come, let us make our father drink wine, and we will lie with him, so that we may preserve offspring through our father.” 33 So they made their father drink wine that night; and the firstborn went in, and lay with her father; he did not know when she lay down or when she rose. 34 On the next day, the firstborn said to the younger, “Look, I lay last night with my father; let us make him drink wine tonight also; then you go in and lie with him, so that we may preserve offspring through our father.” 35 So they made their father drink wine that night also; and the younger rose, and lay with him; and he did not know when she lay down or when she rose. 36 Thus both the daughters of Lot became pregnant by their father. 37 The firstborn bore a son, and named him Moab; he is the ancestor of the Moabites to this day. 38 The younger also bore a son and named him Ben-ammi; he is the ancestor of the Ammonites to this day.

Again, ewww.  Lesson being, don’t be the last one standing after god blows shit up.

So far, no covenant we can trust yet.  Later god promises Abraham this:

15 The angel of the Lord called to Abraham a second time from heaven, 16 and said, “By myself I have sworn, says the Lord: Because you have done this, and have not withheld your son, your only son, 17 I will indeed bless you, and I will make your offspring as numerous as the stars of heaven and as the sand that is on the seashore. And your offspring shall possess the gate of their enemies,18 and by your offspring shall all the nations of the earth gain blessing for themselves, because you have obeyed my voice.”

I guess it depends on how you interpret this.  Israel was first split into to kingdoms and at the time of the Romans were pretty much scattered to the four winds.  It is pretty much agreed that most of the ethnic Jews in the world actually descend from a diaspora group in Turkey, they may not have had any Palestinian blood at all.  And what about the Holocaust?  Numerous as the stars?  I don’t think so.

Again, god makes a covenant with Moses, but again as above, it doesn’t go so well.  Conquered by the Assyrians, the Babylonians and finally the Romans, which ended their nationhood for almost 2000 years.  Some covenant.  Some “Chosen People.”

BUT this time, yes, this “second” time he is going to keep his promises.  Not gonna get pissed this time by our bad behavior, not going to destroy anything, not going to let anything bad happen.

Sure.  If you believe that, I got a bridge in Brooklyn I would like to have you take a look at.

Update

After writing this, I was considering editing it to compare god to a mafia boss.  When you look at his “covenants” they have the air of a protection racket.  “Nice store ya got here, hate to see anything bad happen to it.  But you know if you pay me some tribute, well we can make sure it stays that way.”  And then later when the owner forgets to kiss his ring, mysteriously the store burns to the ground.  And then there is the Godfather, ready with some money to lend, at interest, of course to help “recover.”  Until next time.

Serendipitously todays reading shows the Godfather back in action.  God was getting ready to whack Nineveh when they decided to pay tribute, so he called off the hit.

When God saw by their actions how they turned from their evil way,
he repented of the evil that he had threatened to do to them;
he did not carry it out.

 Thank you Godfather for not killing me today!

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