Today’s Readings for the Daily Office
Psalm 87, Psalm 90 (Morning)
Psalm 136 (Evening)
1 Maccabees 2:1-28
Identity Issues In Today’s Daily Office
The first line of Shakespeare’s Hamlet, “Who goes there?” is spoken by sentinel Bernardo, on watch at Elsinore Castle in Denmark. This is, arguably, the primary question for humanity and for our relationship with God: who are we as we “go there” into the outrages perpetually facing our world. The identity of our personal and of our cultural and religious heritage is at issue in three of today’s passages.
In Psalm 87, in which praise is sung for Holy Mount, Gates of Zion, the Most High is said to “register” those identified as sharing the birthright of Zion. From various territories coming together, “…of Zion it shall be said, ‘This one and that one were born in it.’” The text suggests that those who have acted for the preservation of Zion are identified individually by God.
A second example of the historical fight for the identity of our religious heritage begins at 1 Macc. 2:7. Mattathias, priest of a priestly family, decries: “Alas, why was I born to see this, / the ruin of the holy city…?” A review of Ch.1 will establish the persecution that faithful Jews had been enduring under the Selucid King Antiochus III, whose motivation was to homogenize his kingdom’s population by forbidding Jewish traditions.
Mattathias’ question of “Why me?” will be answered by the story that follows: showing that, in fact, he was born to lead the people to defend their faith, to refuse the King’s command to abandon the Law of Moses and the covenants. From the perspective of Israel as God’s chosen people, it was his destiny to sustain the identify of Israel’s culture.
In Matt. 16, we have perhaps the most meaningful identity question of the New Testament. Jesus asks his disciples, “who do the people say that the Son of Man is?” (16:13). Elated by Peter’s recognition of him as “the Messiah, the Son of the Living God” (16:16), Jesus identifies Peter as the “rock” of his church.
Peter’s credibility, just enhanced, suffers in the following verses. In v. 21, Jesus explains how his destiny has been decided; it will involve disputes with the “elders and chief priests and scribes,” and it will end in his death after “great suffering.” To Peter’s response that seemingly reflects righteous indignation at Jesus’ destiny for such pain, the Lord lashes out at his newly uncovered “rock” of the church: “Get behind me, Satan! You are a stumbling block to me” (16:23).
Has Peter any possible idea of knowing that, as Jesus has accused him, his thinking is mired in earthly things? Where else might his thinking reside at this point? Before the Son of Man there was no way to recognize the truth of the brand-new paradox that to lose one’s life is now to save it. Before the resurrection, was such a paradox comprehensible? I am mystified at the Lord’s apparent anger at the mortal, Peter’s, total mortal reaction to what seemed Jesus’ choice of pain.
Finally, the line I am taking away from these inquiries is Jesus’ challenge of “what will [I] give in return for [my] life?” (Matt. 16:26)
Written by Pamela Mellott
Pamela holds a Ph.D. in English Renaissance Literature and the History of Medicine from the University of California, Riverside, granted 1998. She and husband, Kerby, have been appreciative members of St. Paul’s since September, 2016, when they retired to Fayetteville from Southern California.