The previous post ended on a false note. It is not strictly true that rabbis and pastors and Jews and Christians in general no longer have the power of the keys. They only wish they didn’t.
The power to kill and to save go hand in hand today as they always have. Every doctor knows it. Every police officer knows it. Every honest human being knows it. Every rabbi, every pastor knows it, even if we sometimes prefer to imagine ourselves as being powerless.
Even if we remake God into our own weak image in order to placate our fears, exorcise our demons, and justify our cowardice.
Then reality sets in, unless we are completely inane, and we realize we have the power to kill and to save, whether we like it or not.
Try as we might to take a ship to Tarshish, the gifts and calling of God are irrevocable. Salvation and judgment continue to be filtered through human beings, some of whom know themselves to be under a divine charge.
Elisha tarnishes himself by cursing the children who mocked him. Rabbi Jochanan knew this, which is why he comments:
ורבי יוחנן אמר
ראה שלא היתה בהן לחלוחית של מצוה
ודלמא בזרעייהו ניהוה הוה
[Elisha] saw that the lifeblood of the Imperative [a term for Torah] was not in them,
but why would there not be in their offspring? (Talmud Bavli, Sotah 46b)
Jochanan’s honest question was not shared by some of his peers, as the passage in the Talmud in which his words are recorded makes clear. Many exegetes, both Jewish and Christian, have looked for ways to excuse Elisha’s curse. Excuse my suspicion, but who are they protecting?
Peter tarnishes himself by his role in the death of Ananias and Sapphira (for the narrative, see the preceding post). He could have interceded for them, as Moses interceded time and again for the people of Israel, and prevailed. But Peter does not. He might have prayed, as did the one who would be his Savior, “forgive them, for they know not what they do.” But he did not.
Not that anyone except a fool would claim to be morally superior to Elisha or Peter. We live in a different world, but there is more killing, not less, for which we are co-responsible. It’s just that we don’t wait for the Spirit of God to come upon us to do it. That’s too hit-and-miss. That’s hardly efficient.
We send an unmanned drone from afar to spy our enemy and then we let loose with a bunker-busting bomb from high altitude. If a few innocents are killed in the process, what the hay.1
We tarnish ourselves in the process. At least I feel tarnished. This is our version of binding (not forgiving) or loosing (forgiving) the sins of others. The power of the keys. We pursue our enemies implacably in Iraq and Afghanistan. But we are tolerant and accepting of genocidal murderers who rule in Sudan and Zimbabwe. We forgive them 70 x 7. They are not our enemies. So we love them.
If a ruthless despot detains one of our own, we intervene, as we did in the case of Laura Ling. As for North Koreans under the same despot’s boot: let them starve. Let them die. Once again, this is our version of binding (not forgiving) and loosing (forgiving) the sins of others.
The Scriptures, if we hold them up carefully in front of our faces, are a mirror. If you do not see a reflection of yourself in Elisha and Peter at your best, fully equipped by the Spirit of God and in full pursuit of your calling if you are a believer, then I consider you a morally untrustworthy human being.
I realize, however, that we don’t read the Scriptures for the sole purpose of finding out that Elisha and Peter are simul iustus et peccator, that is, simultaneously in the right and sometimes even doing the right but also lacking something, messing up even big time. We read it to attain full confidence that, as Paul put it, where sin abounds, grace abounds even more. There, precisely there.
1 I realize, of course, that when the Obama administration recently sent an unmanned drone to take out Baitullah Mehsud, we were simply following Jesus. We all remember the passage, “When Jesus’ disciples saw this, they said, ‘Lord, do you want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” He turned around and praised them and said, ‘You are the light of the world. Light the night sky with fire from heaven. You are the salt of the earth. Salt the fields of our enemies forever and ever.’”
Doug Magnum queries David’s proposal that Elijah’s curse and the bear’s meal are coincidental. Go here.