Readings: 1 Samuel 1:4-20 or Daniel 12:1-3 * 1 Samuel 2:1-10 or Psalm 16 * Hebrews 10:11-14, (15-18), 19-25 * Mark 13:1-8

More of a question about this week’s readings than an outright reflection, and I welcome your comments. What do you make of the shame/honor themes that run throughout the Bible? Do you think that Western readers have trouble interpreting the text because we don’t live in the kinds of cultures the Bible was written in?

In this week’s readings, the 1 Samuel texts center on Hannah, who is humiliated by her rival, who constantly points out that God has closed her womb. Hannah’s song in 1 Samuel 2, a clear model for Mary’s song in the Gospel of Luke, exults in God’s action in reversing the places of the powerful and the downtrodden. She “derides her enemies” in her victory.

The Daniel 12 text, likely the first clear reference to bodily resurrection in the Old Testament, declares that some will be raised to everlasting life and some to—not eternal torment in hell, but “shame and everlasting contempt.” In Christian tradition, spending eternity in hell is the worst fate imaginable, but in the OT, telling your enemies off or putting them in their place seems to be ultimate retribution (e.g., Psalm 23’s “The Lord has prepared a table before me in the presence of my enemies.” Take that!).

This motif is picked up in this week’s Hebrews text, which declares that Christ is sitting at God’s right hand until his enemies are made his footstool. And of course, if you know your OT, you know that being hung from a tree was a sign of having been cursed—something that doubtless figures into the Gospel writers’ accounts of Jesus’ death on a cross. Jesus’ resurrection, then, places him in a line of those whom God has vindicated against those who thought to keep them “under their thumb” (or worse), from Hannah to the psalmists.

But what do you think? How are we supposed to talk about shame/honor in Western culture in understandable ways? Many of us today are concerned about not assuming that God is on anyone’s side, but Hannah, the psalmist, and certainly the writer of Hebrews, referring to Jesus, clearly declared that God was on their side. How do we discuss God’s ultimately setting things right without encouraging the triumphalism that seems so prevalent in much American religious life?

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