The Bible Challenge 2015 – Day 64

Deuteronomy 1-3, Psalm 53, Luke 11
Is there is a Hitler in each one of us?

Deuteronomy 1-3
Psalm 53
Luke 11
Key Verses
Questions
Prayer

Deuteronomy 1-3

Deuteronomy is the fifth book of the Bible, and last book of the Pentateuch. It is a record of Moses’s last words before his death, recounted in chapter 34. The title Deuteronomy means “Second Law,” because, at the end of Israel’s desert wanderings, Moses gives the law again to a generation that was not alive forty years earlier when the law was first given by God to Moses on Mt. Sinai.

Most of the book consists of a series of speeches given by Moses. Deuteronomy is divided into three addresses: 1:1-4:43; 4:44-28:68; and 29-33, followed by Moses’ death. Chapters 1-4 recount some of the Israelites’ desert woes, including how they rebelled against Moses and Aaron and frequently grumbled. Moses also recalls the amazement that the 12 spies experienced after spotting the offspring of the Anakim, which shocked them as if they had seen Bigfoot! (Deut. 1:28)

Israel has been transformed in the 40 years that it took to reach the Promised Land. Whereas Moses first met with every party that had a dispute, he later selected 70 wise men from the Israelites to serve as judges on his behalf. Over time, he chose more wise leaders and installed them as commanders over groups of a thousand, one hundred, fifty and ten people. (Deut. 1:15) He learned to delegate well.

It took 38 years, however, until the Israelites crossed the Wadi-Zered, during which an entire generation of warriors died. (Deut. 2:14) Twice, we are told that the Israelites captured many towns and “utterly destroyed men, women, and children. We left not a single survivor.” (Deut. 2:34; 3:6) There are many portions of the Old Testament, which read like Holocaust chronicles. They remind us that no people on earth are immune from committing evil.

Dr. Elisabeth Kubler-Ross is widely recognized as one of the foremost authorities in the field of death and dying. Her first book, On Death and Dying, is considered a classic and remains the master text on the subject, and is required reading in most major medical and nursing schools and graduate schools of psychiatry and theology. In various interviews, Dr. Kubler-Ross described her strikingly powerful experience as a young woman visiting a concentration camp just after the liberation in 1945, an experience which changed the course of her life.

While walking through the Maidanek death camp, Dr. Kubler-Ross said, “I saw trainloads of children’s shoes. They were the shoes of the children who were sent to the gas chambers. I remember standing there wondering how we could kill each other, destroy so much… So I asked a woman who was standing next to me, who was the only member of her family to survive the death camp, ‘How can men and women, like you and I, kill hundreds and thousands of innocent children… It just didn’t compute in my brain.’ She said to me, ‘You too, are capable of doing that.’ I disagreed vehemently. I thought, “She is crazy. I don’t have a Hitler in me.”

“A few days later, I hitchhiked back to Switzerland, because I was very sick. I was near death. I never made it. They found me unconscious in a forest in Germany, with typhoid… I had no food in my stomach for three days and three nights. I suddenly realized in the midst of this hike, that if a small child would walk by me with a piece of bread in its hands, I would steal that piece of bread from that child’s hand. This was like an illumination in my head. I said, ‘Now I know what she means, that there is a Hitler in all of us.’ Depending on the circumstances, you can do horrible things, which you would never even consider when you have a full belly. That was the beginning of my journey,” said Dr. Kubler-Ross.

“Then I started thinking: if the Nazis were raised in Switzerland, they might have been different, and if I had been raised in Germany, I too could have been like them. Who was I to judge anyone? I realized that there is a Hitler in all of us, but if we seek out and find that Hitler and get rid of him, we can become a Mother Theresa. When I went back to Switzerland, I said I’m going to study medicine, and I’m going to understand why people, from beautiful, innocent, gorgeous children, turn into Nazi monsters.”

Chapter 3 ends with Moses atop Mount Pisgah overlooking Canaan. “O Lord God, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your might; what God in heaven and on earth can perform deeds and mighty acts like yours!” (Deut. 3:24) Moses asks God if he can enter the Promised Land, but the Lord became angry with Moses. “Enough from you,” God said, rebuking Moses. “Never speak to me of this matter again!” Everything we know about God in the Pentateuch is being filtered through Moses or another author of the Bible. We must take what we read with a grain of salt.

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Psalm 53

Ethicists are wise to note that without a belief in God or a higher power of some sort, all values are up for grabs. There is no Being to whom we are ultimately accountable other than ourselves. There is no judgment other than the courts and the judgment of those with whom we share relationship or community. Often this is not enough to counter our baser tendencies. The psalmist notes,

Fools say in their hearts, “There is no God.”
They are corrupt, they commit abominable acts;
there is no one who does good.
God looks down from heaven on humankind
to see if there are any who are wise,
who seek after God. (Ps. 53:1-2)

You and I are called to be those rare individuals who seek after God and who can be found behaving appropriately and compassionately when God searches. That is our high calling. We are fortunate to have God expect this of us, and it is also an obtainable goal with God’s grace. If, however, we succumb to pride and dismiss God as a hoax, there will be a price to pay.

For God will scatter the bones of the ungodly;
They will be put to shame, for God has rejected them. (Ps. 53:5)

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Luke 11

After witnessing Jesus’s ability to heal and perform miracles, the disciples watched as Jesus frequently withdrew and spend nights atop the Mount of Olives praying in caves hollowed out in the rock. Once after he had been praying, one of his disciples asked, “Lord, teach us to pray, as John taught his disciples.” (Luke 11:1) The disciples realized that there was a connection between Jesus’s incredible wisdom and his miracles, and his regular practice of spending time praying to God in silence and solitude. This was his power source. Jesus told the disciple, “When you pay, say:

Father, hallowed be your name.
Your kingdom come.
Give us each day our daily bread.
And forgive us our sins,
for we ourselves forgive everyone
indebted to us.
And bring us not to the time of trial.” (Luke 11:2-4)

This is, of course, what we have come to know as The Lord’s Prayer. It is used at every worship service of the Episcopal Church. It is one of the fundamental practices of Christianity to memorize and recite this prayer. It begins with “Abba,” the Aramaic word not for “Father,” but for “Daddy.” It is a child’s term, which conveys an intimate relationship. Jesus encourages each of us to prayer to God as our intimate daddy, who helped to create us and who loves and adores us.

The longer version of this prayer is found in Matthew 6:9-13. It is Matthew’s rendition of the Lord’s Prayer, which is used in worship. After addressing God as “daddy,” Matthew adds, “who art in heaven.” God is in the realm of being where there is only peace and joy. We call it heaven. We experience glimpses of this realm, whenever we bring our will into alignment with God’s will. Hence, Matthew has Jesus add, “Thy will be done, on earth as it is in heaven.” When our wills align with God’s will, we experience power and peace. Matthew also adds, “But deliver us from evil,” which Luke omits.

Jesus stresses the merits of persevering in prayer. If anyone says to you, “I prayed to God, and I never got an answer,” ask them, “How often did you pray to God?” Some people envision God as a cosmic bell boy, just waiting to be summoned for room service from our hotel room. But Jesus says, “Suppose one of you has a friend, and you go to him at midnight and say to him, ‘Friend, lend me three loaves of bread; for a friend of mine has arrived, and I have nothing to set before him.’” (Luke 11:5-6) It was customary for families to sleep together in one bed. If a family was asleep, and a neighbor asked the father for something at night, the father would have to awake the entire family to respond to his need.

Jesus notes that even if the friend will not get up and provide the three loaves because you need them in order to be a gracious host, “at least because of his persistence he will get up and give him whatever he needs.” (Luke 11:8) Persistence is vital for the spiritual life. If you are carrying a heavy burden, grieving or facing an illness or concerned for someone else suffering, don’t give up when praying to God. Persist in your requests for help. Lay out your concern and be quiet. Put yourself in a listening mode.

Express your hurt, worries, stress or pain. Do not repeat the same words or stories again and again, but vary your approach in what you ask for from God. As you continue to carry your concern to God and vary how you do so, God will shed light on what it is that is such a heavy concern for you. Jesus said,

So I say to you, Ask and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. (Luke 11:9-10)

Before this chapter concludes, Jesus will have infuriated the Pharisees, scribes and lawyers. One of the lawyers even said, “Teacher, when you say these things, you insult us too.” (Luke 11:45) If we clergy are not upsetting some people along the way, we probably are not doing our job. The role of a leader in any community or organization is not to say what is popular, but to speak the truth that needs to be heard.

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Key Verses

O Lord God, you have only begun to show your servant your greatness and your might; what God in heaven and on earth can perform deeds and mighty acts like yours! (Deut. 3:24)

So I say to you, Ask and it will be given you; search, and you will find; knock, and the door will be opened for you. For everyone who asks receives, and everyone who searches finds, and for everyone who knocks, the door will be opened. (Luke 11:9-10)

If you then, who are evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will the heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him! (Luke 11:13)

Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters. (Luke 11:23)

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Questions

Do you think that all people are capable of profound evil if put in terrible conditions or led by tyrannical leaders? Is there a potential Hitler in each one of us? Do you believe that God ever commands humans to commit atrocities? What is your prayer life like? Are you comfortable addressing God? Do you listen effectively when you prayer, or do you merely pour out your heart and dominate the conversation with God? Have you learned how to persist in prayer when you carry an important concern to God?

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Prayer

Gracious God, you have given us the gift of prayer, which is one of our greatest spiritual tools. Help us to learn the language of prayer, to become adept at hearing you speak in silence and solitude and to persist in our prayers until our wills are united with yours, and we experience union with you. In Jesus’s name we pray. Amen.

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© The Rev. Marek P. Zabriskie
Rector of St. Thomas Episcopal Church
Fort Washington, Pennsylvania