The Old Testament books of Kings and Chronicles provides details regarding the royal house of David and the rulers of David’s Kingdom.
And these texts can hardly be described as propaganda for the Israelite monarchy.
Rather than simply extolling the kings and queens of Israel, the books of Kings and Chronicles are brutally honest- most of the men and women who wielded power were corrupt, and even those who were according the standards of the world, successful in their governance of Israel, they were for the most part idolaters and unfaithful to God’s law.
As I have said before the biblical vision is a realistic vision. The Bible does not prettify reality so that we can be comforted and cajoled by nice illusions, but shows reality as it is- and the great and mighty of this world are not exempt from this realism.
Today’s scripture from the Book of Chronicles presents a rare moment when an Israelite king seemed to get things right. Josiah, hearing the word of the Lord, submits himself to that word as a servant, and effects a reform of Israelite culture, beginning with the worship of Israel.
There is an important principle at play in Josiah’s reforms- if you truly want to understand a culture, consider carefully the God that a people worships. Josiah knew that the false gods that the Israelites had come to worship had led the people into corruption and decadence- and their cultural life showed forth this truth.
But he also realized that one of the signs of the corruption of Israelite culture was that the people had forgotten who they were, who God had intended his people to be. This forgetting had not been unintentional, but was the result of a generation of rulers and priests who had deprived them of the truth, had kept hidden away the great resources of Israelite faith and presented a false worship to the people.
As it was then, so it is now.
Remember, the stories of the Old Testament are not proclaimed in our churches for the purpose of nostalgia or to inculcate in the faithful the importance of history. The stories of the Old Testament are given to us as a reference point for how to understand ourselves, how to understand the Church and our culture. These stories judge us and measure us, revealing not just the truth of the past, but the truth of the present.
Corruption in the Church is often times reduced to being an indolent or ineffectual clergy. This can be a sign of corruption, but it is more a symptom than a cause.
The causes of corruption in the Church are most often about idolatry, and as the scriptures describe today, emanate from an intentional forgetting of who God in Christ intends his Church to be and from false worship.
And there is the challenge for all of us.
Have we forgotten who God in Christ wants us to be? If we do not truly know who we are, how can we have the slightest idea what it is that Christ wants us to do? Have we become merely a sign of accommodation to the world or are we, as Christ is, a sign of contradiction that offers the world a different way.
And have we fallen into patterns of the false worship, elevating merely worldly concerns to a status that belongs properly to God. Have we been guilty of using the Church to prop up our ideological and political concerns?
If you want to understand a culture, look at that culture’s cult. Look at what a culture worships. What false prophets have caused us to forget who we are?
What do the gods of our culture- wealth, pleasure, power and honors- tell us about our culture?