Malevojoy

The Book of Obadiah

By Chuck Griffin

The little prophetic book of Obadiah contains a description of an emotion so nasty that God promised to destroy those who felt it.

Oddly, as powerful an emotion as it is, we don’t have a word for it in English. The Germans call it schadenfreude. The Greeks call it epichairekakia.

It is the joy we sometimes feel when someone else experiences trouble. Usually, that someone else is a rival or enemy, and we are reminded in Obadiah that we can treat people quite close to us as rivals or enemies.

Obadiah, a prophet we know little about, described in 21 tight verses why God would destroy the Edomites. The Edomites, you may recall, were the descendants of Esau, twin brother of Jacob. Jacob, of course, was a progenitor of the Israelites.

In other words, the Israelites and the Edomites were cousins. They considered themselves the killing kind rather than the kissing kind, however, keeping alive some very old grudges going back to their twin forefathers.

While we don’t know the exact time frame for Obadiah, his prophecy clearly came after the Israelites had suffered terrible defeat and destruction. The Edomites were guilty not so much of committing violence, but of reveling in what they witnessed.

“You should not have gloated over your brother on the day of his misfortune; you should not have rejoiced over the people of Judah on the day of their ruin; you should not have boasted on the day of their distress,” God said to the Edomites through Obadiah.

The desire to grin at a rival’s pain is such a common emotion that I’m surprised we don’t have a word for it in English. Perhaps we need one; it’s hard to identify and repent from a sin when you cannot name it. “Malevojoy,” a fusion of “malevolence” and “joy,” might work.

We see such perverse emotion displayed again in the New Testament, as Jesus is hanging on the cross. The chief priests, scribes and elders watch their rival bleeding and dying and mock him, no doubt with grins on their faces.

“And the people stood by watching; but the leaders scoffed at him, saying, ‘He saved others; let him save himself if he is the Messiah of God, his chosen one!'” (Luke 23:35.)

The potential result of their malevojoy seems much different in the New Testament, however. We are told in Luke how Jesus dealt with such people before they so much as spoke, knowing full well the judgment his enemies might face one day. “Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing.”

Even at his death, Jesus felt only love and pity for his rivals.

Dear Lord, forgive us for the nameless sins we commit. Amen.

Scrubbed of Hypocrisy

By Chuck Griffin
LifeTalk Editor

Matthew 15:1-9 (NRSV)

Then Pharisees and scribes came to Jesus from Jerusalem and said, “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? For they do not wash their hands before they eat.” He answered them, “And why do you break the commandment of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, ‘Honor your father and your mother,’ and, ‘Whoever speaks evil of father or mother must surely die.’ But you say that whoever tells father or mother, ‘Whatever support you might have had from me is given to God,’ then that person need not honor the father. So, for the sake of your tradition, you make void the word of God. You hypocrites! Isaiah prophesied rightly about you when he said:

‘This people honors me with their lips,
    but their hearts are far from me;
in vain do they worship me,
    teaching human precepts as doctrines.’”

I had been wondering when this text would come up during the pandemic. I figured someone would have something to say about Jesus defending his disciples’ lack of handwashing.

Except this story is not really about handwashing, is it? Instead, it’s about empty rituals, and even worse, rituals used in a mean-spirited way.

The Pharisees and other Jews did have a long tradition of ritual washing before eating, although the act had little to do with modern hygiene. It’s questionable whether they even had soap as we think of soap today.

The ritual, rooted in God-given instructions to priests, was intended to put a holy act between any inadvertent unclean contact and the act of eating. For example, you never know when you might have brushed against a person or object considered unclean under the law.

As Jesus often did when he realized a strategic effort to discredit him was underway, he in a theological sense returned fire, revealing the hearts of those who piously invoked the handwashing tradition.

Specifically, he pointed out the Pharisees’ tendency to use the letter of the law they had defined to overcome the spirit of the law given by God. Jesus picked an ugly example: the ritual neglect of needy parents.

If you know your Ten Commandments, you know that caring for your mother and father is very important. These Jewish leaders, however, had designed a way to shield their assets by dedicating their property to the temple, even though they continued using their possessions for their own benefit. “Sorry Mom, sorry Dad—it’s all set aside for God’s work, can’t help you.”

Maybe Mom and Dad weren’t so great, having been neglectful or abusive. Who knows what could harden a child’s heart in such a way. None of that really goes to the point Jesus was making, however.

God in his greater wisdom ordained a system of relationships that holds godly society together. When a parent and a child are properly bound by unconditional love, or a man and a woman are joined in the marriage covenant, or a neighbor cares for a neighbor, we are seeing God’s system at work. We may not understand it in full, but we honor the fact that love undergirds what God has established.

Love also is why we should not let today’s Bible passage create in us a disdain for rituals. Ritual religion should be a powerful and beautiful part of our lives. Appropriately performed, rituals allow us to receive love from God, return love to God, and share God’s love with each other.

Let’s keep the good rituals, and if we run across one that fails to transmit love in one of these ways, let’s ditch it.

Lord, where we find ourselves working hard to avoid loving as we should, help us to pause and consider what you would have us do. Amen.