Wednesday, look up and see a flying scroll! I get a sort of a cartoon version when I close my eyes – blame a Google images graphics search. You recall from Noah’s Ark in Sunday School that a ‘cubit’ is a length from elbow to fingertip. Picture it unrolled, 30’ long and 15’ wide.
Don’t steal. Don’t swear falsely. Sound familiar? Remember another scroll, or perhaps a couple of stone tablets, with a similar message? Where and when was that? Now, it’s coming to your own house, and if you’re a thief or a liar, it will eat your house into nothing. This is making the political personal, eh?
Change visions to a woman in a basket. Lest you reduce iniquity to personal apetty morality, here’s a transpersonal entity, bigger than people and smaller than God. Our generation fairly challenges the gendered presentation of ‘Wickedness’ – and the argument will not end today or this year. This is not a ‘devil made me do it’ perched on my shoulder: put her on the big screen.
Put a heavy lead lid on the basket, keeping ‘Wickedness’ contained. Bring two more women onstage, with big wings like storks (huge wings, storks have). They fly off with the basket, to a space between heaven and earth, removing it from the land, and preparing a place for it in Shinar. For me, these two women are more powerful positive gendered images of transpersonal reality regulating or controlling and containing ‘Wickedness’.
Our generation, in our congregations, are morally childish, able at best to imagine the flying scroll as a threat to individual thieves and liars. Individualistic rule-based personal moralizing appears to be the limit of the religious sphere, and we are ambivalent about that. The vision of wider forces of iniquity is forgotten, only one generation after Reinhold Niebuhr’s ‘Moral Man in Immoral Society’ acknowledged that our institutions do our sinning for us (including our thievery and lying).
Zechariah 5 (NRSV)
1 Again I looked up and saw a flying scroll.
2And he said to me, ‘What do you see?’ I answered, ‘I see a flying scroll; its length is twenty cubits, and its width ten cubits.’
3Then he said to me, ‘This is the curse that goes out over the face of the whole land; for everyone who steals shall be cut off according to the writing on one side, and everyone who swears falsely* shall be cut off according to the writing on the other side.
4I have sent it out, says the LORD of hosts, and it shall enter the house of the thief, and the house of anyone who swears falsely by my name; and it shall abide in that house and consume it, both timber and stones.’
5 Then the angel who talked with me came forward and said to me, ‘Look up and see what this is that is coming out.’
6I said, ‘What is it?’ He said, ‘This is a basket* coming out.’ And he said, ‘This is their iniquity* in all the land.’
7Then a leaden cover was lifted, and there was a woman sitting in the basket!*
8And he said, ‘This is Wickedness.’ So he thrust her back into the basket,* and pressed the leaden weight down on its mouth
9Then I looked up and saw two women coming forward. The wind was in their wings; they had wings like the wings of a stork, and they lifted up the basket* between earth and sky.
10Then I said to the angel who talked with me, ‘Where are they taking the basket?’* 11He said to me, ‘To the land of Shinar, to build a house for it; and when this is prepared, they will set the basket* down there on its base.’