Reading Ramblings – November 23, 2014

Date:  Christ the King Sunday —November 23, 2014

Texts: Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24; 1 Corinthians 15:20-28; Psalm 95:1-7a; Matthew 25:31-46

Context:  Christ the King Sunday is the last Sunday of the liturgical church year.  Next Sunday, November 30, is the first day of the new liturgical church year.  I’ve opted to end this liturgical year as we began it, with the 3-year Revised Common Lectionary readings (as further revised by the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod for reasons nobody has yet to explain to me).  The emphasis of this Sunday is Jesus ultimate glory and victory.  What He began in obscurity and accomplished in ignominy will be concluded in exaltation.   As the people  of the Old Testament looked forward to God answering his promise to Eve of a deliverer, so we as New Testament people look forward to God answering his promise of Jesus’ return, and learn from the Old Testament that God can be trusted to fulfill his promise!

Ezekiel 34:11-16, 20-24 — The first ten verses of Ezekiel 34 are an indictment against the shepherds, the overseers of God’s chosen people Israel.  They are not doing their job.  They are seeking their own comfort and enrichment at the expense of those they are to be watching out for.  So God will strike and scatter the shepherds.  But there will be a time when God gathers his scattered flock.  The implication is that there will be a time of suffering before the coming of God’s promised, Good Shepherd, the descendant of David (v.23).  David is already dead when this prophesy is given, so the reference to David is a reference to one of his descendants.

What should God’s people expect as we await the return of this Good Shepherd?  That there will be those who are lost.  Those who stray.  Those who are injured—sometimes by the people of God!  Those who are weak—sometimes because the people of God have not cared for them!   And all those who have grown strong at the expense of God’s people will stand under his judgment.

Verses 20-24 make it clear that this is not simply an indictment against those outside of God’s people, who can be expected to abuse God’s children, but against those who are of the same flock, and who ought to know better.

1 Corinthians 15:20-28— This is a critical passage in 1 Corinthians.  In part, because it contains reference to what is almost universally acknowledged as one of the oldest Christian creedal statements (vs.3-8).  For those who like the idea of Jesus without the resurrection, or God without Jesus, Paul makes it clear that our hope in God is through our hope in Christ, and that our hope in Christ is manifest and secured in his actual resurrection as the hope for our own bodily resurrection from the dead.  Christianity boldly asserts that we will live again—bodily, and that the resurrection of Jesus is proof of this.

Psalm 95:1-7a— Many of you may read these words and hear a song that was made from them some years back.  This seems appropriate given the beautiful expression of praise they contain.  We give thanks to God first and foremost and always for who He is and for what He has already done.  Everything that we hope from him, whether temporal relief from some affliction or trouble, or eternal life and hope in him is based upon what He has revealed of himself in human history and affairs thus far.  This song is a beautiful expression of our posture of praise and anticipation of our Savior’s return in glory!

 

Matthew 25:31-46— Part of the glory of our Lord’s return will be the final, unfailing, and uncompromising delineation of good and evil.  While this should in some respect fill us with terror for those who appear to be firmly in the camp of the goats, it should also fill us with hope and joy.  Evil will finally be judged and banished.  No where else to hide, no means of mitigating or softening or avoiding the righteous verdict of God against evil, beginning with the chief perpetrator, Satan, and extending to all those—spiritual and human—who have fallen under his spell of destruction.

This passage can be confusing in that it appears to equate good works with salvation.  Arguably a better interpretation of this passage is that faith is not present where there are no good works.  The works need not be impressive on the scale of Mother Teresa, but to expect that where there is no compassion, no consideration, no empathy, no tangible concern for another human being, to expect that in such a person love of God in Jesus Christ holds sway is unthinkable.  Faith without works is dead, James declares, and  Jesus affirms that here.

But since this is not about the good works themselves but the faith that prompts them, we must also be cautious not to blindly assume that good works in and of themselves are a sign of saving faith, or that anyone who does enough good things will be saved.  This parable does not deal with those subtleties of the heart.  It deals strictly with one obvious distinction between those in Christ and those outside of Christ.  It is not the only distinction, but it is the one highlighted here.

This is in keeping with Jesus’ teaching of the previous chapter and a half.  He is preaching about the end times and the impossibility of knowing the day and hour.  As such, we are to occupy ourselves in the things that are demonstrative of our love of God—namely love of neighbor.  To put off the love of neighbor with the assumption that there will plenty of time to become more loving and kind and considerate later on is a dangerous revelation of true lack of faith and gratitude for what God the Father has done in Jesus the Christ.  We do not put off for some future date the love of neighbor that should rightly flow from our love of God here and now, today.  Efforts to do this may find that at this imagined later hour, we no longer feel the need of such love of neighbor, having effectively lost sight of whatever love of God we once had.

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