Reading Ramblings – February 24, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Seventh Sunday after the Epiphany – February 24, 2019

Texts: Genesis 45:3-15; Psalm 103:1-13; 1 Corinthians 15:21-26, 30-42; Luke 6:27-38

Context: The readings two weeks ago led us to consider that the Church consists of those God has called to faith. Last week’s readings led us to remember that the central message of the Church, the central fact it should point to, is the reality of the resurrection of Jesus of Nazareth from the dead – as He prophesied, and which fact authenticates his claim to be nothing less than the Son of God come to save us from our sins. This week’s readings lead us to consider a mark of the Church, which is a place where forgiveness is taken seriously. Worked at. Practiced at. Prayed for and about. Encouraged and exhorted. Some might say this is the hallmark of the Christian faith, the epitome of faith put into action.

Genesis 45:3-15That’s all easy for Joseph. God chose him specially. Of course he could forgive his brothers. But I’m not like him! We look for ways to distance ourselves from Joseph and his forgiveness. Hated by his brothers, nearly murdered by them, sold into foreign slavery where he spent years in prison for a crime he didn’t commit – his forgiveness here looks unreasonable, unearthly. But his forgiveness is grounded in an awareness of God at work in this world. It is a decision on Joseph’s part to trust that what his brothers actually did mean for evil, God actually used for good, and Joseph’s privilege is to see that and proclaim it. Forgiveness is not an emotional state but an act of the will, an act of deliberate faith to trust that God is at work in the world and can work good out of even the worst situations and intentions. It is not excusing or nullifying the evil that we are capable of, but an insistence that the grace and love of God can, will, and must be the last and final word of triumph over all such evil.

Psalm 103:1-13 – How can we cultivate a constant awareness of God’s goodness and forgiveness to us that should naturally spill over into goodness and forgiveness to others? This psalm offers a wonderful example! The psalmist calls us first and foremost to remember God’s goodness to us, personally. Our relationship with God should be grounded by a perception that whatever goodness and joy we have in our lives is ultimately from him. But before this, we should affirm that God has forgiven our sin. This is the fundamental healing that must come first before any other healing. It is the acknowledgment that my failure to live up to being the kind of person I think I should is not simply a private disappointment, but an echo of the affront my sin is to the God who created me. What I excuse as typical or common is in fact fatal, left untreated it is a rejection of God’s forgiveness in Christ. The fact that everyone struggles with sin is not an indication that sin is not serious. It is testimony to our dire condition, a condition so dire that we begin to accept it as normal or even healthy! As we consider God’s goodness to us individually, we should also remember his goodness to others, which we are privileged insight into through the Bible. If I don’t perceive God’s goodness personally in this specific moment, I can remember his past goodness to me and his goodness to others. What a beautiful psalm about the forgiveness of God that should strengthen our resolve to forgive others!

1 Corinthians 15:21-26, 30-42 – Paul continues his line of thought regarding the resurrection. Because Jesus has been raised from the dead, we can expect to likewise be raised from the dead, since in Jesus’ resurrection, death has been defeated. Jesus is the first fruits, and we in faith will likewise rise. Our own resurrection will wait until Jesus’ return and his final victory over all his enemies, including death. Immediately we want to know more. What sort of resurrection will it be? What sort of body will I have? Paul dismisses such speculation. God will determine what our resurrected body will be like. But we can be sure it will be an appropriate body. We won’t be turned into animals or plants or angels, but will be raised as human beings. Our bodies will be different, but in like kind. Similar, but different. Perfected. Not prone to the frailties and weaknesses of our current bodies either physically or in terms of sin. While the specifics are not ours to know, we can trust that God the Father who created us in the first place will raise us to a new life in Christ.

Luke 6:27-38 – Conventional wisdom says to like and love those who like and love you, and to kick to the curb anyone who doesn’t affirm and reinforce everything you enjoy or think is important. Life is too short for that kind of negativity is a frequent mantra on social media. But in Christ we are not to withhold love from anyone, even those most difficult to love and least deserving of it. We do this not because of them, but because of the One who first loves us. As Christ forgives us, we are not at liberty to withhold similar forgiveness and love from others. This doesn’t mean that we forego justice or allow abuse to proliferate. But it means that justice is administered in love, always desiring that the convicted would receive the grace and forgiveness of God regardless of the sentence they must serve here and now. We love our enemies not to condone evil but in the hopes that they would turn from their evil. We love our enemies not to earn points with God, but as an extension of the life of repentance and forgiveness we are called to lead. As we remember constantly our own need for forgiveness, we are led to see others in a more merciful light.

Some scholars interpret this section of Luke -as well as the beatitudes that precede it – as catechetical in nature. Jesus is teaching people what the Christian life is. It consists of a way of being (vs. 17-26) as well as doing (vs.27-36). Emotion is not enough – the Christian wills herself to act also. Early fragments of Christian liturgical materials from the 4th-5th centuries AD include prayers for those opposed to the worshiping community, including those who disagreed with them theologically or held non-orthodox doctrines.

Vs. 29-30 provide concrete examples of what a believer should do when faced with persecution. If someone has the ability to injure them and are acting out, the Christian is to submit themselves fully to that persecution. If someone is willing to strike them, they should allow them to strike them again. If someone is willing to take their outer garment that was necessary for survival on chilly nights, they should offer the under garment as well. This behavior is not rationale, but it is behavior that is anchored in the implicit assertion by Jesus here that people will persecute them. Make no mistake, Jesus is saying, if you think that following me is going to make you friends and win you acclaim, you are wrong. Following me will lead to persecution, so prepare yourselves for it. We should remember that Jesus is not asking us to do anything more – or less – than what He himself did during his arrest and eventual crucifixion.

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