Reading Ramblings – September 15, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Fourteenth Sunday after Pentecost – September 15, 2019

Texts: Ezekiel 34:11-24; Psalm 119:169-176; 1 Timothy 1:(5-11)12-17; Luke 15:1-10

Context: This week’s theme seems to be that of restoring the people of God when they go astray. This does not mean going astray in terms of apostasy or denial of the faith, necessarily, but in correcting their understandings and practices when they are still people of God. Christians are prone to false understandings and practices that don’t take them outside of the faith, but are yet inappropriate or even harmful to their brothers and sisters within the faith. Ezekiel’s message is one of judgment among the sheep, who will still have one shepherd over them but some are abusing their brothers and sisters. Likewise the two starting parables in the Gospel lesson presume that the hearers are not sinners outside the people of God but are in fact the 99 sheep and the nine coins still in possession of the shepherd and the woman – both metaphors for God. Just because we have faith in Jesus does not mean there is not a continual need for pruning by the vinedresser (John 15).

Ezekiel 34:11-24 – Ezekiel has prophesied harsh words to the people of Judah (Chapter 33), to the shepherds of Judah (34:1-10), here to be understood as likely both political and religious leadership, kings, princes, priests, and prophets, and now to the people themselves. First there are reassuring words of how the Lord will regather his scattered flock no matter how far they have been taken or wandered astray. But then there are rebukes within the flock. God can and will hold accountable his people who are careless or selfish or greedy in their relationships with others of his people. Saving faith in Jesus Christ does not justify everything we do, and God expects us to take seriously the Commandments not only to love him but to love our neighbor. Only when God sends the perfect shepherd will such sinfulness cease and will true peace be possible for all of God’s people.

Psalm 119:169-176 – The psalmist cries to the Lord for wisdom and understanding. Already within the fold of faith, there is still more to learn, more guidance necessary. We meditate on the Word of God not as those who have already been perfected by it but as those who are still being shaped and pruned by it, our ways guided and adjusted continually through our lives. We may feel it enough that we are free from major sins, but the Word of God continues to shape us for perfection in eternity. We are always to give God praise that He is not content to leave us as we are, partially finished, but to continue working on and with and in and despite us until we reach perfection in the day of our Lord’s return.

1 Timothy 1:5-17 – Verses 5-12 are optional but I think they mesh well with the remainder of the readings. Paul needs Timothy to deal with a situation where there are people in the Church – Christians – who are teaching incorrect things. Timothy is to be strong in this – charging them, demanding of the that they stop these things, speculative theologies and theories that detract from the central message of Christ crucified. The point of demanding they cease such things is that they may better express love from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith. Their current teachings undermine these things, casting doubt and division instead of building up in love. These seeming simple things – not nearly as exciting as dubious teachings and philosophies and speculations in the faith – have been the source of misguided pride as people who really don’t know what they’re talking about desire to be recognized as teachers of others. This is dangerous folly. These are not non-Christians, but they are Christians who are mistaken in their faith and must be sternly warned against it for their own good and the good of the community. The Law is necessary first and foremost to restrain the sinful and guide them in their awareness of sin and need for a Savior. The Law can never be the means by which we save ourselves or one another, even when Paul is charging Timothy to call these erroneous Christians to account by the Law of Jesus Christ.

This may sound harsh, but it’s nothing less than what Jesus did to Paul himself. Jesus crushed Paul with the knowledge of his error and sinfulness as he sought to serve God, so that Paul might rightly receive the Son of God Jesus of Nazareth. Paul was changed wholly and completely. He wasn’t just warned about one aspect of his faith as he wants Timothy to do with these people in the church, he was shown how his entire understanding and relationship with God was flawed. Paul in humility subjected himself to this correction. He is grateful for the correction as it saved him from his error and allowed God to be honored and glorified by all who saw the change in him. So we should be grateful when we are shown the error of our ways!

Luke 15:1-10 – Presumably this passage is connected to the latter half of Luke 14, so that it is in the context of great crowds that part and allow the religious leaders of the day closer access to Jesus. But even as they listen to him, they discount his teachings because of his associations with sinful people. Surely a holy man would never allow himself to be contaminated by base sinners!

Jesus addresses these probably unvoiced criticisms head on. He has come to seek the lost, the overlooked, the forgotten, the neglected, the discarded. The implication is He did not come for those already following the Word of God (even if they are applying it improperly!). Rather, He has come for those the Pharisees and scribes have no interest in. They are secure in their own purity, and do not care whether the broken and sinful are healed and brought into the kingdom or not. So it is necessary for Jesus to do this, to extend grace and mercy where only judgment, condemnation and derision are received from the religious leadership.

We might wonder if the Pharisees are really in the Kingdom of God or not, but Jesus’ parables make it sound as though they are. They are like 99 sheep in a pasture, safe and sound and gathered together. They are like nine coins held in the nervous hand of a woman. Jesus has not come to find them, because they are already found. But He has come so that all might be included, so that the lost sheep is not left behind and so the lost coin might be found. Only when everyone who is to be in the Kingdom is safely home can there be a true and complete celebration.

Once again, the clear teaching here is that saving faith does not equate to perfect righteousness particularly towards one another. There is always the sinfulness that excludes passively if not actively, that grumbles when those we deem less deserving are given attention we think better spent on ourselves, like fat, sleek sheep who shove others aside.

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