Reading Ramblings – November 17, 2019

Reading Ramblings

Date: Twenty-Third Sunday after Pentecost – November 17, 2019

Texts: Malachi 4:1-6; Psalm 98; 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13; Luke 21:5-36

Context: The second-to-last Sunday of the Church year, and we hear yet more warnings about the coming of our Lord and the importance of watching and waiting.

Malachi 4:1-6 – Scholars argue about whether or not Malachi is really the prophet’s name. There is no indicator of the author in the book itself, possibly. 1:1 is usually translated with Malachi as a proper name, but the Hebrew could be less specific and refer only to messenger. It was written no earlier than 516 BC, since it references the rebuilt temple. Some time has likely elapsed since this terminal date, as there appears to be lethargy on the part of priests and those carrying out duties associated with the temple. The particular verses reference the day of the Lord, when the Lord will destroy evil and wickedness once and for all. The sureness of that day should not be doubted, but neither should it be feared by God’s faithful. While it will be a day of destruction for those committed to evil, God’s people shall be as innocent – and safe – as young livestock, oblivious in some ways to the destruction wreaked on evildoers. This passage also foretells the return of Elijah – or more specifically an Elijah-figure – as a forerunner of the Lord’s coming. As Jesus indicates John the Baptist is this figure (Matthew 11:13-14), we should be anticipating our Lord’s arrival and celebrating here and now the victory which is so assuredly his on that day.

Psalm 98 – The psalm is one of victory, accenting the celebration appropriate to God’s people as they anticipate and experience his victory, a victory chiefly expressed in providing salvation. While this might be appropriate on any number of small scales (deliverance from the Egyptians in the Exodus, God’s preservation of our lives in the midst of danger) it is accomplished fully and finally in the victorious return of our Lord Jesus. That day will be one of joy and celebration for God’s people, manifest in joyful singing and songmaking. The celebration will include nature herself, as all creation breaks forth in joy and relief at the final return of our Lord (Romans 8:19-23).

2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 – One of the issues facing the young congregation in Thessalonica is that some of the converts to Christ were under the impression that because his return was expected soon, there was no need to trouble themselves with work. Free from the constraints of earning a living, they found uses for their time as busybodies. Paul addressed this in his first letter to them (1 Thessalonians 4:9-12, 5:12-15), but the issue has apparently not disappeared yet. Paul referred in his first letter to the hard work he and Silas and Timothy engaged in soas not to be a burden financially to their new converts, but now Paul points to their hard work as an example to the Thessalonians that idleness is not appropriate. Here he states it very clearly – if you aren’t willing to work, you shouldn’t expect to eat. This does not address hardship issues for people who can’t work or can’t find work, but for those who could be working but simply don’t want to, there is a very real problem needing to be fixed. In verse 12 Paul addresses these people directly – this is not just Paul’s opinion, but the name of Jesus Christ is invoked to indicate the serious nature of this admonition. Butt out of other people’s business and earn your living.

In verses 13-15 he addresses the issue of idleness to the congregation – those around these idle busybodies who no doubt are more than a bit frustrated by this point. First, he exhorts them not to let this situation dissuade them from doing good and showing love. This is important, as it’s easy for a bad experience in the past to dictate our future attitudes and behaviors. We are to struggle against this and continue to do good. What the congregation can and should do, however, is coordinate. Since it was popular to celebrate a lunch or agape feast after worship, it would be easy for these idle persons to take advantage of the community’s food. Or perhaps they were accustomed to accepting dinner invitations to various people’s homes, thereby being fed without working. Now, the congregation as a whole needs to be aware together of what is going on, and take action together. A coordinated effort. This person refuses to work. We are all aware of this now, as well as the reality that any future idleness is in direct contradiction to the command of Jesus Christ (v.12). As such, we won’t enable this person in their sin. We will not extend invitations to dinners or lunches anymore. We are not being rude or unkind, but trying to show love by prompting these persons to recognize the inappropriateness of their continued idleness, feel shame in it, repent of it, and change from it. Paul’s last admonition is crucial – these people are not your enemies. They are confused brothers and sisters in Christ, and they may in the future be stubbornly disobedient brethren. But continue to work with them in love. Deny them the options that allow them to remain without work so that they are forced to return to work.

Luke 21:5-36 – Jesus prophesies to his disciples about things to come, both at the personal level (v.16) and on a local level (vs.20-24) and on a creation-wide scale (vs.10-18, 25-36). The people of God are not promised an easy life. In fact, we are warned ahead of time we will face persecution from even some who are closest to us (v.16). The world hates us for holding fast to Christ. American Christians find this hard to believe, having been insulated for so long from the suffering so pervasive and consistent throughout the world and history.

Christians for centuries have scanned the horizons of current events, struggling to anticipate their Lord’s arrival in the headlines and catastrophes of their day. We are to be similarly watchful, never forgetting that our Lord is returning, and that the signs He gives are general, but adequate. It isn’t as though we can say to ourselves the world is at peace, there are no struggles or disasters, so clearly the Lord isn’t showing up any time soon. Rather, we are blessed that we should be in a constant state of readiness, so clearly does the world appear ripe for our Lord’s return! We may live or we may die, in peace or in warfare or persecution. But we should not fear for our true lives, hidden in Christ (Colossians 3:3). Those lives are secure in Christ (Luke 21:18-19).

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