Posts Tagged 'judgment'

For Aug. 18, 2013: Proper 15, Year C

The Reading            Isaiah 5:1-7

Today’s passage from Isaiah begins as a love song but rapidly turns bitter. Everything possible has been done to assure that the vineyard would produce a sweet, good vintage. Instead, the vineyard yields fruit that stinks: not justice (miṣpat in Hebrew) but spillage (miṣpaḥ) of blood, and not righteousness (tsedeqah) but a cry (tseʕeqah). As Isaiah explains, the errant vineyard will be laid waste—and it stands for God’s people.

The Response            Psalm 80:1-2, 8-18

“Turn now, O God of hosts…; behold and tend this vine; preserve what your right hand has planted.”

The Epistle            Hebrews 11:29-12:2

Today’s reading from the book of Hebrews continues last week’s discussion. The towering figures of the Old Testament, and those who underwent bitter torment, are held up as examples of faith to follow—and yet, we are told, they had to wait for the fulfillment of the promises in Jesus.

The Gospel            Luke 12:49-56

“‘I have a baptism with which to be baptized, and what stress I am under until it is completed!’”

 

Further thoughts

Today’s readings induce squirms. The reading from Isaiah gives us God’s forceful renunciation and even repudiation of Israel: this squares uncomfortably with our sense of God as abounding in mercy. The Psalm, for its part, begs for God’s intervening, up to and including the annihilation rather than the redemption of others. The reading from Hebrews holds up as heroes the likes of Rahab the Canaanite whore and assorted practitioners of ethnic cleansing, Old Testament-style, and brings up that vexed word “perfect”. To top it all off, Jesus’ words as transmitted by Luke show us the Son of God and Prince of Peace as a fomenter of interfamilial strife; little wonder that preachers tend not to preach on the gospel this Sunday.

I wonder if the messages might be mixed on purpose, and, as the last three verses of the gospel suggest, much turns on how we interpret them. When bad things happen to me, should I not at least consider the possibility that my bad choices had something to do with it—but should I not also entertain the possibility that it is not be about me at all? When my foes come to the bad end that the Psalm requests, perhaps it is their wickedness, but might it be not about them at all, and have I any right to my barely suppressed snicker at their comeuppance? How am I to understand this word “perfect” in Hebrews when I know in my marrow that I am nowhere close, and how shall I manage not to make the goal of perfection a burden to those around me? What of the fact that even closely related people can and do disagree violently on how or whether to live life in Jesus? Does my belief entitle me to push the divisions however I can? Does it license me to press tracts and testimony on all comers at all times? If I don’t press tracts at all, am I simply trying to keep a peace that can’t be kept?

Is it even possible to have a faith that amounts to anything worthwhile without squirming?

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For Nov. 25, 2012: Christ the King/The Reign of Christ, Year B

The Reading            Daniel 7:9-10, 13-14

In 165 BC, the very existence of Judaism was threatened. The Book of Daniel, written in response, contains an early example of apocalypse, or writing about the end times. Today’s reading tells a vision of a judgment scene presided over by a dazzling Ancient One—the Ancient of Days, in older translations. The court gives a grant of everlasting kingship and glory to someone like a human being. Listen for echoes of this in the second reading.

The Response            Psalm 93

The Epistle            Revelation 1:4b-8

The reading from Daniel related a vision of awesome judgment and the commissioning of one like a human being as eternal king. The book of Revelation, written at the end of the first century AD, is both a letter and another apocalypse. Today’s reading is from the beginning of the book; it sounds a theme like that in Daniel, but now the “one like a human being” is named—as Jesus Christ who loves us.

The Gospel            John 18:33-37

 

Further thoughts

On Christ the King Sunday, we celebrate both the end of the Pentecost season and the dominion of Jesus Christ over (as the book of Daniel puts it) “all peoples, nations, and languages”: this formulaic phrase is clearly intended to include absolutely everybody, whether by association, birth, or culture.  The book of Daniel foresees one like a human being to whom this dominion—this power—is given; we Christians naturally assume that Jesus the Son of Man is intended. The reading from Revelation names the one who comes in the clouds as Jesus but otherwise paints a similar picture: Jesus is coming in glory and judgment and, crucially, power. Revelation specifies that on his account all the tribes will wail, and that makes sense given what we think we know of the way power works.

In the gospel, however, the picture is different. Jesus who was and is and is to come stands before the local representative of the great Roman Empire. Pilate, like the rest of us, knows what powerlessness looks like and he knows what power looks like—but Jesus looks like… well, Jesus: if an ordinary man under accusation, then remarkably unshaken before the Roman who can quite easily order him crucified; if a king, then disturbingly unconcerned with the familiar trappings and prerogatives of power.

So just what kind of king is this, anyway?

The kind of king who attends to the despised and broken-hearted. The kind of king who performs astonishing healings and forbids the word to spread. The kind of king who declines to be stampeded by society into condemning obviously guilty women. The kind of king who washes his inferiors’ feet. The kind of king who undertakes to die to save the very people who are out to kill him and yet whom not even death can vanquish.

And if Jesus so breaks the mold when it comes to kingship, what must it mean for our place in his kingdom that he calls us not subjects but brothers and sisters and partners in bringing God’s love to the world?

For Feb. 5, 2012: Presentation in the Temple, Year B

The Reading            Malachi 3:1-4

The book of Malachi is addressed to Jews in post-exile Jerusalem who believe God has abandoned them. The Lord is sending his malaki—his messenger—and the judgment to follow will be like being melted in the flames of a blast furnace or like being scoured clean with strong lye soap, though at the end judgment will lead to vindication.

 

The Epistle            Hebrews 2:14-18

Where the reading from the book of Malachi depicted God’s messenger as judge and purifier, the version in the letter to the Hebrews sounds different: Jesus comes to take on our humanity so he can pay the price of our sins.

 

Further thoughts

During Advent we look forward to the Nativity: we know on some level that Jesus is God come among us, but what we see and reach out to is a sweet little baby born in difficult circumstances.

In Epiphany, the focus shifts: we begin to look into this baby’s future, and ours.

Malachi gives us part of that: the Lord who is to come will bring judgment, and it will be not be pretty. Even the people who were born to serve in the Temple—the offspring of the tribe of Levi—have fallen short of God’s standards and must be purified. The process will be searing and caustic, and we will be ashamed.

The book of Hebrews gives us another parts: the Lord who is and is to come brings judgment, but with it mercy and absolution—though at the cost of his own death by torture, and at the cost of our own recognition of our need for his death.

The Gospel gives us further pieces. Grief is one of them. The grief will be public and personal, abstract and concrete. Simeon foresees the falling of many and a sword piercing Mary’s own heart: what mother is supposed to have to witness the death of her son, and who among us would wish our inner thoughts all to be revealed?

But there is also anticipation. The helpless baby—a child presented at the Temple would be forty days old, of an age to hold his head up and possibly to begin to find his own tiny thumb with his mouth on purpose—will not remain a baby for long. The parents will teach him to walk and to function in this world, and their secret parental hope that their boy is something special will be fulfilled in spectacular fashion. And, once grown, the Man of Sorrows who dies for our sins will still and always also be the laughing Jesus who takes irrepressible delight in all the created order and in each of us, his billions of brothers and sisters, who shows us the way from judgment and grief through mercy to joy we cannot even imagine.