Posts Tagged 'prophet'

For Nov. 17, 2013: Proper 28, Year C

The Reading            Isaiah 65:17-25

The prophet Isaiah speaks to Israelites who, after exile in Babylon, return to Jerusalem laid waste, the temple burned, and their lives in ruins. Isaiah attributed these disasters and more to the people’s disobedience. This Sunday’s reading, however, sings joyously of God’s gracious intentions for the people.

The Response            Canticle 9

“Cry aloud inhabitants of Zion, ring out your joy, for the great one in the midst of you is the Holy One of Israel.”

The Epistle            2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

While the Old Testament this Sunday prophesies grace, the epistle lays down the law. The author, who may or may not be Paul, is vexed with first-century believers who, instead of doing productive work, are ataktos peripatountos—less nearly ‘living in idleness’, as our translation has it, than ‘going around sowing disorder’.

The Gospel            Luke 21:5-19

“‘By your endurance you will gain your souls.’”


Further thoughts

As the beginning of Advent nears, the Proper 28 readings fittingly touch on order and irony.

The passage from Isaiah is a glowing depiction of orderliness and rightness. We deeply feel the unfairness of little children having to lose their parents and parents having to bury their children; we perceive wrongness in people dying too young to collect on their 401(k)s; in nature documentaries, we flinch when the defenseless little zebra calf falls to the ravening lion even as we concede that the lion is simply being who the lion is. Isaiah foresees a world in which things are put right, and it is tremendously appealing.

On the face of it, the epistle goes in a different direction. 2 Thessalonians 3:10—“Anyone unwilling to work should not eat”—is widely quoted out of context as a condemnation of the chronically lazy; it resonates well with the sense of enjoying what one has properly earned that makes Isaiah’s vision appealing, and the NRSV’s rendering of the Greek phrase ataktos peripatountos in 3:3 and 3:11 as ‘living in idleness’ contributes to that impression. The problem that the passage addresses, however, isn’t mere laziness: ataktos is ‘disorderly’ and peripatountos is literally ‘around-walking’ (as in English peripatetic), so this is active interference. The rest of 3:11 calls the ataktos believers not ergazomenous ‘working’ but periergazomenous; the play on words suggests the painful irony of busyness that is badly off target. In such a world, professing Christians toting prayer books toddle off for a comfortable round of gossip about people we just finished hugging and sharing Eucharist with. In this world budgets dictate slapdash subsoil containment from which toxins leach into drinking water; monuments to piety and/or greed soar and shine while those who have never caught an even break—and, too often, those damaged while serving our nation at war—squat in doorsteps and scrounge in dumpsters for food.

It is messy, this world of ours, and in today’s gospel Jesus fails to do much about it. He doesn’t promise to strengthen the Temple or eliminate war or make natural disasters stop, or to keep out of jail or the media or others’ gossip, nor to keep our families from splintering, nor to eradicate any of the predators of which this world is so full (including the two-footed ones, and sometimes that means us).

What he does promise is to give us the wisdom and the heart to stay in this messy world and speak his words and be his hands and feet, if we choose to listen and keep listening. For, in God’s richest irony, it is meeting the deepest fears and needs of God’s children around us with God’s love that is the real work of the Kingdom.

For Feb. 19, 2012: the last Sunday in Epiphany, Year B

2 Kings 2:1-12
Today’s reading looks back to the day that Elisha inherits the mantle of his adoptive father, the great prophet Elijah. Elisha requests a double share of Elijah’s spirit not out of greed but because the other prophets would know that was the true heir’s proper share. Elisha certainly needs it: serving as God’s voice to the kings of Israel and Judah, when it is likelier than not that they turn their backs on God, is challenging.
THE EPISTLE 2 Corinthians 4:3-6
In the second letter to the Corinthians, Paul confronts a difficult question: why do some people not accept the gospel? His answer here is that they are being kept in the dark by someone powerful who is not our God, for our God is in the business of giving light.

Further thoughts
A common thread in today’s three readings is the question of who is God’s heir, and how we know.
In 2 Kings, Elijah is being taken up to God without dying first, and he is leaving behind Elisha, who was no prophet until Elijah called him away from the plow. It would seem that at least some of the existing prophets are skeptical about Elisha’s qualifications for prophethood: this would explain their insistence on making Elijah’s passing their business. It is not for them to decide, however, nor even for Elijah to determine. But it pleases God to answer the question in grand style: Elisha receives Elijah’s mantle and the heir’s double portion of Elijah’s spirit, not to mention the vision of fire that has him gabbling like a little boy in sheer exaltation. And then he takes up Elijah’s mantle and sets about the work that is his inheritance.
Paul also has to deal with a divided religious community each part of which looks askance at the claims to salvation advanced by the other. The verses that precede this reading make it clear that Paul is speaking less of unbelievers outside the church altogether than of unbelievers who are (or claim to be) in it, who remain deeply suspicious of claims to salvation that fail to follow their preferred path. These unbelievers, Paul says, are blinded to the gospel. “The god of this world” could be Satan, of course, but it could also be a human perception that makes God too pettily human and too easily comprehended by human minds and in human words. His point, however, is that it is God’s pleasure to offer light and adoption to for both Jew and Greek—which is to say, to everyone—along with the duty and honor of becoming a slave to all for Jesus’ sake.
Finally, there is today’s gospel. Jesus’ preaching and wonder-working have gained him a reputation as a prophet, though even Peter and Andrew doubtless still see him primarily as the carpenter’s son. Then, on the mountain, they see Jesus transfigured in light beyond light and visited by the two great figures of Jewish history, topped off by the divine announcement that Jesus is God’s very own beloved son. Peter blurts out an offer to that, on the face of it, sounds inane and overwhelmed. Peter is onto something, though: on some level he senses that this astonishing sonship extends through Jesus to the rest of us—and so, for all of us, does the work of God that goes with it.

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