I.Theme – Celebrating the People of God
"Peaceable Kingdom" -Beerhorst (2011)
The lectionary readings are here or individually:
All Saint’s Days commemorates not only all the martyrs but all the people of God, living and dead, who form the mystical body of Christ
From Daniel, all that is left is the notion that the events of human history, no matter how disturbing, are irrelevant to God, and to God’s holy ones, who will prevail in the end.
The saints have come to know God, not by their own efforts, but by the power of God in Christ. Those who have put their lives in Christ’s hands should trust the one whom God has made the head of all things for the church which is his body. The Psalm emphasizes the praise response we should have.
The Gospel reminds us that the Christian hope is not in this world or in the things of this world. In fact, it is not even in the apocalyptic reversal of fortunes, as much as that is a part of the Gospel of Luke, and may be a part of the hope of believers. Rather it is in the Father’s mercy toward us, in the Son’s surrender to death, in the power of the Spirit in our lives leading us to act as God’s children that our hope lies.
The book is set in the days of the exile in Babylon. Daniel is a famous character from that time; according to Ezekiel, he was renowned for his piety and wisdom. The book was written about 165 BC, in Daniel’s name, to give hope to people who suffer persecution under Antiochus IV Epiphanes, a Hellenistic ruler who tried to eliminate Judaism. Our reading is of a vision: earthly kingdoms will pass to make way for the kingdom of God. It presents past events as though in the future and continues slightly into the future.
Out of the primordial “sea” (v. 2), the chaotic “deep” of Genesis 1:2, stirred up by the spirit of God (“winds of heaven”), Daniel sees four beasts arise – all agents of God. The first three are like a “lion” (v. 4), “bear” (v. 5) and “leopard” (v. 6). The fourth beast is too horrible to be likened to any animal; it has horns. Another small horn appears, symbolizing Antiochus. Thrones are set in place and God (“an Ancient One”, v. 9) takes his place, surrounded by attendants; his court sits in judgement. The fourth beast is put to death; the second and third are allowed to linger on. Then “one like a human being” (v. 13, or a son of man) comes from heaven and is presented to God, who gives him a universal, eternal, unconquerable kingdom (v. 14). (Christians saw this figure as the messiah, Christ, but to Jews he represented the archangel Michael and faithful Jews.) The interpretation begins in v. 16. King and kingdom are used interchangeably, so the “four great beasts” (v. 17) symbolize world powers that dominated Israel: Babylon, Medea, Persia and the Seleucids.
The “holy ones of the Most High” (v. 18) are Jews who defied Antiochus’ decrees against Judaism; there will again be an independent Jewish state which will last for ever. The current persecutions will end. God has permitted Israel to be conquered, but will act soon to rescue his people
All creation blesses God.
This psalm was used in a liturgical setting: note “assembly of the faithful”. Worshippers are invited to sing “a new song”, perhaps new because God continually reveals more of himself to the faithful. V. 3 tells us that hymns were accompanied by “dancing”, the “tambourine” and the “lyre”. Praise him because he delights in his people and gives victory (in some sense) to those who hold him in awe. (In v. 5 “glory” is a divine title.) May “the faithful” even “sing for joy” in their homes (“on their couches”). Vv. 6-9 appear to be a call to battle, to a holy war: may God’s people execute on “nations” (v. 7) and “peoples” the “judgement decreed” (v. 9) by God.
Paul writes to the “saints” (v. 1), those faithful to Christ in Ephesus. He gives thanks for the blessings we have received through Christ: bringing us into union with God;
choosing us (v. 4), before his creative act, to be set apart for him; and
as part of his plan, adopting us “as his children” (v. 5) – all of this through the love he expressed in sending Jesus.
Through Christ’s birth, life and resurrection we are absolved of our deviations from God’s ways. Intellectually and through our experience of the Christian way we have come to know God’s plan, i.e. to “gather up” (v. 10) all he has created, seen and unseen, to him.
Now Paul returns to adoption: we are offspring (inheritors) of God, and as such are forerunners (“the first”, v. 12) of many who will come to Christ, living to praise God. Paul has been writing to mature Christians; now, in vv. 13-18, Paul speaks to neophytes in the faith, “as you come to know him” (v. 17), both Jews and Greeks (“you” is plural). “You” were marked as God’s in baptism; it is the guarantee (“pledge”, v. 14) of being God’s children – those who, saved from sin, will have full union with God (“redemption”). Paul gives thanks for the fraternal “love” (v. 15) they have for all members of the Church (“saints”).
May you too grow in knowledge and experience of God (“wisdom”, v. 17) and receive new understandings of how God works in the world (“revelation”), so that you may come to know:
-the future joy (“hope”, v. 18) to which God has called you;
-what it means to be joined in God with heavenly beings (“saints”); and
-how much Christians can achieve using God’s power.
Christ is now raised and equal to the Father; he is above all angelic beings (“rule … dominion”, v. 21); now God’s power acts through him eternally. Christ is “head” (v. 22) of the Church; it is his “body” (v. 23) – the “head” needs the “body”, and the “body” the “head”.
This is the Luke version of Matthew’s Sermon on the Mount. Matthew has a much more elaborate sermon, and it on the mount, the place of revelation and transcendence. Luke has the sermon on the level place, among the people, talking to them about how to live in this world.
There’s two categories: the multitude and a crowd of disciples. The disciples are those who believe, while the multitude are the curious. These categories are important to keep in mind for vs. 20: "Then he looked up at his disciples and said…" He’s only talking to the disciples. When we hear this passage, it’s almost instinctual for us to assume that it divides between how Christians behave and how non-Christians behave. But in directing this to the disciples, he’s talking about the Christian community. Luke’s community has lots of rich people, lots of well-fed people.
In the presence of many people from Israel and beyond, Jesus speaks to his followers. Luke tells us of four beatitudes (vv. 20-22) and corresponding woes or warnings of deprivation in the age to come. Some are “blessed” (happy) by being included in the Kingdom Jesus brings. The warnings are prophecies, cautions. The pairs are:
the “poor” (v. 20) and the “rich” (v. 24);
the “hungry” (v. 21a) and the “full” (v. 25a);
the sorrowful (v. 21b) and the joyous (v. 25b); and
the persecuted (v. 22) and the popular (v. 26).
Note that the first one is in the present tense and second and third in a future tense.
Luke’s audience of disciples is generally agreed upon to have contained the greatest number of wealthy folks. It is not a coincidence, then, that Luke’s gospel has by far the most challenges to disciples about material possessions. It would seem strange for Luke to direct a message to his wealthy congregants that describes some ultimate new order that leaves them woefully on the outside. It makes more sense that he would lift up a pen-ultimate reversing of this world’s order as a needed challenge to coax such members into beginning to live in God’s order today. Their wealth is a woeful stumbling block to their opening themselves to God’s cultural order.
The “poor” are those who acknowledge their dependence on God. The “rich” do not want to commit themselves to Jesus and the Kingdom; they are comfortable in their self-sufficiency. The word translated “consolation” (v. 24) is a financial term: they do not realize what they owe to Jesus.
If we understand that God’s kingdom, God’s culture, is one not based on such divisions, then we are already blessed. God’s cultural order does not depend on divisions between rich and poor.
The “hungry” hunger for the word of God, the good news; the “full” are satisfied. What will the hungry be filled with? Filled with a sense of joy and meaning once you know what your life of simplicity, poverty, even hardship means in the larger context.
In v. 22, “exclude” means being socially ostracized and excluded from the synagogue and Temple.
The “Son of Man” includes Jesus and his followers: they will be persecuted, as Israel (“their ancestors”, v. 23) persecuted Jeremiah, Ezekiel and Amos, but “in that day” (at the end of the era), they will be rewarded. Jeremiah 5:31 says that people spoke well of “false prophets” (v. 26). In vv. 27-29, Jesus expands on v. 22; he tells how to deal with persecution. Followers (“you that listen”) should be willing to give all (even to standing naked, without an inner garment, “shirt”.) When you give, do not expect reciprocity (“again”, v. 30). Emulate God in your actions; seek to match his compassion!
In our passage for study today, Jesus encourages us to be loving, not just loving toward people we like, but loving toward people we don’t like, even people who have hurt us. Jesus’ focus is probably on the Christian fellowship, he is talking about relationships within the church, but his words extend beyond the Christian fellowship to our extended family, neighbors, work-mates and the like. Of course, "love" is a bit of an airy-fairy word and so maybe we would do better using the word "compassion". Even so, the final two verses in our passage give us the nuts and bolts of love. Love involves not judging people, not condemning people, but rather being forgiving and generous. So, in these words Jesus has given us an ethical guide to the Christian life, but, he has also done something else.
Earle Ellis in his commentary on Luke states: "the effect of Christian love in a person is in exact proportion to their practice of it." That is, the measure in which a believer receives God’s grace is in direct proportion to their practice of graciousness toward others. Inevitably, the demand for such love serves to undermine any notion of self-righteousness. Who is there that can be "merciful, just as (our) Father is merciful"? If the "measure we use" is the measure we get, then we are in trouble when we have to face up to the day of judgment. We are in dire need of receiving a gracious mercy from God that transcends our constant failure.
In these exhortations from Jesus’ Great Sermon we can again observe the two functions of the law, namely, to lead us to Christ and to give direction in our Christian life.
The law serves to remind us of our own unworthiness. In reality, we can’t love as Christ demands. If gaining God’s forgiveness depends on our ability to forgive others, then we are in trouble. With our sin before us we are reminded that our standing before God is not dependent on our own limited obedience, but on Christ’s perfect obedience. The best we can do is seek out the Nazarene and find mercy in the one whose capacity to forgive is unbounded.
The law also serves to give direction in our Christian life, a direction motivated and shaped by the indwelling compelling of the Spirit of Christ. The law reminds us to "be what we are." So, Jesus’ exhortation to "unreasonable compassion", or more particularly forgiveness, sets before us a quality of discipleship well beyond the norm. Although we can never reach such an ideal, in the power of the indwelling Christ, we can certainly press toward it.