Lectionary, Nov. 13, 2022 -Pentecost 23

I.Theme –   Emphasizing the Divine over the Secular

 "Pantocrator – Christ"  -El Greco, 1600

This portrait is of Christ as the ruler, the resurrected presence, who in God form, speaks to us. The scripture reading for today from Luke is a hard one, in which Jesus warns his disciples of hard tests ahead. This painting provides a vision of a savior who will sustain, and in the end, triumph over suffering and death. 

The lectionary readings (Proper 28) are here  or individually: 

Old Testament – Malachi 4:1-2a 
Psalm – Psalm 98 Page 727, 728 BCP 
Epistle –2 Thessalonians 3:6-13 
Gospel – Luke 21:5-19 

This week begins apocalyptic readings that will continue through Advent 1. The faithful are the targets, here. What to do in contemporary crises? Don’t panic, Don’t give up the work you have been doing. Praise God and relish in his power and majesty.  The tone of the readings coincide with the increasing darkness and shorter days in this season.   

The readings are to counter the problem of the delayed return of Christ. Paul expected the second coming of Jesus very soon, initially certainly in his lifetime. However as the event was delayed, some used Paul’s writing as abandononing his work.

The Old Testament reading of Malachi provides speeches in dialogue style, where the prophet scolds the priests and the congregation about various malpractices and against tired religious scepticism. This passage seems a conclusion of these speeches contrasting the fate of the evil doers with those of the obedient faithful, destruction for the first and healing for the second.  

The best is yet to come as shown in Psalm and the Gospel

A second theme is God’s power and magesty which will be the heart of next Sunday. This best seen in the Psalm This psalm is an eschatological hymn, culminating in shouts of praise at the coming of God, the ruler of the world and all creation to judge the world with justice and fairness. Only a new song can begin to describe the wonders of God’s power.

Just as 2 Thessalonians admonishes us not to grow tired in doing good, so Luke reminds us today to look at hardship and persecution as a chance to tell the gospel, the good news. Jesus tells us again: Do not be afraid! Not a single hair of our heads will be lost and standing firm will bring us through the trouble and to life.

The when and how of Christ’s second coming is not our concern. What is our concern is the faithfulness with which we pray, sing, tell and live love until he comes.   

II. Summary

Old Testament

Malachi was a Jewish prophet in the Hebrew Bible. Malachi, most scholars assign it to a position between Haggai and Zechariah,  slightly before Nehemiah came to Jerusalem in 445 BCE.

The book of Malachi was written to correct the lax religious and social behaviour of the Israelites – particularly the priests – in post-exilic Jerusalem. Although the prophets urged the people of Judah and Israel to see their exile as punishment for failing to uphold their covenant with Yahweh, it was not long after they had been restored to the land and to Temple worship that the people’s commitment to their God began, once again, to wane. It was in this context that the prophet commonly referred to as Malachi delivered his prophecy.

Malachi also criticizes his audience for questioning God’s justice. He reminds them that God is just, exhorting them to be faithful as they await that justice. Malachi quickly goes on to point out that the people have not been faithful. In fact, the people are not giving God all that God deserves. Just as the priests have been offering unacceptable sacrifices, so the people have been neglecting to offer their full tithe to the Lord. The result of these shortcomings is that the people come to believe that no good comes out of serving God


4:1. The coming day of judgment will clarify the distinction between the righteous and the wicked, for the wicked will be consumed by fire, they will be annihilated.

v2. In that day, those under God’s grace will be bathed with a gift of right-standing in the sight of God. This righteousness, like warm rays of the sun, will enable them to stand forgiven and eternally accepted in the sight of God. Like calves released from a stall, they will leap free, eternally free from guilt, self and fear.

v3. The remnant will then take up their task of ruling with the messiah, executing judgment on his behalf

For Israel in Malachi’s day, there was a pervading sense that piety mattered little to God. In fact, it was felt that pragmatic self-sufficiency was more likely to promote success than a piety that attempted to apply Biblical principles. Yet, there was a remnant of the people who did not hold with this thinking. For this remnant, there is a coming day when the difference between right and wrong will become manifest. In that day, the self-sufficient will be totally consumed, annihilated, while the children of grace will receive the crown of salvation; they will be redeemed as if bathed in the healing rays of the sun. When this day dawns, it will be those counted righteous before God who will reign, while the self-sufficient will stand condemned. It is then the difference will become manifest.

The prophet encourages us to give greater weight to a divine Word than a secular pragmatic, even though the distinction between the two must await the last day, the day when Christ will cover us like the warming rays of the sun. Meanwhile, we can only but rest on the Lord and his promise that he will put all things right.

Psalm  

Psalm 98 is part of a little cluster of Psalms (93 through 99) whose primary theme is: "The Lord reigns! The Lord is King!"

Psalm 98 is a song of praise, which is made up of three parts: vv. 1-3; 4-6 and 7-9. The psalm’s major focus is a call to praise. The praise of God is focused around God’s coming and presence, and God’s reign. God is declared to be the king in v. 6b, and is portrayed as judging, or setting right the world in v. 9.

There is also celebration of God’s victory, salvation and steadfast love towards the house of Israel (especially in vv. 1-3). These too are integral parts of the reign of God.

Worshippers are invited to sing “a new song” marking new evidence of God’s rule. With truth (“right hand”) and power, he has won the “victory”, i.e. salvation, saving acts – for his people Israel. (Note the emphasis on “victory”: the word occurs three times in vv. 1-3.) He has triumphed over all who seek to overthrow his kingdom. All peoples can see that Israel is right in trusting him (“vindication”, v. 2). Then v. 3: as he did when the Israelites groaned under oppression in Egypt (Exodus 2:24), he now remembers his covenant with Abraham, Isaac and Jacob – to lead them and protect them. All peoples will see his saving acts. (These verses are in the past tense, but a scholar points out that the reference is to a future event.)

The second stanza (vv. 4–6) calls on the whole human world to take part in the celebration, with a focus on music as the “joyful noise,” and a listing of instruments, similar to but shorter than the list in Psalm 150.

Vv. 4-8 call on all creation (“earth”, “sea”, “floods” and “hills”) to acknowledge and be joyful in God’s rule. Per v. 7b, people of all lands are invited to join in. God’s coming to “judge the world” (v. 9b) will be a truly marvellous event. He will judge us, but his judgement will be perfectly fair and equitable, for he is righteous

In vv. 7-9 the call to praise is extended beyond the human realm, to include the whole earth in the praise of God: seas roar, floods clap and hills sing. Some of these elements were seen in the ancient world as enemies of God (especially the seas and floods) but clearly here even those things traditionally thought of as negative or chaotic, now lend their voices to the chorus of praise of God. The psalm concludes by rounding off the reason for praise with reference to God’s judging the earth and its peoples. Often God’s judgment is seen in a negative light but it ought not necessarily be considered so. His judgment in righteousness and equity (v. 9) is not only a statement of abstract qualities upon which God makes determinations but the very things God brings to the peoples in that judgment.


Epistle

Paul concentrates on single contemporary issue: the problem of idleness in the community. The author argues that this behavior a response to end times represents an abandonment of the true Pauline tradition which had been handed down to them (3:6), which is here reiterated in no uncertain terms. Just as Paul taught and exemplified, while awaiting the end times believers are to work for their living, and quietly engage in a life of good works.

The author comes to the concluding section of his letter, written to counter the false belief that Christ will come again soon. Writing in Paul’s name, he has asked all members of the church at Thessalonica to pray for him and for those who work with him “so that the word of the Lord may spread rapidly” (v. 1), and that they may be rescued from those who oppose God’s ways, especially those who teach falsehoods. God will “strengthen … and guard” (v. 3) members of the community from the Devil. May Christ direct them to love for God and to “the steadfastness of Christ” (v. 5).

Now the author orders the members to avoid those who, believing that the era will end soon, “are living in idleness” (v. 6) – probably living off the material support of others and failing to spread Christ’s message. There is a suggestion they are disorderly.They also fail to adhere to the “tradition”, the teachings handed down from the apostles. Paul (“us”) is proposed as an example to imitate: he had the “right” (v. 9) to be financially supported by the community (thus freeing him to spend all his time spreading the good news) yet he earned his living (as a tentmaker). V. 10b is strong language! It has been reported that those who are idle are in fact “busybodies” (v. 11), disturbing others and meddling in their affairs. If any continue to preach the imminent arrival of Christ or continue to be idle (“do not obey …”, v. 14), avoid them and shame them (perhaps they will see the error of their ways). Even so, love them as members of the community (v. 15). In vv. 16-18, the author prays that his readers may have Christ’s peace, and certifies the letter as genuine.

Gospel

Our reading is from the last story about Jesus teaching in the Temple.

Hearing a comment about the magnificence of the Temple, Jesus declares that the day is coming when "not one stone will be left upon another." The disciples ask what sign will herald this event. Messianic signs are the stuff of millennial speculation, and signs there will be, but for Jesus’ disciples, let there be discernment and patience.  Luke, writing in the 80’s, knew about the destruction of the temple in 70AD.


He foretells its destruction (“thrown down”, v. 6) – an event then some 40 years in the future. At that time, Roman legions (“armies”, v. 20) surrounded the city. In Jesus’ time, people were concerned about when the world would end, and what signs would indicate “this is about to take place” (v. 7). Jesus begins to answer, in terms drawn from prophetic books (Micah, Jeremiah, Hosea, Joel, vv. 8-11) and brought together in contemporary books (e.g. 2 Esdras). He adds “the end will not follow immediately” (v. 9), and then diverts to issues that matter now: the treatment his followers will receive, and how they should react to it (vv. 12-19). (“The time”, v. 8, is the time chosen by God for the end of the era.)


 v5-6. The temple was completely rebuilt from 19BC to 64AD. It was massive, consisting of white limestone with gold and silver inlay. Josephus, a Jewish historian at the time, said it looked like a snow-capped mountain. It was totally destroyed during the conquest of Jerusalem by the Romans in 70AD.  

v7. The disciples ask what sign will herald the destruction of the temple. In Matthew’s gospel they also ask about the end of the age. Jesus goes on to answer their question.

v8-11. Natural calamities and political upheaval are signs of the age, but they are not signs of the end. The disciples are not to be led astray by false messiahs using signs to prove their messianic credentials.

v12. During (rather than "before") the signs of the age, believers will be persecuted.

v13-15. This will be a time of testimony (gospel proclamation) for believers. Disciples will be given the words that are both wise and powerful, for they are Jesus’ words. Mark, in 13:11, refers to the Holy Spirit as the source of these words.

v16-18. Although persecuted and killed, even at the hands of family members, "not a hair of your head will perish" – a promise of spiritual protection, cf.12:4-7.

v19. Endurance shows that a disciple is truly grafted in Christ through faith; it shows that the word is not sown in shallow ground, cf.8:13.

Jesus reveals to his disciples that he will be taken from them, but he will return. During the interim, believers must not to be taken in by false messiahs who announce particular dates for the end of the age, or who claim special powers. Nor should they get overly concerned by political strife or natural disasters. People are always using these events as predictive signs, but they are nothing more than the death-pangs of a dying world.

These signs of the age serve as a time for testimony. During this time the church is to witness to Christ in gospel proclamation. The message we have to proclaim is both powerful and self-authenticating – Spirit empowered. The Lord has given us the content of the message and the wherewithal to achieve its end.

Yet, this age is winding down to a climax and there is one particular sign which will herald its end. This is the sign of the abomination of desolation. This sign, said Jesus, will herald the end of the restored kingdom of Israel. In 68AD the state of Israel rebelled against Rome. This resulted in the siege of Jerusalem and its destruction in 70AD. The sign will also herald the end of the present age of the Christian church.
 

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