Finding Joy

I like words, their origin (or etymology if you prefer) and the ways in words affect people – and people affect words. Such as the word “peruse” which people understand to mean “glance over, skim,” etc. Yet originally the word means (and I would argue still does) to read completely and in exacting detail. Another interesting word whose meaning has done an about face is “egregious.” Today it means to be conspicuous or flagrant – and almost always in a negative sense. Yet the origin of the word from the Latin ex-“out of” and greg- “flock” to give us egregius “illustrious” or in a more modern sense, “outstanding.” Somewhere in the late 16th century the word was increasingly used in an ironic sense, until that usage became it every day meaning. Continue reading

Watchfulness – reflection

First-AdventFrom Pheme Perkins [The Gospel of Mark in The New Interpreter’s Bible, 695]

“On the one hand, Mark underscores the certainty of Jesus’ word. Readers know that the death of Jesus on the cross does not end the story of salvation. On the other hand, Christians need not concern themselves with apocalyptic speculation. Disciples should remember that ‘doing the will of God’ (3:35) has no relationship to the timing of divine judgment. Neither should Christians concern themselves with the fate of those who persecute them or who reject the gospel. When Christians rush to judge others, they should remember this exhortation. The only question the master will ask is whether the servants have been faithful to their call as disciples. Continue reading

Watchfulness – commentary

First-AdventJesus concluded his discourse by stressing the responsibility of maintaining vigilance. The duty to watch draws its force from the fact that “no one knows” the critical moment of God’s decisive intervention. “That day” evokes a formula hallowed by use in the prophetic Scriptures; it appears with a clearly eschatological resonance in passages which announce the day of Yahweh’s appearing (Amos 8:3, 9, 13; 9:11; Mic. 4:6; 5:9; 7:11; Zeph. 1:9f.; 3:11, 16; Obad. 8; Joel 3:18; Zech. 9:16; 12–14). Continue reading

Watchfulness: context

First-Advent13:32 “But of that day or hour, no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Be watchful! Be alert! You do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man traveling abroad. He leaves home and places his servants in charge, each with his work, and orders the gatekeeper to be on the watch. 35 Watch, therefore; you do not know when the lord of the house is coming, whether in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or in the morning. 36 May he not come suddenly and find you sleeping. 37 What I say to you, I say to all: ‘Watch!’” Continue reading

As you were baptized

Today we celebrate Christ the King Sunday, it makes me recall the words of Revelation 19:16 where the expression “King of kings, Lord of lords” is spoken of Jesus in his second coming. But did you notice that the word “king” is hardly mentioned in our readings today. It is used once in the gospel, not at all in the other readings. Odd, don’t you think? But then again, “He will sit upon his glorious throne…” are the words in the opening verse of our gospel – rather “kingly” I would think.

The idea of kingship fills Scripture. We speak of the kingdom of God and who can forget King David of Israel. But did you ever wonder how Israel got a king? Abraham, the father of all believers – not a king. Moses – not a king. The great judges and leaders of Israel, Sampson and Deborah – not kings. So where did the idea of king come from? That is an interesting story, told in 1 Sam 8: “Israel gets a king.”

The Lord had always watched out and cared for Israel, raising up great leaders when needed – like Moses and the Judges. But the people of Israel got tired of instability and this ebb and flow of anointed leaders, and so one day they ask the last of the judges, Samuel, to go to God and ask for a king – so they can be – not God’s people – but people like other people. Reluctantly Samuel does. God tells Samuel, this is disappointing, but then Israel has always been hardheaded. OK, but tell them the king will have certain rights. And so, Samuel tells the people, OK, but here will be the rights of the king:

He will take your sons and assign them to his chariots and horses, and they will run before his chariot. He will also appoint from among them his commanders of groups of a thousand and of a hundred soldiers. He will set them to do his plowing and his harvesting, and to make his implements of war and the equipment of his chariots. He will use your daughters as ointment-makers, as cooks, and as bakers. He will take the best of your fields, vineyards, and olive groves, and give them to his officials. He will tithe your crops and your vineyards, and give the revenue to his eunuchs and his slaves. He will take your male and female servants, as well as your best oxen and your asses, and use them to do his work. He will tithe your flocks and you yourselves will become his slaves.

“Still want a king?” The people say “yes” only proving the old adage of being careful what you ask for. In 1st and 2nd Kings, as well as 1st and 2nd Chronicles, scripture recounts the failings of all the kings of Israel (and Judah) from David to Jeckoniah. At the end of each account of the king, the accounts give an assessment of the king on how they did in shepherding the people of God in their covenant with God. Notice “shepherding” – not any of the regal, lofty terms we would use to describe the actions of a king

Where our readings today hardly use the work “king” there is no shortage of references to “shepherds.” Listen again to the words of the first reading from Ezekiel: “For thus says the Lord GOD: I myself will look after and tend my sheep. As a shepherd tends his flock when he finds himself among his scattered sheep, so will I tend my sheep. I will rescue them from every place where they were scattered when it was cloudy and dark…I myself will pasture my sheep; I myself will give them rest, says the Lord GOD. The lost I will seek out, the strayed I will bring back, the injured I will bind up, the sick I will heal (but the sleek and the strong I will destroy), shepherding them rightly.” Our Psalm cries out, “The Lord is my shepherd.

So, you have two descriptions of kings: one from 1st Samuel that describes a king as an absolute monarch who takes from the people for his own benefit. And then there is the one who comes as King of all those other kings, and yet will be as a shepherd – looking after, tending, rescuing, pasturing, giving rest, seeking out, bringing back, binding up, and healing. The one who sits upon the “glorious throne” a reference to the great vision of God as King – there upon the mercy seat in the Temple.

Maybe now, the scene foretold by Jesus to his disciples about the great end-times judgment makes sense. There is Jesus, judging, enthroned upon the Mercy Seat, separating the sheep from the goats – and the criterion is “were you kingly? Not as people imagine a king, but as you were baptized?” In your baptismal ceremony, the words were spoken that say, Just as Christ is prophet, priest and king, so too … “so too” – and that means you. “So too” do we share in the kingship of Christ. The king who rules as a shepherd – looking after, tending, rescuing, pasturing, giving rest, seeking out, bringing back, binding up, and healing.

For I was hungry and you gave me food,” said Jesus, “I was thirsty and you gave me drink, a stranger and you welcomed me, naked and you clothed me, ill and you cared for me, in prison and you visited me.”

We care for the poor not out of guilt, ascetic renunciation, some secular theory of a socialistic ideal that rejects private property, nor because the poor are virtuous. Rather, in serving the poor we care for our own souls by imitating the character of God himself.

Christian care for the poor isn’t just a utilitarian act of social justice (Bill Gates does that), an altruistic act with no element of self-interest or expectation of reward (per Emmanuel Kant), and not even merely a sign of a believer’s personal faith (per the Protestant Reformers). Rather, care for the poor is the privileged way to serve God and to live out our baptismal vows.

It is the way it has always been. When St. Paul met with the early Church leaders in Jerusalem and was commissioned to be an apostle to the Gentiles, he says that the only thing he was asked to do was to remember the poor, “which is the very thing I was eager to do” (Galatians 2:10).

If you are to claim Christ as your king, if you are to claim your part in the kingship, then right and holy shepherding of others is part and parcel of that claim. You are anointed in baptism to share in Christ’s kingship, his right shepherding.

May the grace to live out that anointing… may that grace be yours.


He Comes – a final thought

judgmentA Final Thought: Not Keeping Score. Richard Jensen (Preaching Matthew’s Gospel, 220-22) has comments from his book about this parable which I thought I would share:

The righteous are surprised. They don’t know their deeds. They haven’t kept score. Their left hand doesn’t seem to know what their right hand is doing (Matthew 6:3)….

The righteous were righteous because of their deeds and they didn’t know it. They didn’t know their own righteousness…. The righteousness of the sheep was precisely an alien righteousness. They didn’t even know they possessed it!… Continue reading

He Comes – the eternal

judgmentWhat We Fail To Do. 42 For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, 43 a stranger and you gave me no welcome, naked and you gave me no clothing, ill and in prison, and you did not care for me.’ 44 Then they will answer and say, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or ill or in prison, and not minister to your needs?’ 45 He will answer them, ‘Amen, I say to you, what you did not do for one of these least ones, you did not do for me.’ The exchange between the king and the accursed mirrors the exchange with the righteous, though suitably abbreviated to avoid tedious repetition – even absenting “brothers and sisters” with reference to the “least ones” in v. 45. The list is the same, the perplexed “when did we see you” response, and the King’s reply. One contrast might lie in something small. In v.44, summarizing the actions of the accursed, they ask when they did “not minister to your needs?” Continue reading

He Comes – the accursed

judgmentSolidarity. 40 And the king will say to them in reply, ‘Amen, I say to you, whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me.’ The words “Amen, I say to you,” here and in v. 45 emphasize the principle of solidarity. Whether they knew it or not, the people they helped were associated with Jesus, to such an extent that they could be said to be Jesus. The more general principle of Proverb 19:17 that “Whoever cares for the poor lends to the Lord” is thus here more specifically applied to Jesus and his people. Continue reading

He comes – the blessed

judgmentThe Blessed. 34 Then the king will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father. Inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. As noted above, the “Son of Man” is now depicted as “king.” It the king himself who points out “my Father.” The Christological implications are clear – and even though it comes from the Gospel of John, one is hard pressed not to be reminded (John 5:27) where Jesus tells his disciples that all authority has been given to the Son to implement judgment. Continue reading