In today’s first reading we again read from the Revelation. It is an early section in the scripture referred to as Letters to the Churches of Asia (1:4–3:22). Part of today’s text is the Letter to the community of Laodicea. The city was founded by Antiochus II Seleucid and named for his wife Laodice sometime prior to 240 BC. It was principally known as an agricultural and marketing center, but also known for banking, large manufacturing and its textile industry. The city was home to a prestigious medical center which discovered a well-known eye salve. There is ample testimony to a large, influential Jewish community in the city (cf. Josephus, Antiquities 14.241-243) for in 61 AD the Jewish community gave 22 lbs of gold to the Temple in Jerusalem and archeological discoveries have uncovered inscriptions regarding the feast of unleavened bread and Pentecost.
The city was located between Colossae and Hieropolis. The former was a mountain valley city watered by icy mountain springs whose water supplied Laodicea, but it was lukewarm at its arrival in the valley floor. The latter was a city famous for its hot springs reputed to have medicinal value.
Given that location, the words of Scipture have context: “To the angel of the church in Laodicea write: These are the words of the Amen, the faithful and true witness, the ruler of God’s creation. I know your deeds, that you are neither cold nor hot. I wish you were either one or the other! So, because you are lukewarm—neither hot nor cold—I am about to spit you out of my mouth.”
The message to the contemporary church at Laodicea is not: I wish you were hot (fervent for the Lord), or cold (total apostate). It is a call to true discipleship. It should be understood as:
Unlike Colossae and Hieropolis you provide neither cool drinks nor healing baths. You are good for nothing – ineffectual. I am calling the church to task for the bareness of your works. You are not called to blend into the world around you – you are called to change it lest you resemble the warning of Mt 5:13, “If a salt has become tasteless…it is good for nothing.”
Material wealth is unimportant. You are still spiritually poor, naked and blind. From Christ you need to obtain
- true gold – faith and love that is tested and found true.
- white robes – to cover the spiritual nakedness of the damned on the last day (cf. 2 Cor 5:2-3)
- eyesalve – to heal the spiritual blindness (1 Jn 2:11)
Note: the use of the references to the three local business of wealth: banking, textiles and medicine
I think it is perhaps the most frightful of Scripture verses and is a message germane to our time. But it is not a final judgment. There is time but that comes with the admonishment “Be earnest, therefore, and repent.”
Image credit: YouVersion, Life Church Ministries, CC-BY-NC-ND
Thank you for this. May our hearts always see what our eyes may not . . . the who we may hide from the world and ourselves . . . very grateful for God’s grace and our ability to turn to God for that redemptive power of his love! Amen!