This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news
6 And he said to me, ‘These words are trustworthy and true, for the Lord, the God of the spirits of the prophets, has sent his angel to show his servants what must soon take place.’
7 ‘See, I am coming soon! Blessed is the one who keeps the words of the prophecy of this book.’
8 I, John, am the one who heard and saw these things. And when I heard and saw them, I fell down to worship at the feet of the angel who showed them to me; 9but he said to me, ‘You must not do that! I am a fellow-servant with you and your comrades the prophets, and with those who keep the words of this book. Worship God!’
10 And he said to me, ‘Do not seal up the words of the prophecy of this book, for the time is near. 11Let the evildoer still do evil, and the filthy still be filthy, and the righteous still do right, and the holy still be holy.’
12 ‘See, I am coming soon; my reward is with me, to repay according to everyone’s work. 13I am the Alpha and the Omega, the first and the last, the beginning and the end.”
And so the book of The Revelation comes to an end with a reminder of its message:
- Human history is in the hands of the God who was, and is, and is to come. Those who trust in God’s promises will not be disappointed.
- God only is to be worshipped.
- The vision of the prophet is an open book but people will act according to their fundamental convictions.
- The Creator is also the Redeemer and the Judge.
In all the thunder of its rhetoric the scope and subtlety of this book’s theology is often ignored. It repays study by giving its reader a perspective on the behaviour of contemporary tyrants like Assad and warmongering states like Israel and Iran.
10 ‘Take care that you do not despise one of these little ones; for, I tell you, in heaven their angels continually see the face of my Father in heaven. 12What do you think? If a shepherd has a hundred sheep, and one of them has gone astray, does he not leave the ninety-nine on the mountains and go in search of the one that went astray? 13And if he finds it, truly I tell you, he rejoices over it more than over the ninety-nine that never went astray. 14So it is not the will of your Father in heaven that one of these little ones should be lost.
15 ‘If another member of the church sins against you, go and point out the fault when the two of you are alone. If the member listens to you, you have regained that one. 16But if you are not listened to, take one or two others along with you, so that every word may be confirmed by the evidence of two or three witnesses. 17If the member refuses to listen to them, tell it to the church; and if the offender refuses to listen even to the church, let such a one be to you as a Gentile and a tax-collector. 18Truly I tell you, whatever you bind on earth will be bound in heaven, and whatever you loose on earth will be loosed in heaven. 19Again, truly I tell you, if two of you agree on earth about anything you ask, it will be done for you by my Father in heaven. 20For where two or three are gathered in my name, I am there among them.’
It might be better to translate the Greek “ekklesia” in this passage by the word “Assembly”. I think it’s possible that Jesus talked about “The Assembly” of his community, although not probable. More likely, Matthew, or his source has edited remarks of Jesus which were directed at the disciples.
The Assembly is first of all to be characterised by the attitude of the good shepherd who has a special concern for the lost sheep. Only out of that concern can it exercise discipline amongst its members. The procedure outlined here is wise in that it begins by protecting the privacy of an offender and only gradually makes it public. Eventually however, dealing with wrong behaviour is more important than privacy and the community as a whole must act.
Jesus words about his presence with two or three is often interpreted in a devotional sense but in context it is the claim that the authority of Jesus is shared by his community. Verse 19 gives very great authority to the community to discern the will of Jesus. But this is a corollary of the fact that Jesus is not going to make an independent appearance to announce his wishes: he has entrusted himself to his disciples. That’s the appalling truth.
The current difficulties of the church over its views of capitalism or homosexuality stem not only from its sinfulness but also from the terrifying responsibility given to it. Its sacred texts and the guidance of the Spirit will help but will not lift from it the task of binding and loosing.