This blog provides a meditation on the Episcopal daily readings along with a headline from world news:
Boasting about Tomorrow
13 Come now, you who say, ‘Today or tomorrow we will go to such and such a town and spend a year there, doing business and making money.’14Yet you do not even know what tomorrow will bring. What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little while and then vanishes.15Instead you ought to say, ‘If the Lord wishes, we will live and do this or that.’16As it is, you boast in your arrogance; all such boasting is evil.17Anyone, then, who knows the right thing to do and fails to do it, commits sin.<!– 5 –>
Warning to Rich Oppressors
5Come now, you rich people, weep and wail for the miseries that are coming to you.2Your riches have rotted, and your clothes are moth-eaten.3Your gold and silver have rusted, and their rust will be evidence against you, and it will eat your flesh like fire. You have laid up treasure* for the last days.4Listen! The wages of the labourers who mowed your fields, which you kept back by fraud, cry out, and the cries of the harvesters have reached the ears of the Lord of hosts.5You have lived on the earth in luxury and in pleasure; you have fattened your hearts on a day of slaughter.6You have condemned and murdered the righteous one, who does not resist you.
This is a traditional diatribe against human arrogance and especially the arrogance of the rich. Those who think their appointment book is guaranteed in heaven are reminded that they may not be around tomorrow. “You are a mist that appears for a little while then vanishes”. This is an obvious truth but hard to accept. I don’t like it myself; I want to think my life has more significance, that the universe will be the poorer by my death. Pathetic? Yes.
But we are not to think that our arrogance to fellow human beings goes unrecorded. If we have cheated our employees, been ruthless towards those who were in our way, slaughtered the just man who, like the Lord Jesus, did not resist us, then there will be a day of reckoning with the God who hears the voices of our victims. The rust which eats our gold has also eaten our souls.
This is an old voice, the voice of the voiceless, predating Christianity, which sounds from the beginnings of human societies where some have to work while others can afford to pay. It can still be heard from those who labour in harsh conditions for a dollar a day or form part of the huge army of unemployed whose availability drives down wages, in comparison with whom I, although a person of modest means in this society, am immensely rich. I hope I’ve not fattened my heart on the day of slaughter. I hope that God will ignore my own injustices, my complicity in depriving the poor of a just reward for their labour, but I’m not counting on it.
The Coming of the Kingdom
20 Once Jesus* was asked by the Pharisees when the kingdom of God was coming, and he answered, ‘The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed;21nor will they say, “Look, here it is!” or “There it is!” For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among* you.’
22 Then he said to the disciples, ‘The days are coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it.23They will say to you, “Look there!” or “Look here!” Do not go, do not set off in pursuit.24For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day.*25But first he must endure much suffering and be rejected by this generation.26Just as it was in the days of Noah, so too it will be in the days of the Son of Man.27They were eating and drinking, and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed all of them.28Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot: they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building,29but on the day that Lot left Sodom, it rained fire and sulphur from heaven and destroyed all of them30—it will be like that on the day that the Son of Man is revealed.31On that day, anyone on the housetop who has belongings in the house must not come down to take them away; and likewise anyone in the field must not turn back.32Remember Lot’s wife.33Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it.34I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other left.35There will be two women grinding meal together; one will be taken and the other left.’*37Then they asked him, ‘Where, Lord?’ He said to them, ‘Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.’
Luke deals here with questions about what theologians call “eschatology” that is, teaching about the “end of the world” and the “final judgement”. The disciples’ question about God’s kingdom is sharply answered by Jesus who tells them that God’s rule over the world is not a supernatural event but rather a process which is already happening amongst them, as they carry out the will of God. It is what the longer version of the Jesus prayer asks for, “Your kingdom come/ your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.” So, if we’re asking about the spread of God’s gracious rule over the earth, we are advised to start with ourselves and other human beings who form communities in which people obey God’s will.
Luke goes on however to give Jesus’ teaching about the final establishment of God’s justice on earth. This is described as the “Day of the Son of Man”. The Son of Man is a figure from Jewish prophecy, known in the book of Daniel who has a vision of kingdoms symbolised by ferocious beasts followed by a kingdom symbolised by “one like a Son of Man”, that is, its symbol is a human being because its rule will be humane. Elsewhere in Daniel there is a vision of “the Son of Man coming on the clouds of heaven”. The “Son of Man” is said to be the “saints of the Most High”, that is, the holy people of God, clothed with heavenly power and glory (clouds of heaven). Jesus identified his own ministry and community with this symbolic figure. He, like the author of Daniel, does not see the last judgment bypassing human history as if it had been a mistake. Rather the goodness that has been born from God through humanity (Jesus/Son of man) is the agent of judgement on human evil. Jesus tells his disciples that people will frequently identify their own movements or leadership with this final goodness, (Dictatorship of the Proletariat, Third Reich, Great Leap Forward, Victorious Capitalism) but disciples of Jesus should pay no heed. There is no way of predicting that judgment or of second guessing its details.
All of this is sober and hopeful teaching, miles away from the hysteria of rapturists and other people who think they know God’s business.