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Texts for Twenty-Second Sunday after Pentecost, Year C (Nov 10, 2019)

Texts: OT – Haggai 1. 15b-2.9; Psalm 145.1-5, 17-21; NT – 2 Thessalonians 2.1–5, 13-17; Gospel – Luke 20.27-38

All biblical quotations are from the NIV unless otherwise noted

Texts cited: Texts For Preaching: Lectionary Commentary Based on the NRSV – Year C, eds. Charles B. Cousar, Beverly R. Gaventa, J. Clinton McCain, James D. Newsome (Westminster John Knox Press, 1994) – cited as TFP 

The readings this week – apart from the Psalm – all seem to touch on a kind of dissatisfaction and anxiety that God’s people have about the purposes and intentions of God, particularly in regard to the future actions of God.

In our OT lesson, Haggai addresses the Hebrews who have returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the Temple. The devastation of the Temple must have appeared almost overwhelming to them. They found ruins and deprivation in the land so vast that simply eking out a living in the land was extremely difficult, and they had no capacity to restore the Temple to any place near the glory of Solomon’s Temple. Ezra 3.12 records that ‘many of the older priests and Levites and family heads, who had seen the former temple, wept aloud when they saw the foundation of this temple being laid,” while others were shouting for joy, so much so that it was not possible “to distinguish the sound of the shouts of joy from the sound of weeping” (v. 13). It was a challenging time. And it is precisely these weepers whom Haggai addresses (TNIB 587). Haggai’s basic message is this: “Be strong! Do not lose heart or be afraid! The key to the glory is not the structure but my presence with you. And I am present with you and will continue to be present with you by my Spirit. My purposes have not changed and the nations will come to this temple and it will be filled with my glory – and it will be even greater than that of the former Temple!” Because this promise was never completely fulfilled, it is natural to interpret this text in eschatological terms, as (for Christians) referring to God’s future reign in Jesus (or for Hebrews, as referring to the eschatological Day of the Lord).

The NT lection for today stands at the very heart of the Second Letter to the Thessalonians. It contains apocalyptic imagery that is difficult and complex to interpret, but there is an urgent set of pastoral concerns that drives the passage. In particular, the Thessalonian church has been “shaken in mind or alarmed” (v. 2). The NIV’s translation of verse 2 as “easily unsettled or alarmed” is not nearly strong enough. The Greek word used here is σαλευθῆναι [saleutheimai] which refers to the sort of agitation or shaking that occurs with storms, winds, waves, etc. (cf. NETBible). And what has them shaking in their boots are rumours – through prophecies, arguments, and letters – that “the Day of the Lord” has already come and gone. So Paul wants to be very clear with them that “the coming of our Jesus Christ and our being gathered to him” (v. 1) has not occurred. Paul sets their mind at ease by telling them the (admittedly cryptic) story of how that will go. St Augustine remarked in City of God that even he did not quite understand what, exactly, this text is talking about. Whatever the precise nature of what will take place leading up to the Day of the Lord, it will be a time of testing for the community of believers (v. 12). Again, Paul reminds them that their anxiety is unnecessary for God has chosen them “to be saved through the sanctifying work of the Spirit and through belief in the truth” (v. 13). So the key is to continue to “stand firm and hold firm to the teachings [the apostles] passed on to [them]” (v. 15).

In the Gospel lection, Jesus is confronted by the religious power structure of his day – the Sadducees, who were the aristocratic priestly line descended from Zadok (TNIB 593). This is the third time in Luke’s Gospel that Jesus is confronted in the Temple with a trick question that is designed to shame him in front of the people. The Sadducees did not believe in the resurrection, and they spin a hypothetical and fantastic story about a woman who, by Moses Law, marries 7 seven brothers, one at a time, as each dies without leaving her a child. Their question, designed to trip Jesus up, was: “at the resurrection, who wife will she be” (v. 33)? As TNIB 593 notes, “Their query was no genuine seeking knowledge, since it assumes what in fact the Sadducees explicitly deny.” Jesus, of course, uncovers the insincerity of the Sadducees and easily solves the riddle.  The key, for me, is that Jesus’s reply to them uncovers, or reveals, that the Sadducees belong to “this age.” They are not willing, as Jesus has already said in Luke’s Gospel (9.23), to “take up [their] cross” and follow him. They do not belong to the Kingdom of God, but to the Kingdom of this age. They are so preoccupied with the details of the mosaic legal system that they are not able to countenance the radically new, inbreaking Kingdom of God (cf. TNIB 594). Another interesting note regarding Jesus’s reply, is that he uses a rabbinic form of scriptural interpretation and makes a case for the resurrection based on the account of Moses’s experience at the burning bush (cf. TNIB 594). He notes that God declares “I am the God” of the prophets and patriarchs who are now dead. This must mean that they still live, in some meaningful way. As TNIB 594-95 states, “The proof of the resurrection, then, is the living God. While there is a radical disconti-[p. 595]nuity between the present and the resurrection, the continuity is to be found in God, the One who transcends death.”