Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Wednesday in Pentecost, Proper 10: The parousia in the minutiae

Opening Sentence
Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart be acceptable in you sight, O Lord, my strength and my redeemer. Psalm 19:14

Collect of the Day
O Lord, mercifully receive the prayers of your people who call upon you, and grant that they may know and understand what things they ought to do, and may also have grace and power faithfully to accomplish them; through Jesus Christ our Lord, who lives and reigns with you and the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. Amen.

Psalter: Psalm 38

Lessons: Joshua 3:1-13, Romans 11:25-36, Matthew 25:31-46 

It is a mistake to interpret Jesus' depiction of the last judgment in Matthew 25 as a parable. It is the final segment of a much larger section, Jesus’ Olivet Discourse, which begins in chapter 24. The backdrop is Jesus’ impending passion and death, an event which he ties inextricably to the inauguration of the eschatological kingdom of God and the birth pangs of the coming new creation. Through his ordeal of suffering and death, he will be vindicated. God will raise him from the dead and enthrone him at his right hand in heaven.

The proper way to read the entire passage is not through the lens of a distant future second coming (Why should we ever assume the second coming is in the distant future? We ought always to live as though it is as near as our next breath.), but through the lens of the present reign of Christ as the glorified Son of Man, enthroned in heaven but still very much present in our midst in the faces of the poor, the hungry, the homeless, the sick, and the imprisoned. Jesus speaks of “the Son of Man [coming] in his glory,” the glory of heaven, the realm of God. From God’s perspective, there is much glory manifested through the feeding of the hungry and the clothing of the naked. From the perspective of the earthly-minded, these may appear to be insignificant little humanitarian gestures. From God’s perspective, however, they are the coming together of heaven and earth, the in-breaking of his future kingdom in the present.

When Jesus speaks here of the last judgment, he is not speaking of the far off future, but of the everyday present. The criteria upon which Jesus will evaluate us on the last day will not be how well we took care of “the least of these” during his absence, but how well we responded to his presence whenever we encountered the poor beggar, the homeless stranger, the hungry child, the sick prisoner. In other words, did we see the parousia in the minutiae?

Rejoice, the Lord is King