October: Extending the biblical call for justice
1 October 2023
Philippians 2:1-13, Matthew 21:23-32
In response to the crude attempts of the Pharisees to discredit him, Jesus returns fire with the cutting rejoinder that the most despised people in the community are closer to God than they are.
This is consistent with the core Gospel principle of the inverting of the established order, expressed elsewhere in teaching that the first will be last, and the last first.
This theme is taken up by the writer to the Philippians, who paeon of praise describes the humility of Jesus in his earthly life and his submission to death, leading directly to his exaltation by God and the bending of every knee in acknowledgment of his Lordship.
In the face of puffed up presidents at monstrous military parades, leaders with overinflated egos demanding the submission of their neighbours and their own people, Jesus stands as the princely deflator, who exalts love and justice as the core ethical centre of decent civil society. He is saying, in effect, if you want to enter the mansions of heaven, go in through the servant’s entrance.
8 October 2023
Philippians 3: 1-13, Matthew 21: 33-46
The Basis of Union describes the Uniting Church community of faith as “…a people on the way to the promised goal.” Like St Paul, we know that we have not yet attained this prized destination, but we press on because we belong to Jesus Christ, and the way is his Way.
For St Paul, to change direction from his self-righteous sense of entitlement as a Jewish blueblood, to becoming a full-throated red-blooded Christian missionary took a total change of perspective as to who Jesus was. When he saw Christ with new eyes, nothing else mattered apart from righteous living that arose from faith in Christ.
The Jewish leaders who hounded Jesus were mostly unable to open their eyes to the new truth that Jesus embodied, because it threated their entitled tenancy of the vineyard of God. In the violent effort to hold the privileged space, they lost everything in the process. As Jesus says elsewhere, the tree is known by the fruit it bears, and those who seek to saves their life will lose it
15 October 2023
Matthew 22: 1-14, Philippians 4:1-9
This Parable, following that of the Wicked Tenants, emphasises the serious consequences of refusing the call to the ethical and celebratory life of the Kingdom; also the risks to those who represent both the vineyard owner and the father of the groom. One suspects an anti-Jewish polemic in this allegoric retelling of Luke 14:15-24, resulting in ”…an unrealistic and unbelievable story” according to Charles Cousar’s commentary in “Texts for Preaching- A Lectionary Commentary Base on the NRSV- Year A”).
The bringing in of the poor, both good and bad, is consistent with the inclusive and expansive love of the welcoming God.
Verses 11-14 describe what seems to be an unjust punishment of the one who does not come to the banquet appropriately dressed, especially given they are apparently one of the poor of the streets. Perhaps the most generous interpretation of these difficult verses is that certain standards of behaviour apply in even the most generous, open and welcoming communities. Once inside the tent, people are responsible to strive for whatever is true, honourable, just, pure, pleasing and commendable. (see Philippians 4:8/9).
22 October 2023
Matthew 22: 15-22; Psalm 99
It is tempting to criticise politicians for trying to avoid yes/no answers to an interviewer’s “gotcha” questions, while at the same time applauding Jesus for cleverly avoiding the Pharisees’ trap.
Jesus resolves the dualistic dilemma by seeming to imply that as citizens we have certain obligations to the State, and as Christians, have other responsibilities to God. And so it seems that it is just a matter of deciding the practicalities of a split allegiance.
In fact, a dualistic response is not the answer. By asking whose image is on the imperial coin, Jesus implies that there is another image, the image of God, imprinted upon every person. As Christians, this is where our primary allegiance lies, a point not missed in our Church’s inaugural “Statement to the Nation” of 1976 as it describes our response to the many challenges to serve the common good in the Australian community.
As Psalm 99 puts it, “The Lord is king: let the peoples tremble.” And “Extol the lord your God and worship at his holy mountain…” Everything else sorts itself out from there!
29 October 2023
Matthew 22: 34-46
So ends the series of hostile verbal interactions between Jesus and the Jewish authorities. After this, Jesus teachings take a darker tone as he condemns the crass hypocrisy of the Scribes and Pharisees, who parade in vestmented grandeur while failing to practice what they teach. He also foretells grim times of persecution and eschatological disaster.
Sadly, neither Jesus’ logic, nor reasoned biblical argument can win over such entrenched dogmatism. Driven by hate and fear, brute force will now replace heated debate, as Jesus becomes the first victim of his own dire predictions.
As Union soldier Scott reported of his efforts to help the wounded opponents in the American Civil War, ”They were lost to a narrative untethered to anything he recognised to be true- all of it ingrained so deep, beyond the reach of reasonable dialogue or evidence. (From “Horse” by Geraldine Brooks)
The core teaching of the Jewish Faith is as simple as it is profound- love God, and your neighbour as yourself. This is not only what the Law requires, but what prophets demand (vs. 40). This love is not just piously personal, but also a consistent and extended biblical cry for justice.
These reflections were prepared by Rev. Brian Brown.