Bible Tuesday for Pentecost 24, 2017
Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18
Be silent before the Lord God!
For the day of the Lord is near;
the Lord has prepared a sacrifice
and consecrated his guests.
12 At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps,
and I will punish the men
who are complacent,[c] those who say in their hearts,
‘The Lord will not do nothing, neither good,
13 Their goods shall be plundered,
and their houses laid waste.
Though they build houses,
they shall not inhabit them;
though they plant vineyards,
they shall not drink wine from them.”
14 The great day of the Lord is near,
near and hastening fast;
the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter;
the mighty man cries aloud there.
15 A day of wrath is that day,
a day of distress and anguish,
a day of ruin and devastation,
a day of darkness and gloom,
a day of clouds and thick darkness,
16 a day of trumpet blast and battle cry
against the fortified cities
and against the lofty battlements.
17 I will bring distress on mankind,
so that they shall walk like the blind,
because they have sinned against the Lord;
their blood shall be poured out like dust,
and their flesh like dung.
18 Neither their silver nor their gold
shall be able to deliver them
on the day of the wrath of the Lord.
In the fire of his jealousy,
all the earth shall be consumed;
for a full and sudden end
he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth.
The prophecy of Zephaniah is proclaimed to the Southern Kingdom of Judah. Zephaniah’s “Word of the Lord” is one of severe judgment of Judah, Israel, and all the nations. It is given during the time of Josiah, a boy who became king during a particularly hedonistic period in Israel’s history. The Temple was not even used to worship Yahweh but was filled with altars to various gods. When Josiah became old enough to rule without a regent, he heeded the words of Zephaniah and other prophets, and imposed a drastic religious cleansing on the Temple and all the “high places”.
Zephaniah begins his prophecy by condemning all of the babbling worship of other gods in Judah, especially in Jerusalem. The above passage begins with “Be silent before my God…” which is a command to all who utter prayers and hymns to other gods. The prophet goes on to mention a “sacrifice” which is, in fact, all of the Israelites who are worshiping false gods.
Verse 12 begins with “I…” because it is now God who is speaking. There need be no secret police who hunt out idol worshippers for God himself will search them out through their hearts. These are Israelites who love and trust God so little that they see God as impotent, doing nothing, good or bad.
The passage moves into a description of The Day of the Lord, which is the Jewish equivalent of the final judgment which the gospel of Matthew describes as Jesus sorting sheep from goats, faithful who served “one of the least of these, my brothers and sisters” from those who did not serve any in need. The Day of the Lord will bring an end to all as humans know it, so it is described in cataclysmic terms. Zephaniah describes the Day of the Lord in terrifying terms, in part because he is building his prophecy toward its climax, a word of great hope for all who turn from false gods to Yahweh, “I AM”.
A Prayer of Moses, the man of God.
Lord, you have been our dwelling-place
in all generations.
Before the mountains were brought forth,
or ever you had formed the earth and the world,
from everlasting to everlasting you are God.
You turn us back to dust,
and say, ‘Turn back, you mortals.’
For a thousand years in your sight
are like yesterday when it is past,
or like a watch in the night.
You sweep them away; they are like a dream,
like grass that is renewed in the morning;
in the morning it flourishes and is renewed;
in the evening it fades and withers.
For we are consumed by your anger;
by your wrath we are overwhelmed.
You have set our iniquities before you,
our secret sins in the light of your countenance.
For all our days pass away under your wrath;
our years come to an end like a sigh.
The days of our life are seventy years,
or perhaps eighty, if we are strong;
even then their span is only toil and trouble;
they are soon gone, and we fly away.
Who considers the power of your anger?
Your wrath is as great as the fear that is due to you.
So teach us to count our days
that we may gain a wise heart.
Here is a psalmist who lays out the human condition for all to see. Life is hard, arduous work which we do, only to die and wither like water starved grass. God is eternal but we are mere puffs of breath in the great history of all that is. The psalmist blames God for the struggles of life, seeing them as the fruits of God’s wrath against us.
“A wise heart” – Wisdom is defined in the Hebrew Scriptures as intimate relationship with God. After pouring out his/her agony, the psalmist appears to come to the conclusion that this great mystery is more than humans can understand and turns back to God with a prayerful petition, “Teach us to be mindful of each day we live in your presence, that we may gain wisdom in you.”
1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. When they say, ‘There is peace and security’, then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labour pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. So then, let us not fall asleep as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober; for those who sleep sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.
This, Paul’s letter to the church in Thessalonica, is the oldest book in the New Testament. Thessalonica is a port on the Aegean Sea. “This city was the capital of the Roman province of Macedonia and was devoted to the imperial cult of Rome [worship of
the Caesars as gods, and worship of Roma, the goddess who was the embodiment of
Rome], but culturally it remained a Greek city governed by Greek law.” Edgar Krentz in his introduction to the book of Thessalonians in the Harper Collins Study Bible.
Paul writes this letter convinced that Jesus will return any day now, so vigilance and faithful service to Christ and the community are mandatory.
“When they say ‘There is peace and security’…” – The Roman imperial coins of the day were imprinted with the words “peace and security.” Paul is proclaimed judgment on the Roman order. However, the beloved baptized recipients of Paul’s letter, while also condemned with the Romans under God’s judgment, are also now a part of Christ and his salvation.
‘For it is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them, and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, “Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, “Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.” His master said to him, “Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.” Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, “Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.” But his master replied, “You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”
Talent – 1 sum equal to 15 years wages for a daily laborer.
Here is the third parable in this series to illustrate the necessity to “be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.” In this parable Jesus is explaining that he has given the faithful a vast gift to use in furthering the Kingdom of God. Each slave is given a different amount and deals with the talents differently, just as each of us is given different gifts and made steward of different stuff which we are to use uniquely to serve God. When the master returns and the slaves come to give account of their activity in his absence, the two that have proved able bodied and industrious are rewarded with “the joy of their master.” The slave who proved resentful was kicked out of the household. In Christ’ absence, empowered by the Holy Spirit, we are to use all that we have and all that we are to serve the world and in so doing, build up the Kingdom of God. If we are lazy or selfish with the gifts God gives us, we show contempt and distain for God’s creative act in making us, Jesus’ redemptive act in living and dying for us, and the Holy Spirit’s acts of loving and leading us. Such distain and contempt is very costly.
“outer darkness where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth” – If you are not a part of a household or community, you are out in the cold, out on the street, not welcome or wanted anywhere. That is a fear