14 November. Tuesday, Week 32
God created us for incorruption, and made us in the image of his own eternity, but through the devil's envy death entered the world, and those who belong to his company experience it.
But the souls of the righteous are in the hand of God, and no torment will ever touch them. In the eyes of the foolish they seemed to have died, and their departure was thought to be a disaster, and their going from us to be their destruction; but they are at peace. For though in the sight of others they were punished, their hope is full of immortality. Having been disciplined a little, they will receive great good, because God tested them and found them worthy of himself; like gold in the furnace he tried them, and like a sacrificial burnt offering he accepted them.
In the time of their visitation they will shine forth, and will run like sparks through the stubble. They will govern nations and rule over peoples, and the Lord will reign over them forever. Those who trust in him will understand truth, and the faithful will abide with him in love, because grace and mercy are upon his holy ones, and he watches over his elect.
Jesus said to his disciples, "Who among you would say to your slave who has just come in from ploughing or tending sheep in the field, 'Come here at once and take your place at the table'? Would you not rather say to him, 'Prepare supper for me, put on your apron and serve me while I eat and drink; later you may eat and drink'? Do you thank the slave for doing what was commanded? So you also, when you have done all that you were ordered to do, say, 'We are worthless servants; we have done only what we ought to have done!'"
Late in the Old Testament era, some devout Jews came to believe that God has imbued human beings with something imperishable, like a spark of the divine nature. Each of us, regardless of race, gender or wealth, bears the image of God's own nature. In the end, God's reward to us will so surpass our expectations so that we will cry out with amazement, "We are worthless servants, who have done no more than our duty."
We begin life created to the divine image; we end it by finding the fullness of that image in Jesus Christ, when he returns in glory. In between, we trudge or trot along the human highway of life. Somehow or other in God's mysterious ways, life lets us grow into the divine image implanted at the start. Wisdom, the final Old Testament book, offers this understanding of life. It praises those who have risked their lives for their ideals. As gold in the furnace, God tested them, and took them himself. Life is a testing-place, a furnace where the divine image in us is refined. Similarly we read in Hebrews that, after being chastened a little, they shall be greatly blessed.
Jesus seems to accept customs which are not acceptable today; but his parable is simply drawn from the realities of life about him. He mentions slavery and what a master expects from a slave. For work well done the master need show no gratitude, for the slave was just doing his job. Of course, Jesus did not endorse slavery; rather he prepared for its abolition by emphasizing the dignity of everyone. But he insists that what God has in store for us will far surpass our human merits. It is a comforting thought that God blesses us much more than we can ever deserve.
Pride or excessive self-esteem is something to struggle against. Today's gospel parable warns against pride on the part of those who do their duty and do it well. Jesus says, "When you have done all you have been told to do, say, "we are merely servants: we have done no more than our duty."
In another parable the Pharisee displays the pride typical of the dutiful person, boasting of the good life that he lived, and seems to think that his virtue gave him a claim on God. But no matter how well we live, we never have a claim on God. The good news is that we don't need to score points to be sure of God's favour. God favours us and keeps favouring us by giving us his Son. In response to that, we try to serve God faithfully, by doing his will, in so far as we can discern it. Our service of the Lord is only a pale reflection of the Lord's faithful service of us.
As God's chosen ones, holy and beloved, clothe yourselves with compassion, kindness, humility, meekness, and patience. Bear with one another and, if anyone has a complaint against another, forgive each other; just as the Lord has forgiven you, so you also must forgive. Above all, clothe yourselves with love, which binds everything together in perfect harmony. And let the peace of Christ rule in your hearts, to which indeed you were called in the one body. And be thankful. Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly; teach and admonish one another in all wisdom; and with gratitude in your hearts sing psalms, hymns, and spiritual songs to God. And whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through him.
I will sanctify my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them; and the nations shall know that I am the Lord, says the Lord God, when through you I display my holiness before their eyes. I will take you from the nations, and gather you from all the countries, and bring you into your own land.
I will sprinkle clean water upon you, and you shall be clean from all your uncleannesses, and from all your idols I will cleanse you. A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. I will put my spirit within you, and make you follow my statutes and be careful to observe my ordinances. Then you shall live in the land that I gave to your ancestors; and you shall be my people, and I will be your God.
"I am the good shepherd. The good shepherd lays down his life for the sheep. The hired hand, who is not the shepherd and does not own the sheep, sees the wolf coming and leaves the sheep and runs away-and the wolf snatches them and scatters them. The hired hand runs away because a hired hand does not care for the sheep. I am the good shepherd. I know my own and my own know me, just as the Father knows me and I know the Father. And I lay down my life for the sheep.
I have other sheep that do not belong to this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd. For this reason the Father loves me, because I lay down my life in order to take it up again. No one takes it from me, but I lay it down of my own accord. I have power to lay it down, and I have power to take it up again. I have received this command from my Father."