Twenty-Seventh Sunday after Pentecost

by Crossings

Servant Who Keeps Watch
Matt. 25:1-13
Twenty-Seventh Sunday after Pentecost
analysis by Ed Schroeder

Some thoughts on the last three Gospel pericopes (in the Revised Common Lectionary) for church year 1996. Offered here are some general items plus a Crossings matrix for Matt. 25:1-13. If this Crossings matrix makes sense to you, you can readily produce your own for the Gospel appointed for Nov. 17. In Sabb-theol. #38 (coming Nov. 16) I’ll hope to offer a Crossings paradigm for Christ the King Sunday’s gospel, Matt. 25:31-46. Its basic contours were worked out by Bob Bertram two or three triennia ago at our Crossings CHrist the King Practicum held annually in Chicago. Bob originally titled it: “Two ways not to see the judge.” More next time.
Peace & Joy! Ed 

All three of the pericopes of Matt. 25 generate conflict among the exegetes. What’s gospel-ly about the wise maidens in their refusal to share, or the bridegroom’s harsh exclusion of the victimized foolish ones? What to do with the early capitalism (money making more money) in the second text, and the master’s super-harsh response to the one servant who wouldn’t play that game? And then the last one which makes it “perfectly clear” that works (apparently not faith) are what finally divide the sheep from the goats, the blessed from the cursed.

Premise 1. In this last chapter before the passion history Matthew’s Jesus is not negating the theology of the first 24 chapters. These three parables affirm, not negate, what has preceded them: Jesus brings the Kingdom, God’s Management-by-mercy, for sinners. All humans are sinners. But there is one important distinction. Some are sinners-in-fact but not sinners-in-truth. They don’t ‘fess up to the fact. Throughout Matt.’s gospel these are the scripture experts and the Pharisees. Others are sinners-in-fact-and-in-truth, the ones in Matt. who cry: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me.” The conflict about Jesus centers here.

Premise 2. Besides the theology of the entire preceding gospel, the immediately preceding 3 chapters (22-24) constitute a specific lead-in for 25. Keeping the three parables of 25 linked to these chapters amounts to something like this:

A. Chapter 23 articulates the fundamental antithesis Jesus met throughout his ministry: the teachers of the law and the Pharisees are a clean contrary theological alternative to his being the Son-of-David Messiah.B. That either/or is signalled–and summarized–in the last episode of his encounter with them in 22:34-46. The either/or appears in the two questions posed by the two contenders: What’s the Law? vs. Who/what’s the Messiah? God’s salvation is grounded either in the great commandment(s) of God’s law or in God’s Mercy-Messiah, who is both David’s son and David’s Lord. Jesus maintains the latter, his critics the former.

C. The apocalypse in 24 signals the cosmic dimensions both of God’s salvation and of human opposition to it. 24 also blends the “now” of Jesus passion (= the onset of the end-time) with the “not yet” up ahead when the end-time comes to an end. So if we are alive after the first Good Friday and Easter, then it is “apocalypse now.” Matthew gives us Jesus’ teasing words without comment: “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened.”

D. Jesus concludes chapt. 24 with a story of the same genre as the ones coming in 25. The either/or is the “wise” (not foolish!) servant who “keeps watch,” is “faith-full,” is “ready,” whom the master finds doing the his/her assigned daily work when the master returns. For him the master’s final return is “good,” more of the same salvation in new dimensions. The other option is the servant who used his connections with the master for flat-out self-aggrandizement (ala Luther–his birthday is Sunday–the sinner’ chronic “incurvature into himself”). For such a one, the master’s return is also more of the same–permanent disconnectedness with the master, and terminal incurvature unto death.

Now to the text of Matt. 25:1-13–

D-1 External.
Humans live leaning into the future, some future we long for (and then again sometimes dread). “Going out to meet the bridegroom” is Biblical imagery for living intentionally toward a particular sort of future, one marked by the Messiah and the Messianic Age he brings. But there are differing messianisms. Daily life behaviors signal whether we are living a wise or a foolish messianism. Our age (Matthew’s too) is chock-a-block, as the Aussies say, full to overflowing, with folks acting out their “foolish” messianisms–working to create the future they long for while also working to preventing the dreaded one from ever happening.

D-2 Internal.
Linked to our outwardly lived/professed messianism (our theology of our own future) is our faith about ourselves, our self-perceptions. Sinners-in-truth are wise sinners. Foolish are such sinners who are not “in truth” about themselves. Christian sinnerstoo are entangled in this sort of thing. What false messianisms, what forms of “sinners-in-untruth,” parade around in our Christian disguises?

D-3 Eternal.
When the genuine Messiah comes–either this very day in some Christian’s Mercy-Messianic outreach to such a sinner, or on the last time it shall ever occur at the end of all time–foolish messianists find such “good news” to be “bad news.” The chronologically first time that happens to such a sinner, it is kairos-time, apocalypse now for him/her. When this Messianic coming comes for the last time, those who see the good news as bad news wind up on the outside, pleading for entry, but sadly left as they already were in their own home-made messianisms–with no “known” connection to the Messiah who manages the cosmos. God’s final Messiah is then only their final judge. In today’s O.T. lesson Amos articulates God’s death sentence on sinners-in-fact, pious though they be, who refuse to be “sinners-in-truth.”

P- 3 (Good news for D-3, as grim as D-3 appears)
Before he finally comes to close the age, Jesus Messiah came and still comes to merci-fy all sinners, both those in truth and those in untruth. The latter, of course, first have to becomes sinners-in-truth (=what repentance means). This applies also and especially to Christian sinners with our own false messianisms, our own modes of being sinners-in-untruth. Our messy messianisms and lives of untruth, like those he encountered during his 33 years, are bad enough to put him to the cross. Yet that cross he assumes “uncomplainingly.” And with his Easter he offers the cash value of all that to us as a gift for the trusting. Especially in the imagery of apocalyptic, his taking us into his merciful-judgment of sinners constitutes our passing through our own apocalypse along with his of Good Friday and Easter. His offer thus says: trust me and thereby your apocalypse, your judgment day, is already behind you. I did it for you. Trust me and it counts for you already now. Here there is no “not yet.”

P-2 (Good News for D-2)
Being a sinner in truth (repentance) and then being a graced sinner (faith). Taking the Mercy Messiah at his word as the new truth, the “full” truth about me. My “sinnerhood in truth” trumped by my Christ-connected lamp-oil, a “wedding guest in grace and truth.”

P-1 (Good News for D-1: New behaviors)
Faith in Christ constitutes being already in on the festivities. So the text’s final mandate to watch is counsel to correlate this faith with how we live out the end time in God’s creation. For homiletic help, go to the second lesson for today, I Thess 4:13-18, for a sample of wise living during the end time. Key terms are: not being ignorant about world history; grieving, yes, but not grieving without hope; encouraging one another with the wisdom of Christ, the truth that if his death and resurrection are what we believe, then we live our own histories accordingly.


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