Third Sunday before Advent

6th November 2022

Reflection (readings below)

Job has been sorely afflicted and his friends bring him little comfort. Job is sure that what he is suffering is not because he has sinned. His suffering is, he feels, undeserved yet real.  His friends fail to hear what he is saying  and continue to tell him to simply repent and all will be well.

Despite the hardships and trauma, Job is confident of two things – so confident that if he could he would write them in lead with an iron pen! He is certain that God is ultimately in charge of his life  and, that God will redeem him.  (It is useful to note that redemption – salvation – does not of itself preclude suffering in our lives.)

The Psalmist expresses similar feelings, a conviction that he will be shown loving mercy by God and that his life will have a purpose. The Psalmist confidence comes from his (or her) relationship with God, through prayer and through following God’s law.

Both the passage from Job and the passage from the letter to the Thessalonians envisages an end time when God’s salvation will be made manifest. The understanding of both the resurrection of the dead and of a day of judgement – often linked to the creation of a new world – was a growing belief in Judaism in the era following the return from exile in Babylon, and then in Christianity. It wasn’t a homogeneous belief and, as we see in today’s gospel, there were powerful groups who did not belief in resurrection (and therefore not in an end judgement day either). Scepticism and uncertainty continued amongst Christians too, who were uncertain how or what resurrection and judgement would look like. Early on many Christians thought that Jesus’s return in judgement would happen during their life time and that they would pass straight from this life to the next as enjoyed by the risen Jesus. As time passed, and as those of their communities died without experiencing a resurrection visible to their companions, people were reviewing what they believed, trying to work out a better understanding of judgement and resurrection. So it is that the writer of the letter tries to reassure the congregation in Thessalonica. They are reminded that they are loved by God, that they are – already – the first fruits of salvation, and that they have been sanctified – sealed – by the Holy Spirit and are a living demonstration of the glory of Christ Jesus. 

In our current era, many people suffer for no good reason other than that they are victims of a climate crisis that is not of their making. Many others are fraught with anxiety and uncertainty about what the climate crisis portends, how it may affect them and how they should be responding. Some feel the need to take radical action, others to shy away completely from the thought of what might lie ahead. The message from Job would be to stay engaged with God – to pray, to argue, to remain faithful. The message from the Thessalonians would be to sift the stories we hear so as to discern what is truthful, and to continue as committed followers of Christ, remembering that we have Jesus as our guide and exemplar, and the Spirit as our staying power and that both the ‘Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loves us, …. [will] comfort our hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.’

Today’s gospel reading shows Jesus caught up in just such a dispute between those who believed in the resurrection and those who did not. It is one of a series of debates in the temple precincts where those who oppose Jesus are trying to pick holes in his teaching. Jesus’s answer is succinct: ‘God is the God not of the dead but of the living; for to him all … are alive’. What we humans understand as death is not as God understands it. In each of the gospels the writers record for us the good news that Jesus brought. The good news that showed us how we should live in relation to one another and in relation to God. The good news of Jesus is radical. It challenges our conventional ideas. It challenges the institutionalised ideas of our social and business worlds. It challenges our priorities. It calls for an active and prayerful response.

In the face of the climate crisis and the urgent need for radical justice, the gospel is a timely challenge to us to review our lives and reapply to them the teachings of Jesus. In this the Kingdom season, the call is to work with Jesus in establishing the kingdom of God here on earth. 

Job 19:23-27a

Job said,

“O that my words were written down!
O that they were inscribed in a book!

O that with an iron pen and with lead
they were engraved on a rock forever!

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
and that at the last he will stand upon the earth;

and after my skin has been thus destroyed,
then in my flesh I shall see God,

whom I shall see on my side,
and my eyes shall behold, and not another.”

The Psalm

1 Hear my plea of innocence, O Lord;
give heed to my cry; *
listen to my prayer, which does not come from lying lips.

2 Let my vindication come forth from your presence; *
let your eyes be fixed on justice.

3 Weigh my heart, summon me by night, *
melt me down; you will find no impurity in me.

4 I give no offence with my mouth as others do; *
I have heeded the words of your lips.

5 My footsteps hold fast to the ways of your law; *
in your paths my feet shall not stumble.

6 I call upon you, O God, for you will answer me; *
incline your ear to me and hear my words.

7 Show me your marvellous loving-kindness, *
O Saviour of those who take refuge at your right hand
from those who rise up against them.

8 Keep me as the apple of your eye; *
hide me under the shadow of your wings,

9 From the wicked who assault me, *
from my deadly enemies who surround me.

2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17

As to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our being gathered together to him, we beg you, brothers and sisters, not to be quickly shaken in mind or alarmed, either by spirit or by word or by letter, as though from us, to the effect that the day of the Lord is already here. Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God. Do you not remember that I told you these things when I was still with you?

But we must always give thanks to God for you, brothers and sisters beloved by the Lord, because God chose you as the first fruits for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and through belief in the truth. For this purpose he called you through our proclamation of the good news, so that you may obtain the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ. So then, brothers and sisters, stand firm and hold fast to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by word of mouth or by our letter.

Now may our Lord Jesus Christ himself and God our Father, who loved us and through grace gave us eternal comfort and good hope, comfort your hearts and strengthen them in every good work and word.

Luke 20:27-38

Some Sadducees, those who say there is no resurrection, came to Jesus and asked him a question, “Teacher, Moses wrote for us that if a man’s brother dies, leaving a wife but no children, the man shall marry the widow and raise up children for his brother. Now there were seven brothers; the first married, and died childless; then the second and the third married her, and so in the same way all seven died childless. Finally the woman also died. In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her.”

Jesus said to them, “Those who belong to this age marry and are given in marriage; but those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection from the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed they cannot die anymore, because they are like angels and are children of God, being children of the resurrection. And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now he is God not of the dead, but of the living; for to him all of them are alive.”