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Lectionary readings for November

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Sunday readings for November by Donald Ker

This month marks the end of year A and our focus on Matthew’s Gospel. Over recent weeks we’ve seen how Jesus, often through parables, discloses something of the mystery of God’s kingdom, and how the opposition to him has been mounting. This month we see him both challenging the attitudes of those who reject him and telling further parables of the coming Kingdom – parables which are full of hope but also remind us to be ready, and make clear that we are accountable.

November is a month of remembrance so the stories of past wars and present conflicts are not far from our minds. Our readings tell stories of another King and another Kingdom which calls for our first allegiance.

5th November: 31st Sunday in Ordinary Time  

 Micah 3: 5-12; Psalm 43; I Thessalonians 2: 9-13; Matthew 23: 1-12

A quick search through some social media will bring up stories of religious leaders, most of them avowedly Christian, who have grown wealthy through founding and then pastoring their church.

Today’s reading from Micah illustrates that there has always been a temptation for preachers to say what they think people want to hear in order to retain the support of their followers. Micah sees that this false prophecy will lead ultimately to the downfall of the nation and the destruction of its capital city, Jerusalem.

But religious corruption is not confined to the past or to other nations and churches. Jesus, in our Gospel reading, warns his hearers that, unless they have humble integrity, they too will miss the point of God’s kingdom.

The Pharisees were a lay group who cared about the renewal of Israel. Some, like Nicodemus, were open to the way of Jesus. Many, however, had problems with him because he did not follow their approach of building a fence around the Law through a system of regulations that sought to determine how one should act in any given situation. This, Jesus claimed, didn’t set people free. Rather it burdened them. Worse, however, was the desire to be seen and admired as religious, for this was really a form of human pride.

In the Church of Jesus we are called to treat one another with loving respect but not with deference. When reading Jesus’ admonition that we should not call anyone ‘Father’, we may need to remember that in his society the father in a household had very specific authority and his word was not to be questioned. In Jesus’ community all are equally in need of grace and all are of equal value in the sight of God.

Paul offers a different picture of fatherhood in our epistle. In previous verses he has likened himself both to a young child and then to a nursing mother. Now he reminds this church which he founded that he had not sought to live off them but rather had worked hard to support himself. Fatherhood involved comfort and encouragement to live lives worthy of God. Christian leadership always requires humility and integrity.

12th  November: 32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time 

 Wisdom of Solomon 6:12-16 or Amos 5:18-24; Psalm 70; I Thessalonians 4: 13-18; Matthew 25: 1-13

 Or, for Remembrance Sunday

 Isaiah 25: 1-9 or Isaiah 52: 7-12 or Micah 4: 1-8; Psalm 9: 9-20 or Psalm 46; Romans 8: 31-35, 37-39 or Revelation 22: 1-5; Matthew 5: 1-12 or Matthew 5: 43-48 or John 15: 9-17

 There is considerable choice within our readings today. The readings set for Remembrance Sunday focus both on Christian hope and also on the way in which Jesus turns many of our human approaches upside down. Our past and present may know the reality of war, but while we remember with solemn respect we also long for, and work for, a better way.

The standard readings for year A in the lectionary bring us to Matthew 25, where we will stay for these three remaining Sundays before Advent and the start of a new Christian year.

This time of year is often called ‘Kingdom-tide’ – the season when we focus on the fulfilment of God’s reign.  Matthew has collected together three parables which stress different aspects of that coming kingdom. Today’s lesson is about the importance of being ready.

The scene that Jesus paints was most likely readily understood by his first hearers. It was not unusual for some of the young girls of the village to escort the bridegroom to his wedding feast, nor was it unusual for bridegrooms to be delayed.

The reason for delay might be the last-minute financial negotiations that accompanied a wedding, or the simple vagaries of travel. Whatever the reason, those who were unprepared for the bridegroom are now distracted and eventually excluded from the banquet. Then and now those who await the Day of the Lord show their readiness by devotion, obedience and continued good works expressing their commitment to God’s ways.

Amos, in our first reading, underlines this point. Where people might have longed for the Day of the Lord because they imagined that it would vindicate and prosper them, that Day is in fact a time of judgment. God evaluates us not by our liturgies and music but by our care for the vulnerable.

Paul’s message to the fledgling church in Thessalonika is to keep on hoping and longing for the coming of Christ. The story of the Universe is not about a wheel that keeps on turning endlessly without purpose or direction. Rather the story ends with Christ.  Paul seems to suggest in this passage that he expected Jesus to come while he (Paul) was still alive. That did not happen. But whether sooner or later the message is the same – we are called to be ready.

 19th November: 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time 

 Zephaniah 1: 7, 12-18; Psalm 90: 1-8, (9-11) 12; I Thessalonians 5, 1-11; Matthew 25: 14-30

Today’s gospel contains our second parable from Matthew 25.  As we noted last week, the Church from earliest days has looked forward to the return of Christ. After 2,000 years we are used, perhaps too used, to waiting. Many in the early Church, however, sensed that Christ’s return would be imminent. But what were they to do in the meantime?

This parable would be heard as strong encouragement to invest oneself and one’s gifts for the Kingdom. Matthew uses the word ‘talents’ to describe the amount of money each servant is given. We can’t be sure exactly how much a talent was worth, but it was clearly a substantial amount. Of course ‘talents’ nowadays are understood as the gifts, abilities and opportunities which God has given us. Thus the parable is brought home to us with fresh insight.

Those servants who invested what they had for the purposes of the Kingdom were blessed, but there was risk for them in so doing. Matthew’s fledgling Church would have known criticism, and at times ostracism, from both Jewish and Gentile quarters, and so we can imagine that some wished to keep their faith to themselves and simply coast along in the church community.  This parable makes plain that, as the Kingdom comes so all will be summoned to render account. The saying ‘use it or lose it’ seems to apply to our God-given abilities as to much else.

Zephaniah’s prophecy picks up the theme of accountability before God. Although much in the three chapters of this book seems negative and even harsh, the final verses offer hope of restoration.

Paul, in I Thessalonians 5, develops the theme of the coming of the Lord. He stresses that we need to be ready for the unexpected (as was also the theme of last week’s parable in Matthew 25). Readiness, in Paul’s eyes, is about living a sober, light-filled life in which faith, hope and love are our protection and our impetus for Kingdom living.

26th November: Sunday before Advent  

Ezekiel 34: 11-16, 20-24; Psalm 95: 1-7 or Psalm 100; Ephesians 1: 15-23; Matthew 25: 31-46

Today is the last Sunday of the Christian year, as Advent Sunday (next week) will mark a new beginning.  In many churches this Sunday is celebrated as the feast of Christ the King. As such, it marks the climax of the Christian journey through the year in which we have longed for the coming Christ, celebrated his birth, walked with him through his earthly ministry all the way to the cross, rejoiced in his resurrection, celebrated the coming of the Spirit and the Holy Trinity and considered all that it means to belong to Jesus in the life of his Church. Today we celebrate that God has placed all things under Christ’s feet and appointed him to be head over everything……’(Ephesians 1: 22).

But what will the coming of the King entail?  Today’s Gospel reading offers at least part of the answer. You’ll see that as the reading starts Jesus speaks of the “Son of Man” – a title which he often applied to himself. But the Son of Man is sitting in glory on a throne with the nations gathered before him, so very quickly the language changes and he is acknowledged as “the King”.

The judgment which the King pronounces is based on how those now before him have treated “the least of these brothers and sisters of mine” (v 40). It is most likely that this phrase refers to Christian communities. Thus these words will have brought comfort to those who sensed that they were under pressure for their faith. God’s righteousness would at last prevail, and their closeness and identification with their Lord was underlined. The judgment would bring surprises, both good and bad, to those who had dealings with them.

But we’re surely justified in extending the scope of this judgment to cover how all those, within the church as beyond it, treat their neighbour. This is particularly so when we recall Jesus’ affirmation of the commandment that we are to love our neighbour as ourself, and his description of how neighbourly love shows itself (Luke 10:25-37). We belong to Christ only through God’s grace, but we live in the light of that grace by caring for others.

In the reading from Ezekiel 34 we are reminded that God is a shepherd God. In grace he searches for sheep, heals, restores and feeds them, but he will also judge between one sheep and another.  Jesus as King in the line of David fulfils this promise.

Paul, in his great thanksgiving and prayer in Ephesians 1: 15-23, is well aware that Christ is King and Lord. His Kingship is for the Church; in other words Christians have a unique place as God works out his purposes. Paul’s prayer is that all Christ’s people may be filled with God’s Spirit, may know the hope of participating in God’s Kingdom and experience God’s resurrecting power now. As we prepare for the Lord’s coming, and the Advent season, may this be our experience also.

 

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