Turning the world upside down

November 3, 2013
All Saints’ Day observed
Proper for All Saints’ C (RCL)
Daniel 7:1-3, 15-18
Psalm 149
Ephesians 1:11-23
Luke 6:20-31

I’ve never particularly like Psalm 149, and yet we hear it (and sing it) every year on All Saints’ Day. I’m not sure what I think about the faithful wreaking vengeance on the nations and punishment on the peoples in general. And even more, it seems to me an odd thing to be associate that with All Saints’. Clint McCann points out in his commentary on the Psalms that vengeance belongs to God, and this Psalm is making the point (it sounds at the beginning like a royal enthronement psalm) that there is not longer a king over the people, but that the people, the faithful, themselves fulfill the role of God. If this Psalm was written, edited or collected (or all three) during the Exile, when the faithful are about as powerless as they can be, then the theology is one that turns the world upside down.

Both the reading from Daniel and the beatitudes in Luke do the same thing. In Daniel, God’s judgment is executed quickly on the four “beasts” and the “holy ones” (not a king) receive the kingdom. In Luke, the poor, the hungry, the weeping and the persecuted are held up for honor, while the rich, the comfortable and the accepted are held up for shame (a proper reading would be, “How honorable are you poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Shame on you rich, for you have received your consolation”). Again, given the reality of Roman oppression, this stands the real world on its head.

For us, who are among the world’s rich (we may think we are struggling in this recession, but the reality is we are unbelievable rich), it can be hard to hear that God’s holy ones, the poor, are going to given task of executing God’s judgment on us. But all apocalyptic literature is a way of calling the present under the judgment of God’s future. The question is, how might we begin to live now as God’s holy ones?

In Luke’s portrayal of the new community, honor is not a zero-sum game. There is enough of it to go around and more even for the poor, the weeping and the outcast. I don’t think Luke has a problem with money in general (see the story of Zaccheus, which would have been the reading for Sunday, if we weren’t reading All Saints’. Zaccheus, though a tax collector, gives away half of his possessions — present tense, not future — and restores four-fold any money unjustly gotten, and salvation has come to his house). Luke does have a problem with us defining ourselves by money, defining our value to God by our net worth (see the story of the rich young man who keeps the law, but cannot part with his money). Luke envisions a community in which Roman soldiers (see the preaching of John the Baptist) and chief tax collectors can be among God’s holy ones. Do we see God’s justice and God’s honor as more than abundant, extending to all, including all in the community of the righteous, or do we see God’s goodness as something to be hoarded into ever bigger barns? If the first, we have nothing to fear when the kingdom is given to God’s holy ones. If the second, we will never have enough, even now.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *