Magazine article The Christian Century

Living by the Word: Imagining Christ

Magazine article The Christian Century

Living by the Word: Imagining Christ

Article excerpt

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

AS WE APPROACH the season of Advent, we find Ezekiel being outrageous in true prophetic style. If we pride ourselves on being spiritual seekers, Ezekiel insists that it is God who seeks us out and not the other way around. Can't we prize the maturity of knowing who we are and of finding communities where we feel at home? Ezekiel informs us that we are in fact so lost that God must take the trouble to find and rescue us. Some of that sounds good--the idea that God desires to feed us, wipe away our tears and bind up our wounds--but it also makes us uneasy. Are we really that needy and so unable to help ourselves?

As often happens when prophets speak, closely following on the heels of the good promises comes what we perceive as bad. This talk of judging, of sorting out the sheep, sounds negative and even dangerous. It's not healthy to think in terms of "us" and "them," of those who pass the test and those who don't. Yet this touches on what makes Ezekiel a prophet to begin with; he forces us to question whether our discomfort over God's judgment comes not so much from fear of taking sides, or of being found on the wrong side, but from feeling affronted. Isn't it our prerogative to label and condemn? We certainly act as if this is the case. Even people who describe themselves as nonjudgmental are quick to adopt the easy polarizing that marks contemporary discourse in America. Before we agree to listen to someone, we want to know if he or she is liberal or conservative; Democrat or Republican; gay or straight; hot or, God-forbid, not.

Ezekiel calls us on our folly. Judgment belongs to God, and God's concerns are not our own. When God begins the sorting of the flock, it is not to divide the good from the bad or administer litmus tests of faith or political conviction. God is seeing what we have refused to see, seeking out the weak who have been butted around on their way to the feed trough. God pities those whose have been wounded by the selfish actions of others. This is the good news that any prophet worth the title conveys to us. It demonstrates why we need prophets in the first place.

Psalm 95 provides another glimpse of a God who is not like us, a God who made the sea and formed the dry land. We kneel instinctively before the One whose power is greater than we can imagine, and whose tenderness toward us is beyond our comprehension. Imagine a God who rules the universe, yet cares for us as we are. It sounds too good to be true, and our suspicions rise when we look at the gospel, which returns us to the theme of judgment. This God who sees us more clearly than we see ourselves is the One we will meet at the end of days. …

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