Magazine article The Christian Century

From Wrath to Grace

Magazine article The Christian Century

From Wrath to Grace

Article excerpt

Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18; Psalm 90:1-12; 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11; Matthew 25:14-30

A YOUNG SEMINARIAN could effectively caricature the preaching of his supervising pastor. "Repent!" he would holler at the top of his lungs. "Too late," he would add sotto voce, his head turned aside, as if walking away.

His supervising pastor, the Zephaniah of the Great Plains, must have been stuck on the texts for the 25th Sunday after Pentecost. His words fit the season. The fallen leaves bear the smell of judgment. The day of the Lord in mid-November smells of death.

The notion of God's wrath has fallen on hard times. It offends our sophisticated sensibilities. But there it is. The prophet Zephaniah says, "I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the people who rest complacently on their dregs, those who say in their hearts, `The Lord will not do good, nor will he do harm' ... The great day of the Lord is near ... the sound of the day of the Lord is bitter ... That day will be a day of wrath."

The psalm appointed for the day notes, "You sweep us away like a dream ... We consume away in your displeasure; we are afraid because of your wrathful indignation ... Who regards the power of your wrath? Who rightly fears your indignation?"

Because Paul is one who regards and fears the wrath of God, he can proclaim the following words to the congregation in Thessalonica: "For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ." His words are not only sweet but extravagant, as Jesus' parable makes plain in the Gospel reading.

The man going on the journey entrusts his slaves with five, two and one talent respectively. It is a highly unlikely scenario. A talent was equal to 15 years' worth of wages for the average worker. Jesus' stories are full of extravagant sums. Mary pours a $20,000 bottle of perfume on his head. A slave owes his king 10,000 talents--equivalent to the national debt of the United States, prior to the days of surplus budgets.

A farmer sows his precious seeds on the pathway, amid the thorns and upon the rocks. What kind of farmer is this? A prodigal farmer is the answer. He is like the prodigal father who runs out to greet his wayward son and to plead with his resentful son. What kind of father does that? What kind of master entrusts the kind of money Jesus is talking about to slaves? God is the kind of master who does such extravagant things.

At the cross God took the wrath of the world into God's self and trumped it by raising Jesus from the grave. God gave him back to us, a crucified and risen Lord. …

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