The three lessons today seem to put forth a very discouraging or even dismal and perhaps frightening perspective or picture of what judgment, death, end of the world, that type of thing. But to truly understanding these readings, the passages from Malachi and the letter from Paul to the church in Thessalonica and the Gospel of Luke, we must consider the context in which each of them was written so we really can begin to understand what the writer is trying to bring forth for us.
The Peace Pulpit
This is one of those Sundays when, if we listen to the lessons very carefully, especially the first lesson in the gospel lesson, we will come to see how Jesus so clearly fulfills what had been revealed to people through God's chosen people in the Old Testament. In that first lesson, as I mentioned in introducing it, we discover someone who has a very profound insight into God. This person has come to know God very deeply and shares with us the kind of God that we worship: "Because you are Almighty, you are merciful to God."
Perhaps the most important words from today’s gospel are what Jesus says at the end of the lesson, after he tells the parable.
He says that one person went down to his house justified, not the other. If we understand the full implications of what it means to be justified, we perhaps will have a deeper understanding of what Jesus means by this parable.
As we reflect on the readings today, I think it’s important to begin with what happens at the end of the Gospel, where Jesus says to the man who was cured -- the one among the 10 who came back -- he says to him: “Your faith has saved you.”
As we listen carefully to the lessons today, we discover some things about the reign of God -- the realm of God where God is in fullness of presence -- and what we pray for when we say the Our Father, “Thy Kingdom come.”
There is a passage in the Book of the Prophet Isaiah that I have always thought of as a very marvelous, extraordinary way of showing who God is and how God acts in relation to us. This is from the 30th chapter in the Book of Isaiah and it time when the prophet has been preaching to the people, who are threatened with an invasion from the north, not to enter into an alliance with the Egyptians and not to go to war. The prophet is pleading with the people "Seek peace and only peace." But they reject the prophet's message and they go to war. They are defeated, but then the prophet says these extraordinary words, speaking for God: "God is always waiting to be gracious to you. God comes to show you compassion." I have always thought of this as a very beautiful expression of who God is. God is always waiting, waiting to be gracious to us. No matter how we have sinned, rejected God, God is waiting. That is a very reassuring revelation about God.
In today's Gospel, Jesus is heading to Jerusalem and he knows what is facing him there. But he is also attracting this large crowd of people who following him with great enthusiasm. Jesus determines that this is something critical. A decisive moment. It was for the people of that time, and because this word of God is a living word it must be a decisive moment for each one of us. Are we really ready to make the decision to follow Jesus?
Obviously, in our lessons today -- God’s Word that we are listening to carefully -- we are being instructed about humility. This is a virtue that I think many of us have some trouble with -- even though in our first lesson the writer of that Book of Wisdom tells us that the greater you are, the more you should humble yourself and find favor with God. It is the humble that give God glory. We hear that, but we still wonder about being humble because many of us, I think, have an understanding of humility that it somehow means putting yourself down.
Probably we noticed, as we listened to the gospel, that Jesus really does not answer the person's question, the one who cried out from the crowd, "Will only a few be saved?" Obviously the person asking that question is concerned about personal, individual salvation — how many are there going to be that will be saved? Jesus doesn't consider that because he didn't come just to preach personal salvation.
We gather together obviously with great joy to celebrate the feast today: the feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary into heaven. Mary, according to the feast that we celebrate, went immediately through death to new life without her body falling into decay and being buried. And of course it was a significant blessing for her -- a sign of her unique place in the whole story of our salvation -- and so we rejoice in this and celebrate.