Proper 29 – November 20, 2016
The previous week’s readings have been anticipating a coming Kingdom or Reign where God will be enthroned and mankind will live at peace as intended. This week’s reading will be the culmination of that arc. The passage begins lamenting the ruler/shepherd who allows their people to be scattered like sheep without a shepherd, thereby accusing the rulers of Jeremiah’s time who set Judah up for the exile of 587 BCE. But the passage takes a more positive turn, and God himself is imagined as gathering the people together as a shepherd gathers his sheep. The people will be safe again and will be “fruitful and multiply” evoking Genesis. Finally, a new ruler, from the “righteous branch” of David (the like of King David) will rule wisely and justly. Jesus will be later interpreted as the “Righteous Branch.”
This passage includes what is likely a hymn of the early church. The second part of the passage is steeped in high Pauline theology and holds many similarities with the “hymn to the word” found at the beginning of John’s gospel, imagining Christ as present with God as firstborn and the one through which all things were created, the seeable image of the unseen God. The first part of the passage gives this hymn context to the encouragement of the church at Colossi. To share in the inheritance of Jesus (through faith) is to be carried into the eternity imagined in the hymn, where Christ is first in all things, over all the powers, rulers, and nations.
This passage depicts the crucifixion, with each scene portraying a part of the Roman emperor’s coronation on Palatine hill. Here the soldiers ironically name him “King of Jews”, as it would normally be the armies or legions that would name the emperor in the coronation ceremony. The Jewish leaders ironically name him “messiah,” the one who would save Israel, in the same way. Finally, the criminal would name him as the one who saves, another title given by the people to the emperor. All in all the passage is paradoxical, recognizing that as they act to kill Jesus, they are in fact enthroning him. Yet, in Christ’s kingdom, all, even the criminals and the soldiers, are forgiven and offered salvation.