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Readings: Fourth Sunday before Advent

24 October 2014

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Micah 3.5-12; 1 Thessalonians 2.9-13; Matthew 24.1-14

Almighty and eternal God, you have kindled the flame of love in the hearts of the saints: grant to us the same faith and power of love, that, as we rejoice in their triumphs, we may be sustained by their example and fellowship; through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

A MAP helps us to understand Micah's message. He was from Moresheth, one of a string of named places (Micah 1.1,11-15) in the foothills about 30 miles south-west of Jerusalem, between the coastal plain (near today's Gaza, then Philistia) and the mountains around Jerusalem. That gave him a very different perspective on life from people living in or near Jerusalem. This is a cry from the margins.

In 721 BC, the northern kingdom fell to the Assyrians; and Assyrian demands for tribute from the southern kingdom created economic instability and a social crisis.

For Isaiah, Jerusalem was impregnable because it was the city of God (Isaiah 31.4-5); for Micah, living more vulnerably in an area attacked by the Philistines and now occupied by the Assyrians (2 Chronicles 28.16-21, 32.9), the destruction of Zion was a real threat (Micah 3.12). Even the fortified hill city of Lachish, about five miles from his home, had fallen.

Yet Micah explicitly inveighed not against the Assyrians, but against the cruelty and injustice of his own rulers (Micah 3.1-4). He blamed all this on the sinful way of life of Judah and Samaria, north of Jerusalem (Micah 1.1-7).

Kings frequently sought the will of God, or the gods, and Micah accused prophets in the royal courts of prophesying what the King wanted to hear, since they depended on him for their food. Years earlier, Micaiah had been struck and put on reduced rations for refusing to prophesy to order (1 Kings 22).

Like Jeremiah (6.14, 8.11) and Ezekiel (13.10-16), Micah stood bravely against lying, self-interested prophesying of peace. A century later, his stance was remembered (Jeremiah 26.17-19). Describing himself as filled with power and the spirit of the Lord, fearless for justice and might, ready to name sin as sin and unable to be bribed, he denounced his nation's perversion of justice and equity. Today's reading sounds like condemnation of the prophets, but, heard in context, was essentially judgement on a whole nation.

There is a felicitous juxtaposition with the lectionary's course reading of 1 Thessalonians, where St Paul, who had suffered at the hands of a mob in Thessalonica (Acts 17.1-10), described himself in similar terms to Micah's. Coming to them without deceit, flattery, greed, or a desire for praise, and expecting nothing from his hearers (1 Thessalonians 2.3-7), he described his way of life in positive terms: pure, upright, blameless, fatherly, encouraging.

Then we find Jesus leaving the Temple that had been rebuilt twice since Micah prophesied, the city having been destroyed as Micah expected. Herod's rebuilding, begun before Jesus's birth, took 46 years (John 2.20); so, as a boy visiting Jerusalem for the Passover, Jesus would remember it as a building site. His disciples were examining its enormous stones, but, when they admired its impregnability, Jesus echoed Micah's warning of its destruction, fulfilled by the Romans in AD 70.

We hear these readings at a time when the world is in convulsion yet again. We are marking the centenary of the war that decimated the fabric of Europe: wars do the same in the Middle East. The same human hatreds and capacity for cruelty manifest themselves as in biblical times. Now, as then, local geography renders people living away from the centre of power vulnerable in ways that people in secure locations cannot comprehend.

Despair is always a possibility. But Micah, Paul, and Jesus deny us that option. "God's word is at work in believers," Paul says. "I am filled with power, with the Spirit of the Lord, with justice and might," Micah says. We can choose to live righteously, as Micah did. That much is within our power, albeit sometimes searingly hard.

Today the Church refocuses its gaze towards Advent and the coming of God's Messiah. This weekend of All Saints' and All Souls' Days, we remember all the faithful people of God, famous or unremarked. Both our world situation and our liturgical context should shape our response to the readings.

We remind ourselves that God has kindled the flame of love in the hearts of the saints, and pray for the same faith and power of love, asking to be sustained by their example and fellowship. Micah and Paul join the ranks as our companions on the way, and, taking courage from their examples, our response must be to pray for those who face similar sufferings today.

Forthcoming Events

20 September 2021
Online book launch: Black, Gay, British, Christian, Queer
Author Jarel Robinson-Brown in conversation with Rev. Winnie Varghese.

25 September 2021
Festival of Faith and Literature: Food for the Journey
With Stephen Cottrell, Peter Stanford, Lucy Winkett, and Rowan Williams.

More events

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