Wednesday, March 26, 2008

New light on familiar texts

I always get caught out by weeks with Bank Holidays in them - they're shorter than average weeks!

the trouble is I never seem to take that into account when diary planning. So my week thus far has been pretty full-on, but also surprisingly enjoyable.

I've been looking at the next section of the eschatological discourse in Matthew this afternoon. I'll be preaching on 24:36-51 on Sunday where Jesus shifts our focus away from the overthrow of the temple to his return.

As ever I have found Dick France's commentary to be absolutely first rate. He writes beautifully, his exegesis is easy to follow and his conclusions always soundly based. I was particularly struck by his take on the classic 'rapture' text in v40-41. Having grown up with Larry Norman singing a version of these words in I wish we'd all been ready, I thought I knew what they were about (and I didn't really like it!)

Dick invites us to ask what these people are being taken for? After all, just a verse earlier people were being taken unexpectedly by a flood. That clearly was not a good thing. So Dick argues here that these people are being taken to judgement; unexpectedly, out-of-the-blue, unprepared, they are swept away to face their maker and account for their lives.

The rapture doesn't sound so cool now, does it?

I love it when new light is cast on familiar and troubling texts by the cool head of a master scholar. What this does is to sort out the flow of the discourse for me. Jesus is talking about his unexpected return by using three pictures of sudden events - floods, burglaries and the return of a master from his travels. None of these events can be predicted with any accuracy; they come upon us when we're looking the other way.

So it will be with the return of Jesus. The question these verses ask of us is simple: will we be doing what we should be when he comes or will we have slipped round the back of the bike sheds for a sly fag?

Tomorrow I'm off to Didcot, home of the Baptist Union and BMS World Mission, hoping to get a number of papers tackling Clement's view of church leadership read and noted on the way there and back.

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