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Christ the King (Proper 29), Cycle C

Sunday between November 20 and November 26 inclusive

With the texts chosen for this occasion, the Church Year ends in a note of triumph. The Lord is King! The Lord rules in these texts in a great variety of ways, but in each in some way the Lord is King. This is the message that we shall proclaim next Sunday. It shall be our task to proclaim with all of the skill given to us by God the many ways in which the Lord is King in these texts and in our lives.

Jeremiah 23:1-6

In its specific context within the Jeremiah traditions, this selection is a word of the Lord for a specific situation before and after the fall of Jerusalem to the Babylonians in 586 BCE. The word from Adonai is addressed to an Israelite audience that has Israelite expectations of a dynamic political leader, someone who would be like David at his best, or better than David had been.

Although the Jesus of history did not fulfill the messianic expectations of Jewish partisans that included military action for the restoration of Israelite/Jewish national independence and political power, some aspects of those expectations were utilized by followers of Jesus. These aspects helped to inform and to add detail to the portrait of the Christ painted by the early Christians who claimed to be the “New Israel” and who proclaimed the Christ of faith as their King, the fulfillment of texts such as Jeremiah 23:1-6.

In our time, it is essential that the descendants of the original Israel and the descendants of the claimant “Israel” together also with contemporary Muslims share in dialogue their futuristic messianic expectations. This dialogue is urgently needed when distrust and animosity against people who are in the other religious communities are increasing for many Jews, Christians, and Muslims.

Psalm 46

This familiar psalm of trust in the Lord is one of the relatively few eschatological psalms in the Psalter. It is particularly appropriate in times of war and of great stress such as Martin Luther faced during his struggles as a major reformer within the Western Church during the sixteenth century.

Even though the earth may be returned to its primal chaos, Jerusalem, the city of God, is said to be secure because God is in its midst. As perceived by the psalmist, the Lord God brings desolations upon all of the earth, but also brings the peace that shall follow them. The people of the city are merely to be still and to recognize that the Lord is God. Luther gave this psalm of trust a sixteenth-century application. It is our responsibility to give it an application in our time and place. That is our call.

Luke 1:68-79

In this eloquent “Benedictus,” the Lukan writer provided as words of the now believing and jubilant Zechariah a blessing of the Lord God that will be actualized in the work of Zechariah’s son, John the Baptist, who shall go before the Lord Jesus to prepare his ways. In this “Benedictus” the dawning of a new day is anticipated in which Jesus of Nazareth, as the one proclaimed by John the Baptist, will become the King forever.

Colossians 1:11-20

This great confessional hymn to Christ in Colossians 1:15-20 is perhaps the most significant of the texts selected for this occasion. We sense that the inspired writer had access in some form to Philippians 2:5-11, to Paul’s expressions of the followers of Jesus as “the body” of Christ, to Matthew’s description of the community of faith as the “Church,” and perhaps also to John 1:1-18. The result is a masterpiece composed in opposition to persons in Hellenistic syncretism — incipient, or developed Gnostics — who mythologized the elemental spirits such as earth, fire, water, and air, and the stars whose constellations were thought to control the order of the entire universe and with it the fate of each person. Even though our situation differs considerably from the setting of this Christ-hymn, the impact of this hymn is not lost to us. It is an expression of our theology.

There may be concern for some about what the writer of Colossians 1:24 (beyond our text) meant by “I complete the things that are still needed of the afflictions of Christ in my flesh in behalf of Christ’s body (the Church).” The reference is most likely to the suffering that Paul endured at the hands of oppressive Roman political and military authorities who were similar to those who in Jerusalem had crucified Jesus. Paul is represented as accepting such suffering as somehow necessary in obedience to the will of God. It was not a way in which Paul added to the atonement as accomplished in Christ, but was a way in which Paul identified with that atonement and with that Christ. We might add that the Jesus of history was crucified by the Romans because large numbers of his own Jewish people were being filled with hope by Jesus’ message that God, not Caesar, is Lord. The Paul of history was killed by the Romans because many followers of Jesus were being filled with hope by Paul’s message that Jesus as raised from the dead, not Caesar, is King and Lord.

Luke 23:33-43

Comparison of the Synoptic parallels here indicates that the Lukan writer did much editorial rearranging and new composition in preparing this text. Primarily from the materials available in the Markan Gospel, the inspired Lukan writer was able to compose this impressive, memorable scene. Within a composition designed to be superior to its antecedents (Luke 1:1-4), the Lukan writer did not hesitate to change the Mark 15:32b text, “Also the ones who had been and were being crucified along with Jesus reviled him,” into a scene in which one of the two sided with Jesus and the other against him, and did this so skillfully that the impression of continuity is given, that at first both reviled him but that then one sided with him. This little theological drama scene also provided an opportunity for the Lukan writer to demonstrate that Jesus and his friend will be together yet that same day in Paradise, an idea not present in Mark or in Matthew.

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Authors of
Lectionary Scripture Notes
Norman A. Beck is the Poehlmann Professor of Theology and Classical Languages and the Chairman of the Department of Theology, Philosophy, and Classical Languages at Texas Lutheran University
Dr. Norman A. Beck
Mark Ellingsen is professor at the Interdenominational Theological Center in Atlanta, Georgia
Dr. Mark Ellingsen