Being Christ among the exiles: reflection for Week 13/Proper 8

Jeremiah 28.5-9; Romans 6.12-23; Matthew 10.40-42

Today’s gospel reading concludes the tenth chapter of Saint Matthew, in which disciples are given their role of presenting Christ to the world. In last week’s passage (verses 24-39), they were given the task of speaking words on the Lord’s behalf, proclaiming aloud all that had been taught in secret. They were also to suffer with him, embracing his ‘unavoidably divisive’ gospel and facing the cross in consequence (Benedict Green).

 

This week, the disciple hopes to be ‘received as Christ’, representing him in the world just as he represents the Father. It is on those who welcome a disciple as Christ, even with so little as a cup of water, that Christ will bestow his own reward.

 

During ordination season it is tempting to think that this imitation of Christ in public is the proper work of the ordained, leaving the laity to busy themselves with their own professional and private lives. This would be an error. We all participate in the apostolic task according to our ability and disposition, being Christ in our communities not through theatrical impersonation or caricature, but by a process much more like the formation of a musician through assiduous daily practice.

 

In Romans 6, St Paul is clear that this process of growing recognisably more Christ-like begins with a decision as fundamental as Moses’ invitation to ‘choose life and blessings’ (Deuteronomy 30.19), or Joshua’s declaration that he and his household will ‘serve the Lord’ (Joshua 24.15). For Paul, Christ’s followers have been set free from sin, whose end is death, so that they might, under grace, be slaves of righteousness, whose reward is life (Romans 6.14-18). Disciples have exchanged one master for another; an old life for a new. And death shall have no dominion.

 

Those who have grown up inhaling the final fumes of Christendom will find this a challenge. Since Constantine, people have ‘just been’ Christian, without any need to stand out from the crowd. But today’s readings suggest that for the Church, as for the Church-goer, this is an inadequate response. Once we have decided for Christ, we must rally to his banner and ‘present ourselves to God as instruments of righteousness’ (Romans 6.13), living as heaven’s exiles in the world.

 

Like those taken in captivity to Babylon, we cannot predict when our exile will end or how our life will be. It might be hard to distinguish between Christ’s command not to be afraid, and the Prophet Hananiah’s confident optimism that all will quickly come right. Jeremiah’s more cautious view, vindicated as events unfold, is that things will turn out in their own and God’s good time, as God uses unexpected people as instruments of the divine will. As the exiles must live and prosper under the foreign rule of Nebuchadnezzar, caring for their temporary city and making it fruitful, we too must make a home in this fallen, fragile world, never forgetting whose slaves and disciples we are, nor where we have come from. When we authentically demonstrate for our neighbours what the ruler of our true homeland looks like, they may welcome us for the sake of such a King, and in turn be blessed by him.

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