By Dane Neufeld
A Reading from Wisdom 4:16-5:8
16 The righteous who have died will condemn the ungodly who are living,
and youth that is quickly perfected will condemn the prolonged old age of the unrighteous.
17 For they will see the end of the wise,
and will not understand what the Lord purposed for them,
and for what he kept them safe.
18 The unrighteous will see, and will have contempt for them,
but the Lord will laugh them to scorn.
After this they will become dishonored corpses,
and an outrage among the dead for ever;
19 because he will dash them speechless to the ground,
and shake them from the foundations;
they will be left utterly dry and barren,
and they will suffer anguish,
and the memory of them will perish.
20 They will come with dread when their sins are reckoned up,
and their lawless deeds will convict them to their face.
1 Then the righteous will stand with great confidence
in the presence of those who have oppressed them
and those who make light of their labors.
2 When the unrighteous see them, they will be shaken with dreadful fear,
and they will be amazed at the unexpected salvation of the righteous.
3 They will speak to one another in repentance,
and in anguish of spirit they will groan, and say,
4 “These are persons whom we once held in derision
and made a byword of reproach — fools that we were!
We thought that their lives were madness
and that their end was without honor.
5 Why have they been numbered among the children of God?
And why is their lot among the saints?
6 So it was we who strayed from the way of truth,
and the light of righteousness did not shine on us,
and the sun did not rise upon us.
7 We took our fill of the paths of lawlessness and destruction,
and we journeyed through trackless deserts,
but the way of the Lord we have not known.
8 What has our arrogance profited us?
And what good has our boasted wealth brought us?”
On occasion my kids and I like watching premature sports celebrations on YouTube, like when a receiver gets tackled and stripped of the ball on the five-yard line after slowing down and raising his hands. When someone fails to show the humility and discipline to finish the job, somehow the extreme reversal of fortune seems humorously just.
The Book of Wisdom depicts a crowd who look on the suffering and anguish of another with contempt or indifference, but then suddenly come to see that they were entirely mistaken. The man whose life was cut short was in the end vindicated by God and his life shown to be what it truly was: a life well lived. At first, it is hard to tell if the anguish of the crowd is just bitterness from having lost to someone they thought they had surpassed: “Why has he been numbered among the sons of God? Why is his lot among the saints?” But by the end they cry out, “What has our arrogance profited us?”
Reading passages like this can easily lead to gloating: insert pretty much anyone we don’t like into the crowd of anguishing and remorseful sinners. But in the course of our lives we cannot always tell if we are doing the wrong thing or ignoring the right thing. It is easy enough to look back at history and identify the faults of others, but what are the blind spots and shadows we currently inhabit?
Because we don’t always know, it seems wise to proceed with humility and reverence. When Christ is revealed, there will be aspects of our lives that we do regret. In a way, his life stands against all of our lives as the standard that measures us. But we also trust in his mercy and the transforming power of the Holy Spirit, without which our lives could never stand the test of God’s judgment. By staying close to the one who was mocked and scoffed at by the crowds, but who rose from the dead, we stand in the still point between humility and triumph that Christ demonstrated once and for all.
The Rev. Dane Neufeld currently serves as the incumbent of St. James, Calgary, after serving 7 years in Fort McMurray in Northern Alberta.
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Today we pray for:
The Diocese of Upper South Carolina
The Diocese of Brechin (Scottish Episcopal Church)