Signpost for Sunday November 20, 2016: Jeremiah 23:1-6; For Psalm Luke 1:68-79; Colossians 1 11-20; Luke 23:33-43.
The image of sheep and shepherds is common throughout the Bible. Often the shepherds are to be identified as leaders of the flock, and singled out for judgement if they misuse their position of leadership. An image of this kind is presented by the prophet Jeremiah as a prefix to the promise of better shepherds, and of the righteous one who shall reign as king and deal wisely, and shall execute justice and righteousness in the land.
Zechariah, in his prophecy in Luke 1, picks up this and similar statements of the prophets as he speaks of his son, John, as the one who will go before the Lord to prepare his ways. So the scene is set for the coming of the one who was promised. Our next image is of the apparent disaster of the death of the one who would reign as king and deal wisely is cruelly cut short. But, included in the description of the events is a record of a short conversation between three men, all of them being tortured to death. All of them can hear what is being said around the execution site. One is angry: hearing what is being said he demands to be set free from torture. The other, recognising that he was a criminal, and recognising the truth in the mockery of Jesus, asks for nothing more than to be remembered when Jesus comes into his kingdom, and he receives a dramatic and unexpected reply: Today you will be with me in paradise.
One of the things that stands out to me from this conversation is that Jesus, through his actions, was offering a choice to those around him; to believe or not to believe is a choice. His love for humanity is such that he is offering a choice which has real consequences. The apostle Paul grasps something of what has happened, both in the crucifixion and the resurrection which follows. He expresses himself in words that convey a sense of excitement and of wonder at what he sees in the person of Christ. Again, the element of choice appears through him God was pleased to reconcile to himself all things. Reconciliation is possible only through a choice by both sides of a separation. The statement He is the image of the invisible God can set us off thinking about what we mean by an image and how we relate it to the reality which gives rise to it. There are even choices in the way we develop our thoughts around the concept of an image. One of them arises from the writings of Rowan Williams: if Jesus the man is the image of the invisible God how then should we treat our fellow humans?