Reflections by Jennifer Geach
Fourth Sunday of Lent
5th March 2018
Whoever is among you of all his people, may the Lord his God be with him! Let him go up. (2 Chronicles 36:23) For we are what he has made us, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand to be our way of life. (Ephesians 2:10) Those who believe in him are not condemned; but those who do not believe are condemned already, because they have not believed in the name of the only Son of God. And this is the judgement, that the light has come into the world, and people loved darkness rather than light because their deeds were evil. (John 3:18-19)
It is always interesting to put the scripture that we hear on Sundays into context: for while every word of scripture is precious, we can sometimes better understand what is being said if we know what precedes and follows. Thus on Laetare Sunday, the respite Sunday in the middle of Lent, we are given a reading from Chronicles; in fact the last chapter.
The book of Chronicles makes rather gloomy reading: again and again it says ‘so and so ruled for so long: and he did evil before the Lord’ There are one or two good kings, such as Josias, who did right before the Lord: but the record is for the most part appalling. I fear that this awful record is a bit like the record of our own lives: intermittent attempts to love God most, surrounded by long periods of unfaithfulness and lack of love.
Ephesus was an ancient Greek city on the coast of Ionia: and the temple to Artemis/Diana (whose worship was conflated with Ashtoreth) was one of the 7 wonders of the ancient world. Paul had caused an uproar when he went there, for the silversmiths, who had made a lucrative business out of little images of Diana, feared to lose their livelihood. The letter to the Ephesians is full of the idea that the believers in Jesus Christs are literally elect: that is, they have been chosen by God, out of the people among whom they live. And the mark of their election is their belief in Christ Jesus. Notice that St Paul is not here appealing to an emotional response, a personal response to Christ: he is here referencing a belief about Jesus Christ, that he is the only Son of God, whose name must be believed if we are to be saved. It is important to realise that doctrine mattered to Christians right from the start: from the moment when Peter made the first public profession of faith ‘you are the Christ, the Son of the living God’ a dogmatic understanding of God was central to Christian thinking. Whereas among the pagans, what mattered was correct ritual observance, among Christians from the beginning one of the things that mattered was orthodoxy, that is having the right ideas about who Jesus was, and so who God was, and what the Church was.