“We are created in Christ Jesus to lead the life of good deeds which God prepared for us in advance.”
There is a hermeneutic principle which says that scripture interprets scripture. These passages beautifully demonstrate this principle and reveal the message found within each. The basic message of Chronicles, Ephesians, and John is that salvation is a gift that can not be merited; none-the-less we are called to good works. This simple message is illustrated by the story of Israel as recorded in Chronicles.
The prophets had often warned Israel against practicing the abominations of other nations. Immediately we think in terms of apparent moral evil but in fact these were religious practices tied to temple worship. Good works we might say. But for Yahweh’s covenant people, they were abominations because they instilled within the people the false concept that God was unwilling to bless his people. They promoted the view that the God of Israel was to be feared. Yahweh, however, was the liberating God who had called them out of bondage by his power, by his compassion, even while they were yet slaves worshiping the false gods of Egypt. The message — salvation, God’s liberating love, is a gift; it can not be merited.
Yet while God did not want them to participate in pagan feverish dances and ceremonies of painful self infliction to earn his love, he did want the love and compassion they had received from him to be demonstrated in good works toward others. As God had brought peace, justice and liberation to the Israelites, they were to do this for others. This is why they ultimately were judged. They did not fulfill the loving, good works which God had called them to as outlined in the institutions of Sabbath and Jubilee. Simply put, these were practices of justice designed to protect the human and economic rights of all God’s people. These practices included land redistribution, debt cancellation, slave liberation and even a concern for the environment by allowing rest for the land. God’s plan for Israel was to become the plan for all nations. God’s kingdom of peace and justice was to be established in all the world through the witness of Israel. When the Israelites neglected to demonstrate, by practicing the good deeds of justice, the salvation they had received, God brought judgment and he himself enforced the terms of Sabbath and Jubilee. “Until the land has retrieved its lost Sabbaths, during all the time it lies waste, it shall have rest while seventy years are fulfilled.” The message — we are called to good works, the good works of justice.
In Ephesians Paul tells us that we too were liberated, brought to life even while we were slaves, dead in sin. God’s favor, his grace, his compassion delivered us into a new heavenly realm – that place were God rules. We did not nor could not earn this place — this promised land. But yet this salvation calls us then to bring salvation – jubilee justice – the kingdom of God – to others. And as we work to bring salvation to others our own salvation is effected or worked out within us. Sanctifying grace comes to us because we have worked for the salvation of others. We are called to a belief in Christ, says John, which comforts us with salvation but that same belief challenges us to work and struggle that others might find salvation too. We are recreated, or as Jesus put it to Nicodemus — “born again,” — that we might lead the life of good works of justice.
Fourth Sunday of Lent 2 Chr 36: 14 – 23, Eph 2: 4-12, Jn 3: 14-21
Peace Connections: Making the connection between the Sunday Readings and issues of peace and justice. Copyright 1995, by Thomas L. Garlitz. “Not for profit” permission to reprint granted.