Lesson: Zephaniah 1:7, 12-18
7 Be silent before the LORD God! For the day of the LORD is at hand; the LORD has prepared a sacrifice, he has consecrated his guests.
12 At that time I will search Jerusalem with lamps, and I will punish the people who rest complacently on their dregs, those who say in their hearts, “The LORD will not do good,
nor will he do harm.”
13 Their wealth shall be plundered, and their houses laid waste. Though they build houses,
they shall not inhabit them; though they plant vineyards, they shall not drink wine from them.
14 The great day of the LORD is near, near and hastening fast; the sound of the day of the LORD is bitter, the warrior cries aloud there.
15 That day will be a day of wrath, a day of distress and anguish, a day of ruin and devastation,
a day of darkness and gloom, a day of clouds and thick darkness,
16 a day of trumpet blast and battle cry against the fortified cities and against the lofty battlements.
17 I will bring such distress upon people that they shall walk like the blind; because they have sinned against the LORD, their blood shall be poured out like dust, and their flesh like dung.
18 Neither their silver nor their gold will be able to save them on the day of the LORD’s wrath; in the fire of his passion the whole earth shall be consumed; for a full, a terrible end he will make of all the inhabitants of the earth.
Zephaniah is another of the “Minor” Prophets. He was a prophet to Judea during the reign of the good King Josiah (640-609 BCE). Because Zephaniah prophesied against many of the practices prohibited by the Book of Deuteronomy, his prophesy is generally dated to the time just before Josiah’s reforms began in 621 BCE. (The Book of Deuteronomy was “discovered” in 622 BCE according to 2 Kings 22).
The Book of Zephaniah is only three chapters, and most of the Book concerned the Day of the LORD/YHWH in which YHWH will pour out anger on the people. In today’s reading, the prophet (speaking for YHWH) described punishments for those who rely on their wealth (v.18) or do not recognize the power of YHWH (v.12).
In the last part of Chapter 3, however, the message in the Book shifted to oracles of salvation so that the “proudly exultant ones” (3:11) will be removed and only the humble and lowly will be left (3:12). The “remnant” (3:13) — a code word for the Judeans in exile in Babylon – will return to Jerusalem.
Epistle: 1 Thessalonians 5:1-11
1 Now concerning the times and the seasons, brothers and sisters, you do not need to have anything written to you. 2 For you yourselves know very well that the day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. 3 When they say, “There is peace and security,” then sudden destruction will come upon them, as labor pains come upon a pregnant woman, and there will be no escape! 4 But you, beloved, are not in darkness, for that day to surprise you like a thief; 5 for you are all children of light and children of the day; we are not of the night or of darkness. 6 So then let us not fall asleep as others do but let us keep awake and be sober; 7 for those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who are drunk get drunk at night. 8 But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, and put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation. 9 For God has destined us not for wrath but for obtaining salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ, 10 who died for us, so that whether we are awake or asleep we may live with him. 11 Therefore encourage one another and build up each other, as indeed you are doing.
Paul’s letter to the Thessalonians was Paul’s first letter and was written around 50 CE. Accordingly, it is the oldest writing in the Christian Scriptures.
Thessalonica is a seaport city and was the capital of Macedonia. Even today, Thessaloniki (as it is now called) is a charming city of one million persons, and the cultural center of Greece. The saying there is that “Thessaloniki is to Athens as San Francisco is to Los Angeles.”
The letter encouraged the community to be steadfast in the face of persecution. Today’s reading is from the last chapter in the letter. Paul expressed his expectation that the day of the Lord (v.2) was immanent and would be sudden and unexpected (v.3). He reinterpreted the Day of the Lord from a day of punishment (as it is often described by the Prophets, including Zephaniah) and instead presented the Day of the Lord as a return of the Christ (4:17-18). He urged the Thessalonians to be ready and reassured them that they were destined for salvation (v.9).
Gospel: Matthew 25:14-30
Jesus said, “It is as if a man, going on a journey, summoned his slaves and entrusted his property to them; to one he gave five talents, to another two, to another one, to each according to his ability. Then he went away. The one who had received the five talents went off at once and traded with them and made five more talents. In the same way, the one who had the two talents made two more talents. But the one who had received the one talent went off and dug a hole in the ground and hid his master’s money. After a long time, the master of those slaves came and settled accounts with them. Then the one who had received the five talents came forward, bringing five more talents, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me five talents; see, I have made five more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ And the one with the two talents also came forward, saying, ‘Master, you handed over to me two talents; see, I have made two more talents.’ His master said to him, ‘Well done, good and trustworthy slave; you have been trustworthy in a few things, I will put you in charge of many things; enter into the joy of your master.’ Then the one who had received the one talent also came forward, saying, ‘Master, I knew that you were a harsh man, reaping where you did not sow, and gathering where you did not scatter seed; so I was afraid, and I went and hid your talent in the ground. Here you have what is yours.’ But his master replied, ‘You wicked and lazy slave! You knew, did you, that I reap where I did not sow, and gather where I did not scatter? Then you ought to have invested my money with the bankers, and on my return I would have received what was my own with interest. So take the talent from him, and give it to the one with the ten talents. For to all those who have, more will be given, and they will have an abundance; but from those who have nothing, even what they have will be taken away. As for this worthless slave, throw him into the outer darkness, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.’”