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Revelation at sunset beside the pig pen

by davesandel on October 27th, 2021

Wednesday, October 27, 2021                                   (today’s lectionary)

Revelation at sunset beside the pig pen

Someone asked Jesus, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?”

Jesus answer is confusing. But essentially he tells his listeners that they may be looking toward the wrong heaven, mistaking the god of their heaven for the Abba Father Jesus prays with every morning. They might be barking up the wrong tree.

There will be wailing and gnashing of teeth when you see Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob in the Kingdom and you yourself are cast out. People will come from the east and the west, from the north and the south. They will recline at table in the Kingdom of God, but you may not. For behold, some are last who will be first, and some are first, who will be last.

In The Prophetic Imagination, Walter Brueggemann sorts out the gods of Exodus:

In Exodus 11:7 there is a wondrous statement of a new energizing reality: “But against any of the people of Israel, not a dog shall growl, that you may know that the Lord makes a distinction between the Eygptians and Israel.” Do not miss the power here. It is too terrible to be contained in a “doctrine of election …” Here is the gospel Moses brings: GOD IS FOR US. In an empire no god is for anyone. They are old gods who don’t care anymore and have tried everything once and have a committee studying all the other issues.

Brueggemann speaks of the “freedom of God,” which the Israelites appropriate as their own freedom. Paul’s doctrine of election is subsumed “in a narrative and unproven memory that we must let stand in all its audacity.” Does Paul also lend his theological voice to affirm the freedom of God when he says …

We know all things work together for the good of those who love Christ Jesus, and who are called according to his purpose. For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that his Son might the firstborn among many brothers. Those he predestined, he also called. Those called, he also justified. Those he justified, he also glorified.

What about the rest of us? We ask Jesus, “Lord, will only a few people be saved?” Margaret’s friend Vicky was convinced she was not one of the chosen. After her initial despair, I hope that conviction turned her toward something more benevolent and accepting than her initial thin-lipped theology of NO, although she could not call it God.

Are we hoping to be part of the chosen few, or should we think of ourselves as in the chosen multitude? A question like this might need to remain a mystery, don’t you think? I am so grateful the Holy Spirit is the one who does the praying.

The Spirit comes to the aid of our weakness. We do not know how to pray as we should, so the Spirit himself intercedes with inexpressible groanings. God, who searches hearts, knows the intention of the Spirit because the Spirit intercedes for us according to God’s will.

In “Revelation,” the final short story she wrote before she died in 1964 at age 39, Flannery O’Connor expresses echoes of this inexpressible in the hilarious, ghastly vision of a hog farmer’s wife, as the sun sets on one of her worst days. Here is the end of the story.

Like a monumental statue coming to life, she bent her head slowly and gazed, as if through the very heart of mystery, down into the pig parlor at the hogs. They had settled all in one corner around the old sow who was grunting softly. A red glow suffused them. They appeared to pant with a secret life.

Until the sun slipped finally behind the tree line, Mrs. Turpin remained there with her gaze bent to them as if she were absorbing some abysmal life-giving knowledge. At last she lifted her head. There was only a purple streak in the sky, cutting through a field of crimson and leading, like an extension of the highway, into the descending dusk. She raised her hands from the side of the pen in a gesture hieratic and profound. A visionary light settled in her eyes. She saw the streak as a vast swinging bridge extending upward from the earth through a field of living fire. Upon it a vast horde of souls were tumbling toward heaven.

There were whole companies of white trash, clean for the first time in their lives, and bands of black niggers in white robes, and battalions of freaks and lunatics shouting and clapping and leaping like frogs. And bringing up the end of the procession was a tribe of people whom she recognized at once as those who, like herself and Claud, had always had a little of everything and the given wit to use it right. She leaned forward to observe them closer. They were marching behind the others with great dignity, accountable as they had always been for good order and common sense and respectable behavior. They, alone were on key.  Yet she could see by their shocked and altered faces even their virtues were being burned away. She lowered hands and gripped the rail of the hog pen, her eyes small but fixed unblinkingly on what lay ahead. In a moment the vision faded but she remained where she was.

At length she got down and turned off the faucet and made her slow way on the darkening path to the house. In woods around her the invisible cricket choruses had struck up, but what she heard were the voices of the souls climbing upward into the starry field and shouting hallelujah.

And in her extremity, Mrs. Turpin sang too. At last she had found the right God.

Though I trusted in your mercy, let my heart rejoice in your salvation; let me sing of the Lord, “You have been good to me!”

(Romans 8, Psalm 13, 2 Thessalonians 23, Luke 13)

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