NOVEMBER 13TH, 2016: THIRTY-THIRD SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
Lo, the day is coming, blazing like an oven,
when all the proud and all evildoers will be stubble,
and the day that is coming will set them on fire,
leaving them neither root nor branch,
says the LORD of hosts.
But for you who fear my name, there will arise
the sun of justice with its healing rays.
Brothers and sisters:
You know how one must imitate us.
For we did not act in a disorderly way among you,
nor did we eat food received free from anyone.
On the contrary, in toil and drudgery, night and day
we worked, so as not to burden any of you.
Not that we do not have the right.
Rather, we wanted to present ourselves as a model for you,
so that you might imitate us.
In fact, when we were with you,
we instructed you that if anyone was unwilling to work,
neither should that one eat.
We hear that some are conducting themselves among you in a
by not keeping busy but minding the business of others.
Such people we instruct and urge in the Lord Jesus Christ to work quietly
and to eat their own food.
While some people were speaking about
how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings,
Jesus said, “All that you see here--
the days will come when there will not be left
a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”
Then they asked him,
“Teacher, when will this happen?
And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?”
“See that you not be deceived,
for many will come in my name, saying,
‘I am he,’ and ‘The time has come.’
Do not follow them!
When you hear of wars and insurrections,
do not be terrified; for such things must happen first,
but it will not immediately be the end.”
Then he said to them,
“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues
from place to place;
and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.
“Before all this happens, however,
they will seize and persecute you,
they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons,
and they will have you led before kings and governors
because of my name.
It will lead to your giving testimony.
Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand,
for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking
that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.
You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends,
and they will put some of you to death.
You will be hated by all because of my name,
but not a hair on your head will be destroyed.
By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”
Rarely does the future unfold exactly as we plan. There are always unexpected twists and turns, forcing us to deal with situations we never anticipated. This certainly has been the experience of people of faith, especially those committed to becoming other Christs.
As we know from our Christian Scriptures, one of the most unexpected things in Christian history was Jesus’ delayed Parousia. His earliest followers presumed they’d only have to endure this particular state of affairs for a short time before he returned in the Second Coming and definitively changed how they lived. Though some held onto this belief for a couple of generations, by the time Luke writes in the mid-80s most were beginning to deal with the reality that they’d live their normal life-span and Jesus still wouldn’t have returned. That’s why the third evangelist constantly zeroes in on how to live that life-span.
Luke is convinced we should stop giving into the temptation of constantly looking for signs. Jesus will return when he returns, no matter what’s happening around us. International and cosmic events have no relation to his Parousia. But sadly, because of his delay, Christians will now have to deal with something for which they hadn’t planned: persecutions. Luke’s Jesus warns, “. . . They will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name.”
Not only that, but their faith will eventually create terrific tensions in their families. “You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name . . . .” But never give up hope. Jesus assures us, “Not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”
Yet these unexpected persecutions aren’t all bad. Among other things, they’ll provide Jesus’ followers with a valuable opportunity: an occasion to “give testimony” to their faith. In most places in the 1st century CE Roman Empire people on trial have a legal right to publicly defend themselves. In the case of Christians, their trials will provide them with occasions to explain their lifestyle to whole new groups of people; something they should plan on doing - with little or no preparation.
Of course, Jesus’ delayed return also created other problems, as the unknown author of II Thessalonians eventually discovered. His or her mentor, Paul, was convinced many of Jesus’ followers could live an ideal, communal life, sharing all their possessions with one another. Yet as time went on, some of those ideal communities had to deal with freeloaders: people who received, but never gave. After first setting up the Apostle as an example of generosity, the author is forced to warn these selfish individuals, “. . . If anyone (is) unwilling to work, neither should that one eat.” This rather late Christian writing demonstrates the community simply dealt with unexpected problems as they arose. As time went on they more and more understood the implications of carrying on Jesus’ ministry.
Perhaps the prophet Malachi shares the best insight into an unplanned future. Though members of his community were glad to hear that Yahweh would eventually consume the “proud and all evildoers” with fire, he assures them that same inferno would be for them “a sun of justice with healing rays.” For people of biblical faith, there’s always “another hand:” another way of experiencing things. Were the canon of Scripture still open, I’m convinced the saying, “If life gives you lemons, make lemonade!” would have made it into our bibles a long time ago.