NOVEMBER 17, 2013: THIRTY-THIRD SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
One of the nice things about watching a movie is knowing the director has already done the focusing for us. He or she has made certain the camera has zeroed in on what's significant, things we might miss if we were just watching the action take place cold turkey in front of us.
In a parallel way, our sacred authors do the same thing. They force us to focus on the significant aspects of the events they narrate, those aspects which reinforce the faith we and they profess.
As important as movie directors and sacred authors are in conveying to us the exact message of their works, there's just one problem: those who actually witnessed or were part of those significant events had to do their own focusing. There were no directors or sacred authors around to make certain they saw or heard the important stuff and ignored what wasn't.
Though we might fantasize about actually living in a biblical community, today's pericopes from II Thessalonians and Luke presume lots of people in both those churches were focused on the wrong aspects of the lives they were living.
The disciple of Paul responsible for II Thessalonians, for instance, is forced to remind his readers that faith in the risen Jesus isn't to become a haven for "freeloaders." Obviously some in his community are focusing on receiving, not giving. They've joined this particular church only because membership guarantees three square meals a day. The author reminds them of what Paul said in I Corinthians 9: "We (never) ate food received free from anyone.... We worked so as not to burden any of you." Then, in one of the classic lines in all Scripture he sets down the rule, "... If anyone is unwilling to work, neither should that one eat." Nothing could be clearer. The author is obviously living in the present, with all the problems that accompany the present;
We Christians are so accustomed to seeing Jesus as the end-all and be-all of our lives that we can't put ourselves in a time and place in which he was just one "Messiah" among many. We conveniently forget that his first followers had to pick him out of a crowd of messianic candidates. As we hear in today's gospel pericope, even after his death and resurrection, Jesus' disciples still had to deal with those who came "in his name" saying, "I am he," and "The time has come."
Different people had different expectations of the kind of salvation the Jewish Messiah was to offer. Not everyone bought into the dying/rising lifestyle which the Galilean carpenter was convinced would change them and the world around them for the better. Before Jerusalem's 70 CE destruction, many chose to believe in those Messiahs who preached a violent overthrow of Roman occupation. They certainly guaranteed a quicker, more definitive path to salvation than the vision Jesus offered.
But even in the mid-80s, when Luke writes, his readers still have a choice. Day by day they can choose to focus on the people and things on which Jesus focused or they can zero in on the people and things Jesus ignored. That's why the evangelist ends this passage with the comment, "By your perseverance you will secure your lives."
Our imitation of Jesus constantly involves choices. We pick what we see and how we see it. While, for instance, some people see only Malachi's consuming fire, Jesus' disciples see "the sun of justice with its healing rays." We all experience the same world. Followers of God are simply committed to experiencing it as God experiences it.