In case you don’t know, Eddie and I follow the lectionary for these weekly comments. The last church year spent a majority of its time in the Gospel of Luke. With this new church year, beginning with this, the first post in Advent, will focus primarily on the gospel of Matthew. I never used the lectionary when I was preaching weekly. Looking back, I think it would have been good to use it quite regularly. The lectionary keeps preachers from only preaching on the texts and themes we like. The lectionary also forces preachers to deal with difficult subjects. So this year, we will travel to Matthew together.
This week’s text is another text of the apocalyptic genre. Often this text is seen as referencing the second coming of Christ. I think it has a broader application as well. Jesus spoke a simple message to his followers: in a time of chaos, be awake! Jesus reminds his followers then and now that life can turn on a dime. The future is uncertain. Life seemingly normal can suddenly shift. The craziness of world events can separate family and co-workers.
Today, just like the first century, was a turbulent and dangerous time. The Roman Empire was a powerful and oppressive force in the world. The power of the Roman Empire created a sense of dis-ease and uncertainty for the ordinary person. When Jesus spoke these words, the power of the Roman empire was felt strongly in Jerusalem and surrounding areas. The readers of the Gospel of Matthew already knew the onslaught of the Roman army invading Jerusalem or a town would divide families and co-workers: one would be taken, the other would remain. (Note how this interpretation is the exact opposite of the way some would view this passage. Those taken from the field do not escape trouble, but are actually captured into trouble.) The readers of Matthew’s gospel know already that the majestic Temple in Jerusalem had been destroyed by the Romans in 70 AD.
For those facing troubles in Jerusalem in the first century, and for those looking forward to the Second Coming of Christ, and for those living through life today—there is a sense of turbulence and danger. In this situation Jesus says: Be awake. Be vigilant. Live with a sense of urgency.
This is to be our stance in life. Because we are gospel people, believing that this good news actually transforms lives and societies, we are to live different lives. We are not to be complacent or apathetic. Rather, we are to be whole-hearted followers of Jesus. We have a missionary encounter with the world that God loves. We alert people to the reign of God, but more than that, using Lesslie Newbigin’s language, the church becomes the sign, instrument and foretaste of God’s reign.
One day commuting home, I was listening to Christian talk radio. (Whenever I am sleepy on the road I listen to Christian talk radio, or a country music station. Both annoy me enough to keep me awake.) The Christian talk radio host was talking about how would events was signaling that certainly the second coming of Christ was near, happening at any moment. The host went to a commercial break. In that break the same host invited his radio listeners to travel with him to Ireland for a ten-day vacation. It struck me as odd. If he really believed that the return of Jesus was imminent, it seems that he would be talking more about spreading good news, rather than planning an Irish vacation. He was not living with a sense of urgency. And, I don’t either.
Jesus’ word is clear. Live in expectancy. Be awake. Daily commit to be a good news person. Daily determine to be a follower of Jesus.