[this was originally written for The Beatitudes Society]
GOSPEL MATTHEW 24:36-44
36″But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 37For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. 38For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, 39and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. 40Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. 41Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. 42Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what day your Lord is coming. 43But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. 44Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”
I had a seminary friend who wore a t-shirt that said, “Jesus is coming” on the front of it, and “Look busy!” on the back. I have to admit that too often sums up my feelings around this time of year.
Advent begins, and we open up our Scriptures to these ancient texts, telling us that no one knows the day or the hour, but we can’t sleep. We must stay awake! After all, there will be a time when the lion and the lamb lie down together, when we beat our swords into plowshares, and we will not learn war any more. But, I’ve been preaching these texts for a dozen years, and it’s been over two thousand years since these promises were made, and the violence continues. We have not made our swords into anything but more massive and fatal weapons. I’m not feeling so alert at this point.
Yet, God rarely comes in the way that we predict. Who anticipated that a teenaged single mom would bear God? Who expected that those kicks in her belly would incite her to dream of a day when the lowly would be lifted up and the hungry would be filled?
Perhaps, now, a couple thousand years later, we will never know the reign of God that is in and among us, until we wake up and become attune to those promises of peace and justice, until we can become alert to those things that are going on around us that remind us of God’s presence, until we walk away from the cynicism and despair that can sedate us and become busy, working for a world where the downtrodden will be buoyed and the ravaged will be made whole.
So, I ask you, where is God kicking about in and among you? Where have you seen these great promises taking place in your life and work?
Jesus is coming soon, morning or night or noon
Many will meet their doom, trumpets will sound.
All of the dead shall rise, righteous meet in the sky
Going where no one dies, Heavenward bound!
Carol, I grew up with all these expectations about the soon second coming of Jesus. I remember on one occassion during a baptism in the watering tank, a triangular shaped cloud with a small hole in the middle formed over our heads. Several took it as a sign of Jesus returning immediately. There was much screaming and one young woman even fainted dead away. There were several occassions where we kids were kept out of school for a few days at a time because our parents were convinced the time of the rapture was near. We just holed up in our tiny abobe houses in Northern New Mexico and prayed, sang, and whipped ourselves into a frenzy for a few days, waiting to meet each other in the air.
Now, nearly 40 years later, I guess I cannot help but be cynical about such things as ‘Jesus is coming soon’. I sometimes talk to my mom about those days. She has become even more cynical than I.
Actually, I think cynical is not a complete way to describe it. Cynical, perhaps, but I prefer Cynical plus Educated.
A few years ago, I spent a few months reading the 1st volume of Charlesworth’s anthology of Old Testament Pseudepigrapha, which is an enormous collection of Jewish apocryphal writings, trying to familiarize myself with the apocalyptic genre. I more recently read Schweitzer’s Quest of the Historical Jesus, and I have to say, I agree with quite a bit of Schweitzer’s analysis of the Eschaton. The events described in the passage you cite from Matthew’s Gospel were supposed to occur during the lifetime of his disciples (Matt 16:28); in fact, before the diciples finished their evanglistic journeys through ‘The Cities of Isreal’ (Matt 10:23).
I am not here to debate these points, but that is the way I see these things. If we are to grow beyond the promises of a literal ‘Second coming of Jesus’, we all have to re-interpret Scriptural passages such as Matthew 24. I am satisfied knowing that if Jesus did make the predictions attributed to him in Matthew’s Gospel, then he was wrong.
As to ‘great promises’, what are you referring to? The only promises I see in the the scriptural passages you cite are to be wary lest your house is broken into, ‘the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour’ and ‘one will be taken and one will be left’.
Thanks again for your writing, Carol.
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I can’t help but think:
The reign of God is nothing more or less than what we do to bring about the reign of God. Are we doing justice? Are we making peace? If we are, then that’s the reign of God. If we’re not, then how can we be wondering why it hasn’t arrived?
Which leads me to reflect that the reign of God involves a lot of lost causes.