Life can be so messy. Why doesn’t God step in now and bring to justice the perpetrators of wars, injustice and evil? These are real questions for us and for people we know.
SEASON OF ADVENT
The season of Advent is a good time to reflect on Jesus’ words about a day of reckoning (Luke 12:35-48). “You must also be ready, for the Son of man is coming at an unexpected hour,” he says (Luke 12:40). And, “…From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded,” we read in Luke 12:48.
Two metaphors speak of an end-of-time day.The first is a picture of a wealthy man away from home at an important wedding. The man’s servants, Jesus says, must be ready for his return no matter how late the hour: “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him when he comes and knocks” (12:35-36).
The second is a picture of a homeowner whose mud-brick house is broken into (12:39). ‘The thief could not get away with his crime,’ Jesus says, ‘unless he had chosen an hour when he caught the homeowner unawares; if the owner had known, he would have taken precautions.’ Watchfulness is the overriding theme.
While some debate the precise reference of ‘the coming’ to which Jesus referred, either his death and resurrection, or his coming in glory, the dominating theme is the latter. With Jesus’ return, God’s judgment will be complete. Jesus’ words about justice and the temporary nature of wealth and possessions about which he has just spoken (Luke 12:1-12 and 12:13-34), will be shown to be all too true.
The two word pictures suggest three elements to the timing of his coming. It is imminent, the master could return at any time; there is delay, the master seems to be taking his time. We see this in 12:38 where Jesus said that it may be the second or the third watch in the night, that is, the early hours of the morning, when the master returns. And there is a third element: it will come as a surprise. In 12:39 the householder does not know when the thief will come.
It’s easy to miss the force of these pictures. Jesus is saying we need to live with the tension of imminence and delay. In the same way the servants needed to be ready for the return of their master – which could happen at any moment – we need to be ready for the return of Jesus.
Our problem is that we tend to ignore this reality. After all, two thousand years have come and gone and nothing has happened. We let ourselves drift into spiritual complacency. Yes, some who claim to follow Jesus Christ are constantly looking for signs. Some even set a date and, as occurred in May 2011, dispose of all their material possessions. But they ignore Jesus’ words: ‘When the day comes, it will come as a surprise. You won’t know when to expect it.’
Jesus wants us to balance the elements of imminence and delay. We make a serious mistake if we think we know the time of his return. Jesus said that not even he knew the time (Matthew 24:36).
In this mean-time we need to get on with life, going to school or work, keeping on top of our expenses, and living in a way that reflects the reality of our relationship with Jesus. The return of the king will surprise us all. So we need to live with the expectation of it in our hearts.
And with that expectation we can be comforted with the assurance that justice will be done – all wrongs will be perfectly addressed. The question is, ‘Are we ready?’ for we too will be called to account. (1)
Note 1: My ‘Word’ this week is adapted from my commentary, Luke – An Unexpected God, Aquila, 2012, p.183f