‘If God cares and is in control why doesn’t he clean up the mess?’ is a question I was often asked after 9/11. ‘Why doesn’t he intervene and bring to justice the perpetrators of wars, injustice and evil?’ These are valid questions, for our hearts cry out for wrongs to be righted. If there is no ultimate justice, morality itself has no ultimate meaning. For if we do not live in a moral universe, life, in the end, is like playing sport with no referee or final score.
A day of accounting
In Luke 12:35-48, Jesus spoke of the end of time. He assured his hearers that there will be a day of accounting, that God does exist and justice will be done. “You must also be ready,” he said, “for the Son of man is coming at an unexpected hour” (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” (12:48).
Be prepared. Jesus used two metaphors. First, he drew a picture of a wealthy man who was away from home at an important wedding. The man’s servants, Jesus said, 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).
Jesus’ second picture is that of a householder whose house is broken into. Watchfulness is the overriding theme. With Jesus’ return God’s judgment will be complete. The themes of justice and the temporary nature of money and possessions, about which Jesus had just been speaking will be vindicated (see 12:1-12 and 12:13-34).
The two word pictures suggest three things about 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. There is also a third element: surprise. In 12:39 the householder does not know when the thief will come.
It’s easy to miss the force of Jesus’ words. He is telling us that we should be living with the tension of imminence and delay. Our problem is that we are inclined to ignore the reality of an end of time. After all, two thousand years have come and gone and nothing has happened, so we let ourselves drift into spiritual complacency.
But the sobering reality is that one day we will all answer to God. While this is a frightening thought, it is also encouraging, for it means that justice will be done. The day will arrive when those who have carried out injustices and atrocities will come under the scrutiny of God who knows all. No-one will escape. His justice will be perfect. Jesus’ resurrection points to the reality of supernatural truths about the universe that have yet to be revealed.
The return of the King
All this suggests that we need to order our lives now in ways that glorify God and glory in God. It also suggests that we should play our part, introducing others to Christ Jesus, so that they too will be prepared for his return, the return of the King.
Adapted from my commentary on Luke, John G. Mason, Reading Luke Today: An Unexpected God, Aquilla:2012.