September 26, 2013
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Luke 21:34-36.
“Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth. Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.”
We don’t know the future, though we’re always looking for signs of what’s ahead. Not knowing often makes us anxious and fearful. Luke was writing many years — 60 to 70 most likely — after the resurrection. His gospel was the last to be written and long after Paul wrote his letters. The early Christian community believed that Jesus was coming soon, during their lifetimes. The Romans had utterly destroyed the temple in Jerusalem. So, Luke makes it clear that Jesus was not tying his prediction of the end time or his second coming to any time frame or portentous events.
If I knew when the end time was coming, I think I would lose much or all of my motivation to do what I can to bring about the kingdom of God. I think I might live with more trepidation than excitement. I might be worried more about the cosmic cataclysm than living fully the days that are given to me.
I think that’s why Jesus didn’t tell me when. He wants me to keep in mind that the day of judgment will come sometime. He wants me to have that expectation so that I will live life fully and purposely in the kingdom on earth rather than being wasteful with my time and energy and gifts. This attitude will enrich my life, not lead me into apathy or inertia and I won’t be trapped in memories of hurts and disappointments and regret. As Rohr writes in The Good News According to Luke, “When you realize that everything is important, and yet it is all passing away, then no individual event matters that much. You can let it go — which is what Jesus himself now has to do.”
I often make myself the victim of anxiety about daily life and I’m attracted to the temptations of the prodigal life. Jesus tells me to pray for the strength to withstand both those pitfalls so that I can stand before him when he comes again with confident hope. I like the Sacra Pagina translation of this verse: “Keep praying that you have the strength to flee all these things and can stand before the Son of Man.” Keep praying. Luke used that phrase frequently, reminding me of the importance of hopeful expectation — to me not to God. To have the right attitude and the right relationship with Jesus. As Luke Timothy Johnson writes in The Gospel of Luke, “Those who endure, who bear witness, who remain alert in prayer, have nothing to fear from the coming of the Son of Man. For them there is not distress or confusion or dread. For them it is a time of ‘liberation.’ And they can therefore stand up straight, hold their heads high in happy anticipation before the Son of Man.”
Hopeful expectation. Happy anticipation. If I hold those in my heart, the day of judgment will not catch me by surprise but with delight.