Many years ago, while still a young boy, I remember watching a TV show with my family. It was one of those talk-show type of shows, with a person interviewing people, usually famous people, but not always. The reason I remember this particular show is because the interviewer was talking to some folks who were preparing for the end of the world. They were convinced that the world was going to end on a particular day, at a particular time. The time and day were approaching in a couple of months. Needless to say, the time and day have long since passed, and the world is still here.
Our readings today remind us of the need to be prepared for the ending of time. The language used in the gospel is filled with dread and it is language familiar to those who write and talk about what is called “eschatology,” or the things of the eschaton, the end times. Usually such language is highly stylized and filled with rich symbols. In Luke’s gospel there is some of that, but he does a good job of trying to keep the language real. However, to make his point, the evangelist does employ some of the language and imagery associated with this particular kind of writing (we see it a lot in Revelation and in some of the OT prophets.) Often, the style of language includes references to “wars and insurrections,” to “earthquakes, famines, and plagues,” and to many different kinds of calamities and sufferings in the world. The basic thrust of the imagery is to remind us all of how life is indeed very fragile, and that no matter how strong or how self-sufficient we think we might be, only God is all-Powerful, wonderful, and always to be praised.
When Luke was writing this text, the early Christians had already begun to experience persecution, and so while two-thousand years later we read these words with a sense of foreboding in a future yet to be realized, the community for whom they were written had already witnessed the betrayal of brothers and sisters in the faith by “parents, brothers, relatives and friends,” and they had even witnessed some of their companions being put to death for the faith. So when the community of that time read these words they didn’t hear Luke writing about a fear-filled future, but rather they heard Luke bringing them words of comfort and assurance. He tells them that they “ … will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance you will secure your lives.” Luke’s words reminded the early Christians who saw terrible things happening to the faithful that God remains steadfast and true, and that he will always be with the Church and protect it, no matter what harm is going on about them.
These are words that are good for us all to remember, especially when we find ourselves afraid or when we are being made to doubt what is important about our faith and our lives. In our time, two thousand years after the gospel was written, there are many people who want to remind us of why we should be afraid, and of what we should be afraid. Usually, those who peddle in fear have very little to offer us beyond fear as a means of manipulation.
By contrast, the gospel invites us to rise beyond fear, to see our manipulations for what they are and instead to choose a life of freedom in Christ. No matter what the world may throw at us, the gospel of Jesus Christ, the Good News, reminds us that there is nothing of this world or of this life that is greater than God’s capacity to bring healing and wholeness and life. Whatever calamities may seem to threaten, the faithfulness of God endures and ultimately overcomes.
Our temptation is to succumb to the fears that are held out for us and to forget the gospel, to forget that Jesus offers us a different way of living and a different way of enjoying the fullness of life.
The people in the T.V. interview those many years ago had all taken out insurance on their property and on themselves. I don’t know how they thought they’d collect on it in the event the world did, in fact, end. I can’t imagine a claims office in heaven!!!
The Lutheran pastor and Christian martyr, DIetrich Bonhoffer reminded us many years ago in very turbulent times for the world that true discipleship involves the willingness to take up the cross, to be ready “to suffer and being put to death for the sake of Christ.” His exposure to Naziism and the challenges to which he felt called in remaining faithful to the gospel of Jesus saw him asserting that faith which is not made concrete in human lives is meaningless. Discipleship of Jesus, being a visible Christian requires obedience not to any fear-mongers, but rather to God made flesh in Jesus Christ. What is certain is that Jesus has promised his disciples he will be with us and will strengthen us in our struggles. Disciples of Jesus have no need to rely on the false promises of fear-mongers, but instead can rest assured in the confidence that gospel faithfulness brings.