The Gospel readings this time of year (at the end of the Liturgical
cycle), concern Jesus’ statements about what are called the
“end times”. Some Christians take these words very literally,
attempting to decipher these passages as if they were some kind
of code. But Jesus tells us not to do that – tells us that
no one knows when or how – only the Father. Jesus’ message,
instead, is two-fold: i) be prepared; and ii) know that the transition
to God’s reign will involve severe, wrenching disruption of
the present world order. These two are connected. Being prepared
means, among other things, leading our lives now in ways that manifest
God’s kingdom. Then the disruption will be minimized.
Let’s look at one of many possible, concrete examples. Suppose
I have a sum of money set aside as an extra cushion for unforeseen
eventualities in my retirement. That certainly seems prudent. The
world recommends it. But at the same time there are homeless people
in my city, hungry people, people needing to get their lives together.
Knowing that, I make provision in my will to leave what may be left
of my reserve to them when I die. Generous? I don’t think
so. I’m still first. In Matthew’s version of Jesus’
statement about the “end times”, Jesus says “.
. . the self-giving of many will grow cold . . .” (Matt 24:12).
In this example, where is my self-giving?
The real sadness, the irony, in this instance is that, when the
world economy takes a down-turn, as it did this fall, my nest egg
can be wiped out. I now have nothing, and the homeless get nothing.
They might have had it all if I had given it to them up front. The
opportunity, having been missed, is now gone.
Clearly the transition to God’s way will be even more upsetting,
and the more we rely on our possessions for our security, the harder
it will be for us. Jesus says “. . . if you’re in the
field, don’t turn back for your cloak . . .” (Matt 24:19).
No security there. We mustn’t forget the final petition in
the Lord’s Prayer – the only prayer we have from Jesus
– “. . . do not put us to the trial” “.
. . do not lead us into temptation.” This petition wouldn’t
be there if it weren’t important. The “trial”
is the disruption (whatever shape it takes); the “temptation”
is to cling for our security to the world’s ways. But doesn’t
this assume that the “end times” are imminent? In a
sense they are imminent, at least for us as individuals. “Be
watchful, for you know not the day nor the hour” (Matt 25:13).
We should live today as though the end were tomorrow. A great many
of Jesus’ parables are parables of urgency. Their message:
“Act decisively! Now!” Opportunities missed are gone
My example is only that, an example. I have no right answer –
surely not one applicable to everyone. But being prepared involves,
at very least, discerning God’s will for each of us in our
own circumstances. It also involves the awareness both that God’s
nature consists of self-giving (1 John 4:8) and that, as God says,
“My ways are not your ways”.