No one knows the day or the time.
When these words were written down for the first time, probably one or two generations after Jesus death and ascension, the followers of The Way expected Jesus to return, in person, at any minute. Two thousand years later, we’ve become complacent, if not oblivious, to the Second Coming. It has become the domain of novelists and crackpots who try to predict a specific date. It no longer serves to keep us on our best behavior., as it die for the earliest Christians.
The advice that that Paul gives in his letters must be read through the hermeneutic or lens of Jesus’ imminent return. For instance, in Romans 13 he connects behavior to Jesus’ return:
11 You know what sort of times we live in, and so you should live properly. It is time to wake up. You know that the day when we will be saved is nearer now than when we first put our faith in the Lord. 12 Night is almost over, and day will soon appear. We must stop behaving as people do in the dark and be ready to live in the light. 13 So behave properly, as people do in the day. Don’t go to wild parties or get drunk or be vulgar or indecent. Don’t quarrel or be jealous. 14 Let the Lord Jesus Christ be as near to you as the clothes you wear. Then you won’t try to satisfy your selfish desires.
We still strive to “behave properly,” but our religious rational is that Jesus gave us a couple rules to follow, and furthermore, there is an understanding, realistic or not, that we follow those rules because we love Jesus. We do not love God and love our neighbor because it’s the law. The modus operandi of the entire Universe of Jesus is love. Likewise, we do not act a certain way because we’re afraid we’ll get caught gossiping or swearing or cheating just as Jesus rides into town. When I was a child, I was sure Jesus would show up just as I smacked my sister. Picture a ten-year-old smacking a six-year-old, then looking over her shoulder to see if Jesus was standing there with flashing eyes.
Does it matter what motivates us to follow the Love Rules? Anybody can be nice, kind, generous. Christians don’t have a corner on charity. In fact, the non-Christian media often portrays us as selfish and judgmental. Do we ever get points for the good deeds, the kind words that we share in the name of Jesus?
I can’t keep myself from thinking about a little town in Missouri that has been big in the news since August. I plastered myself to the television Monday evening, November 24. Finally, the district attorney made his announcement, and as the media had predicted, some people got carried away in expressing their disappointment. I find it ironic and disgusting that every network searched diligently for some form of violence…and all they could find was one police car on fire and fifteen or twenty people in the street. I can’t help thinking that the media set up the destructive looting and fires of the following days.
I was especially distressed by the media coverage because while the media was showing a handful of lawbreakers in isolated locations, in churches all over St. Louis were hundreds, if not thousands of people praying. The only thing they set on fire were candles. I bet if you had looked carefully, you could have seen the flames of the Holy Spirit hovering all over town! I can tell you this with confidence because I had friends in the midst of those protests. They are the true protestors, the people who are protesting injustice and misunderstanding. They have been protesting, peacefully, yet visibly since August. I am proud to say that my daughter and her friends were among the protestors in October. She marched with a specific group. They did not loot or burn; they walked, prayed, and sang. That is how the majority of the people are reacting to the failure to indict the policeman.
The cool thing, and the reason this current event speaks to me is that those protestors, the ones who haven’t attracted much attention, are working and giving and praying in the name of Jesus. They are not operating out of the goodness of their hearts or because they are politically motivated. They actions are based on those two old commandments, Love God; Love your neighbor.
And that brings me back to the return of Jesus. As a child, I feared the return of Jesus, plunging out of the sky with thousands of angels, ready to throw me into a fiery eternal hell. (I was an awful child…according to my Sunday School perception.) As an adult, I really don’t care if or when Jesus comes back, because I believe that I have a lot more to worry about than my life after my death. I live in a world that is racked with pain. I live in a country where one out of four children is not “food secure.” This is a relatively new term that is shamefully necessary:
Household food security exists when all members, at all times, have access to enough food for an active, healthy life. Individuals who are food secure do not live in hunger or fear of starvation. Food insecurity, on the other hand, is a situation of “limited or uncertain availability of nutritionally adequate and safe foods or limited or uncertain ability to acquire acceptable foods in socially acceptable ways”, according to the United States Department of Agriculture (USDA).
There are, of course, lots of other problems that overwhelm us…starting with chid abuse, continuing through illness and lack of health care, all the way to the threat of nuclear war. But hunger is a good place to start. Have you noticed that it’s one way even our little congregation can act in the name of Jesus? (We have a nice stack of food ready to go to the food pantry.)
The gospel writer says, “No one knows the day or the time.” That’s one of many things we don’t know about Jesus. But we know enough to follow him.
At one time, these words referred only to the return of Jesus Christ to this earth to collect his faithful followers. Now we have lots of other days that may catch us off-guard. No one knew the date or time of December 7 or September 11. No one knows the final date when the balance of climate change is irreversible. No one knows the date of the next launch of a nuclear bomb. No one knows the date of the next fatal car accident or the next heart attack. We don’t know much, but we do know Jesus.
We know Jesus and we follow Jesus. We are not as expectant as the first and second century Christians, but we are nonetheless cognizant of the power of Jesus. In my wishful thinking mode, I want Jesus to come right NOW! and fix everything. In my realistic mode, I know that my presence, my action, my intention is the best way to get Jesus on the ground here and now.
Come, Lord Jesus, come, in the form of my hands, my words, my love for You. Amen.
24 In those days, right after that time of suffering,
“The sun will become dark,
and the moon
will no longer shine.
The stars will fall,
and the powers in the sky
will be shaken.”
26 Then the Son of Man will be seen coming in the clouds with great power and glory. 27 He will send his angels to gather his chosen ones from all over the earth.
28 Learn a lesson from a fig tree. When its branches sprout and start putting out leaves, you know summer is near. 29 So when you see all these things happening, you will know that the time has almost come. 30 You can be sure that some of the people of this generation will still be alive when all this happens. 31 The sky and the earth will not last forever, but my words will.
32 No one knows the day or the time. The angels in heaven don’t know, and the Son himself doesn’t know. Only the Father knows. 33 So watch out and be ready! You don’t know when the time will come. 34 It is like what happens when a man goes away for a while and places his servants in charge of everything. He tells each of them what to do, and he orders the guard to keep alert. 35 So be alert! You don’t know when the master of the house will come back. It could be in the evening or at midnight or before dawn or in the morning. 36 But if he comes suddenly, don’t let him find you asleep. 37 I tell everyone just what I have told you. Be alert!