Be on guard! Be alert! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back–whether in the evening, or at midnight, or when the rooster crows, or at dawn. If he comes suddenly, do not let him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: “Watch!” (Mark 13:33-37)
Since I happened to preach on a parallel passage last Sunday, I thought I would add my notes here.
Kalamazoo Mennonite Fellowship
November 29, 2009
“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son,but only the Father. For as the days of Noah were, so will be the coming of the Son of Man. For as in those days before the flood they were eating and drinking, marrying and giving in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and they knew nothing until the flood came and swept them all away, so too will be the coming of the Son of Man. Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Keep awake therefore, for you do not know on what dayyour Lord is coming. But understand this: if the owner of the house had known in what part of the night the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Therefore you also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour. (Matthew 24:36-44)
It is a very natural thing to wonder what will happen in the future. We want to get a peek at the end of the book and see if everything will turn out all right for us and those we love. Does life have meaning? Does it matter what I do, or what anyone does, or are we just fellow travelers on a journey to nowhere?
This section of Matthew’s gospel brings together a lot of material about the end of days. These verses are tricky to examine, not the least because even Jesus admits ignorance in the face of what will happen in the future. So, even more than usual, we will be circumspect and careful about what we say these verses must mean. For example, Jesus says there will be two people working in a field, and one will be taken, and one will be left. Is it better to be taken, or to be left? It doesn’t say. Those of us who were taught by Hal Linsday and even, perhaps, the _Left Behind_ series, would say this is about the Rapture of the saints being taken up to glory, leaving behind people to undergo horrendous tribulations and trials. Others say that, since the meek will inherit the earth, and the Revelation of John seems to promise that what we think of as “heaven” will really be a remade Earth, might think those who are taken are taken away to their punishment or even doom, and those remaining are the blessed. But the truth is, the passage doesn’t really say, and there is not a lot of evidence for which is which.
Similarly, of course, for _when_ this event is to happen. Jesus explicitly claims ignorance on this matter. In fact, this is one of the main points of this version of Jesus’s saying: things will look pretty normal: people will be getting married, going to parties, living their lives, when God will break in, and turn their lives upside down.
I don’t know if your house has ever been broken into, most people are really upset, especially if they’ve lost personal mementos or valuable treasures; suddenly, they don’t feel quite as safe and secure as they did before the moment of the break-in. Similarly, when God breaks in, things can really get upset and turned around. So, says Jesus, we had better watch and be ready.
But it’s this latter thing that is Jesus’s “therefore.” He says:
> Keep awake, therefore, for you do not know what day your Lord is coming…Therefore you … must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.
So, what does it mean to watch and be ready? I don’t think it means just one thing. It certainly does not mean trying to calculate the time or date or the season when Jesus will return, since he tells us this is unknowable. We are _always_ in the last days.
Nevertheless, we get several parables about watching and waiting that I’d like to review quickly.
## The thief in the night ##
We’ve already seen how Jesus compares his return to a _thief coming in the night_. I think his main points in this comparison are:
* His return will be sudden.
* His return will be unpleasant for those who are not ready.
## The faithful and faithful slave ##
Jesus then tells a parable about two slaves, both of whom are household overseers. One treats his master’s property well, and the members of the slave crew well, and is commended; the other beats his charges, and misuses his master’s goods, and when his master returns suddenly, he is “cut into pieces.” As in the thief in the night, we see that Jesus’s return is unpleasant (very unpleasant!) for those who are unready. But we also get clues about what it means to be ready:
* Being ready is to use God’s possessions well, and to treat others well.
## The ten bridesmaids ##
In the parable of the ten bridesmaids, five of the bridesmaids fall asleep on duty and are unprepared when the groom arrives, but five are ready. As in the two previous parables, we see it will be unpleasant to be found unready. Rather than “cut into pieces,” the groom doesn’t let them into the great wedding party. But in addition, I think the parable teaches us:
* Let your anticipation of the joy of being at God’s wedding banquet encourage you to be ready to welcome Jesus back.
## The parable of the talents ##
The parable of the talents describes a man who entrusts a lot of money to one man, a fair amount of money to a second, and just a little to a third, “to each according to his ability.” The first does very well, and so does the second, but the third just foolishly hides his money by digging a hole in the ground, which he thought was the safest thing to do. The master commends the first two, and gives them even greater responsibilities and (it says) joy. That third guy, though, is thrown “into the outer darkness.” Again, we see that not being ready will be very bad. Again, we see that we should use our “time, talents and treasure” for God’s good use. And, again, we see that joy awaits the faithful servant. But we get another principle:
* God doesn’t expect out of us more than we can do. We have, for many reasons, various resources, and what God expects is proportionate to those resources.
## The judgement of the nations ##
The last part of this section deals with not a parable as such, but Jesus describing how we will be judged. Again, we see that unpleasantness for the unready; the need to put to good use the resources God gives us, and the joy we can have if we do the right thing. But in addition, Jesus tells us what that work consists us:
* Being ready is taking care of those who are hungry, naked, estranged, sick, or in prison–and, of course, those like these.
## The coming of the Kingdom ##
In the parallel passage in Luke, the gospel writer quotes Jesus saying that these will be the signs of the coming of the Kingdom. The coming of the Kingdom of God and the coming of the Son of Man are the same. Last week, we saw that Jesus began his gospel ministry by announcing that the Kingdom of God was at hand, and that the Kingdom of God spread as he declared people pure, healthy and released from the bondage of sin.
We can discern that the Kingdom of God _has come_, _is in our midst_, and _will come in its fullness_. The joy of catching “the thief in the night” is to be ready to receive, not a thief, but our best friend. The joy of the expectant bridesmaids is to participate even now in the wedding ceremony. The joy of faithful workers is to do their master’s will, and expect his approval. The joy of using our talents is to see the Kingdom expanding day by day as see our “investment” in God’s labor increase. The joy of serving the stranger and those who are hungry, those who are need clothing or who are in prison is to see Jesus himself.
So, let us watch for our Lord’s coming by discerning the Kingdom of God having come, coming, and soon coming in its fulness.