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Saturday, November 20, 2004

Advent 1 - Mt 24:36-44 - Thoughts and Meditation

If TOMORROW was THE day, would you be ready?
One day I plan to do a study of all the times Jesus uses a contrast between two types of people, in the parables and in His teaching. The dualistic pairing of opposing archetypes are common, and this weeks passage has one of them. Nestled into the middle of this passage is the illustration of the men in the field, and the women grinding grain. In each one was taken, and the other left. In english the idea of being 'left' sounds somewhat passive - like when someone forgets to take a coat when going a shopping trip. One could easily pass by this reference without considering what is really being intended. A close look at the definition of the word 'left' (aphiemi - Strongs #863) one gains a sense that this word is more active. That it implies intentiality of the one abandoning. Like Christ purposefully left these people destitute. The context would seem to strengthen this perspective. In the parables that follow, there is very little passivity about the actions of the returning master in verse 51 and 25:26-30, or the groom in 25:12.

The coming of Jesus, His advent, - His parousia - is so tightly entwined with the idea of judgment, that it would be hard to read the text for this Sunday without including a substantial comment on how Jesus next coming will be final. For all humankind, it will mean either eternal blessing, or eternal - yes it sounds archaic - 'weeping and gnashing of teeth'.

This passage is a partial response to the three part question which the disciples put to Jesus, back in 24:3, specifically the question regarding, what the sign of Jesus return would be, and the implied 'when'. On close observation there are two problems that Jesus addresses with this passage. The first is the eager Christian represented by the disciples asking the question 'when'. I picture this type of disciple like the child asking the parent, 'are we there yet?' (I want to watch that Simpsons episode again... that was funny!). The disciples eagerness to know the when of Jesus coming, has Jesus responding with the warning - "no one knows..." v36. He has already warned them of false claims back in v4, and so this passage opens with a return to that idea - "nobody knows the time so do not believe anybody that says they do". Jesus knows that a disciple is easily misled, if they are so expectant and filled with anticipation that they will believe anyone who makes claims of being 'in the know'.

The second problem is that of disillusionment. The disciples needed to be told that the parousia would be some time, and yet at the same time close by. The reason for this apparent duality is that the disciples were not to be preoccupied with the return of Christ, but neither were they to forget about the return either. The disciple is instructed to 'be ready'. Being ready means to be serving God in the capacity He has placed us in, to be ready to perservere despite the apparent 'non-return', and to abuse the freedom we have in the Gospel.

These two problems are apparent in the church today, just as they were at the time Matthew put quill to papyrus. With the plethora of novels written today about the endtimes, and with the speculators that claim to hear the Holy Spirit informing them that the 'signs' tell us this or that, we can relate to the warning to not trouble ourselves, with the reports that Jesus coming will take place on this approximate calendar date, as if it His schedule was somehow mystically encoded into God's word. We can also relate to the scholars (and secularists) who look at the problem of Jesus statement in 24:34, and say, 'well where is He?" We as Christians must take comfort in the statement Jesus makes in 24:35 - "Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away." We live in the between times. Between the time when the kingdom has come, and the time the kingdom will come.

For my part, I think the essential idea behind this passage is that, we are God's servants, a part of His household, given responsibilities to act on. However, we must endure the wait before the party starts. Will we be faithful - or will we be foolish?

1. Structural Diagram
2. Surrounding Context
3. Key Cross References
4. Key Questions
5. Thoughts and Meditation

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