Recent parallel and polarizing events in Europe and America have led to a rapid increase in urgency of claims that “We are in the last days!” and “Jesus is coming soon; we must get ready!”
Breaking News! Jesus has been coming soon for two thousand years; we should have been getting ready during that entire period, not just at the eleventh hour. That fact aside, what does "get ready" entail exactly? Travel insurance for our journey to Heaven? Some modest swimwear? Or maybe it is some form of doomsday preparation?
I know of some church members who have bags packed and are ready to flee to the hills at a moment’s notice. This in and of itself is not necessarily a bad thing, but having a go-bag packed along with a wad of currency and a handful of fake passports a la Jason Bourne is not necessarily what Christ had in mind when he instructed us to prepare for his return. After all, what need do we have for fake passports, when our citizenship of Heaven is our baptism into the body of Christ? What need do we have of currency in Heaven when Jesus has already paid it all?
What did Christ mean when he instructed us to get ready?
Luke 12:40-46 tells part of a parable of faithful managers and unfaithful managers, of their attitudes in the absence of their master, and their care, or lack thereof, for the household of their master. As Christians we claim Christ is our master, and we are his followers—his servants. Genesis 1:28 tells us that in the beginning we were entrusted with His domain, the Earth, to look after and maintain. We failed. And so God gave us another task in Leviticus 19:18, “Love your neighbour as yourself, I am the Lord.” Yes, the environment is still important, just as in Genesis, but more compelling is our responsibility to care for one another.
In the parable, the manager is responsible for all of the Master’s servants and ensuring they are provided for (v 42), and it is not until they have proven their ability to look after their fellow servants that they will be given authority over all the Master’s possessions (v 44); “Love your neighbour as yourself.”
Christ then characterises the unfaithful servant as one who eats and gets drunk and beats the male and female servants (v 45). Now, please do not read this literally and think that the Bible is implying that it is not OK to eat! The implication here is that the eating and drinking is to excess, hence the “drink, and get drunk,” and perhaps the more important question is whose food are they eating? The Master’s food? Or is it more likely that they are eating from the share of their fellow servants? Christ is addressing gluttony and self-indulgence at the expense of others; he is speaking directly to our selfishness. The faithful servant is then the one who look after fellow servants; the unfaithful servant is the one who steals from and abuses fellow servants. What question is Christ asking of the faithful servants?
Christ is asking this: If you cannot look after each other then how can you be entrusted with the world?
As Seventh-day Adventists, we are fond of saying we are watching and waiting for Christ’s return. In the parable the faithful servant who is rewarded is not watching for his master, nor is he passively waiting. He is actively working at the task that his master has set for him, and in actively working, he is ready, regardless of the day or the hour that his master returns. As Christians, what does our master ask of us? How can we be ready for his return?
Well, forgo your packed bags by the door. There is only one Jason Bourne program, and we are not in it. Matthew 25:31-46 tells us what we will be asked on the Master’s return, and it is not who was able to escape his house the fastest or who ran to the highest mountain top. Instead, the Master on his return will ask who amongst us was like the faithful manager in Luke, for we saw to the needs of others who were in our Master’s care. It is good to spend your time “getting ready” for the Lord’s return: feed the hungry, clothe the naked, show hospitality to the immigrant, care for the sick.
But do not take my word as gospel for I am only a manager. Instead, take the word of the master.
“Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the Kingdom prepared for you from the creation of the world. 35 For I was hungry, and you fed me. I was thirsty, and you gave me a drink. I was a stranger, and you invited me into your home. 36 I was naked, and you gave me clothing. I was sick, and you cared for me. I was in prison, and you visited me.’
37 “Then these righteous ones will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry and feed you? Or thirsty and give you something to drink? 38 Or a stranger and show you hospitality? Or naked and give you clothing? 39 When did we ever see you sick or in prison and visit you?’
40 “And the King will say, ‘I tell you the truth, when you did it to one of the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were doing it to me!’
41 “Then the King will turn to those on the left and say, ‘Away with you, you cursed ones, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his demons. 42 For I was hungry, and you didn’t feed me. I was thirsty, and you didn’t give me a drink. 43 I was a stranger, and you didn’t invite me into your home. I was naked, and you didn’t give me clothing. I was sick and in prison, and you didn’t visit me.’
44 “Then they will reply, ‘Lord, when did we ever see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and not help you?’
45 “And he will answer, ‘I tell you the truth, when you refused to help the least of these my brothers and sisters, you were refusing to help me.’
46 “And they will go away into eternal punishment, but the righteous will go into eternal life.”
Matthew 25:31-46 (NLT)
Tabitha Purple is currently serving as a pastor in the Netherlands Union. She also blogs on www.pastorpurple.blogspot.com where she frequently discusses practical theology and life with a creative emphasis.
Photo Credit: FreeImages.com / Adrian Knauff
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