There is a popular idea that, in the end times, God will whisk the ‘righteous’ people away and those left behind will suffer. As young teens, many of us were shown terrifying movies which showed in great detail what being left behind might look like. The movies gave some of us terrible nightmares; and some of us have friends who were turned away from Jesus forever as a result. These days, there is an extemely popular series of novels which has pretty much the same effect.
Tonight, then, we reflected as a group upon one of the ‘left behind’ texts, Matthew 24:36-44, in which Jesus foretells the end times and the coming of the New Human. In those days, he says, things will be much like the time of Noah. People will be living as usual, when suddenly many will be swept away. Or, he says, two women will be working in a field, and one will be taken, and the other left behind. So keep awake! If the owner of the house had known what time the thief was coming, he would have stayed awake and would not have let his house be broken into. Be ready! … What follows are some highlights of our conversation, in which we concluded that Jesus will be among those who suffer, whether they are left behind or swept away by catastrophic climate change. And so being left behind, if we are left behind with Jesus, is a good thing.
- The early followers of Jesus knew persecution and death squads. Those who refused to bow down to Caesar and the empire were regularly ‘disappeared’ — except, of course, when they reappeared hanging on the crucifixes which lined the major highways.
- We notice that nothing in this text is explicitly violent, and nothing in this text suggests that the end times will be violent … at least, not at God’s hands.
If you were in Jesus’ original audience, would you prefer to be taken (disappeared) or left behind?
- We noticed that, in the story of Noah, being ‘left behind’ meant being kept safe in the ark. In other words, being left behind was a good thing.
- We noted a Biblical pattern of people being kept safe from the waters of chaos. Noah and his family were kept safe in the ark; the storm was stilled when Jesus is in the disciples’ boat.
- In this context, and in the context of death squads and secret prisons, being left behind seems rather more attractive than many of us were first taught!
The first time that Jesus came, where did people find him? And in a world where people are regularly disappeared or rendered invisible, where might we find him now?
- In the gospel, Jesus was in a stable, on the road, in a boat, at sinners’ tables, in the countryside, in foreign lands, in insignificant towns, in prison, thrown outside the city gates, in the grave, and in gardens.
- He did not spend much time with wealthy or powerful people.
- Arks take resources. In the face of catastrophic climate change, Jesus will probably not be in this particular ark, or in any safe place. Instead, we might find him with those who risk being wiped off the map, particularly the global poor.
- This raises questions. Do we build arks i.e. do we try to protect our families? Or do we place ourselves where Jesus will be? Or do we simply trust that there are no insiders or outsiders, and that God will be with us all through suffering and beyond?
- If our churches are well heeled or well resourced, will we still find Jesus in the boat (the classic symbol of the church)? Or will he have left the building?
‘Stay awake!’ What are we holding onto that Jesus might be planning to steal from us?
- We are called to constant awareness.
- We must notice and resist our desires for comfort or security or meeting our cultural expectations. Instead, we must seek only those things which are conducive to life – not just our own, but all life. Among other things, this means interrogating the ways we participate in a consumer capitalist economy.
- We recognise this can be exhausting — no wonder the disciples kept falling asleep in the garden!
- Catastrophic climate change is happening now. We may not be able to stop it (although we can certainly try), but we need to think about how we will stand before God. Did we try to mitigate its effects? Did we work in ways which were conducive to life? Or were we swept away by consumer culture as we gratified our own desires in these last days?
- Fundamentally, our role is not to do this task or that. It’s not about us. Instead, it’s to engage with who God is – the great ‘I AM’ – and attend to God’s call in this world. Any choices we make about who we are and how we live will flow out of this relationship.
Year A Advent 1: 1 December 2019. Photo by Markus Spiske on Unsplash.
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