Malankara World Journal - Christian Spirituality from an Orthodox Perspective
Malankara World Journal

Waiting For The Second Coming of Jesus
Volume 5 No. 305 September 18, 2015

This Week's Features

'As a Thief in the Night'

by David C. Grabbe

As we slide further into the time of the end, and the bright summer days continue to be spiritually dark, it is common for us to look around for an indicator of how long it will be until Jesus Christ returns. We might scan the horizon for any clue to how and when the end-time prophecies will be fulfilled and Christ will return. We watch events in the world continue to churn seemingly out of control, but we do not see many key prophecies being fulfilled.

In the parables, prophecies, and epistles, a phrase is used frequently with regard to the Day of the Lord and the return of Jesus Christ. Though it may vary slightly from verse to verse, numerous instructions are given to "watch, because the Day of the Lord [or else Christ Himself] will come as a thief in the night." "Watch" in such instances does not mean what many think it means. It is tied closely with our Savior's return, yet it has little to do with physical observation. Why is such watching important? What does it have to do with Christ returning as "a thief in the night?"

One oft-quoted "watching" verse is Luke 21:36: "Watch therefore, and pray always that you may be counted worthy to escape all these things that will come to pass, and to stand before the Son of Man." It is frequently interpreted to mean that we should be closely watching current events so we know how close we are to Christ's return. The common paraphrase of this command is "watch world news, so that as you begin to see prophecy unfold, you can escape the horrors of the Tribulation."

This interpretation has led to a cottage industry of sorts within the greater church of God. A tremendous amount of effort is put into commenting on world events and tying them into biblical prophecy. The underlying assumption is that God wants us to have our finger on the pulse of the news, and this knowledge—combined with prayer—will make us worthy to escape all those prophesied things. But does this assumption agree with Scripture?

In fact, the Greek word translated "watch" has nothing to do with looking at events or keeping world news under close observation. Even without examining the underlying Greek, we can tell from the context that Jesus has something else in mind. Verse 36 begins, "Watch therefore," signaling that it concludes or summarizes previous material. We cannot understand verse 36 until we know what preceded it.

Keeping an Eye on Number One

Verses 34-35 provide the context for Jesus' command to "watch":

But take heed to yourselves, lest your hearts be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness, and cares of this life, and that Day come on you unexpectedly. For it will come as a snare on all those who dwell on the face of the whole earth.

Clearly, Jesus' message is not an admonition to watch world events so that we will know when He will return. Instead, His instruction is to watch ourselves, which is what "take heed to yourselves" suggests. He is talking about being vigilant about our own spiritual state, as well as being circumspect and spiritually awake as we go through life. The danger is that, if we do not "watch" ourselves—that is, continually take stock of our condition and responsibilities—self-indulgence and material concerns will distract us, and we will find ourselves spiritually unprepared when the end comes.

Luke 21:36, then, is not an injunction to be glued to CNN, FOX, the Drudge Report, or any other news source. In fact, a subtle danger exists in being too caught up in current events, as it can distract us from the more vital spiritual preparation. The upshot is that the Day will come, and we do not know when.

Watching events unfold is not what makes us "worthy to escape," but our cooperation with God as He forms His character image in us does. Thus, in addition to prayer, we have to be vigilant in our covenant with Him. We have to "take heed" to ourselves constantly, examining our walk and how we are seeking and imitating God.

The Greek word translated "watch," at its most basic, means "to be sleepless," implying continuous and wakeful concern, such as being on watch when a loved one is ill. It means to be intent or to exercise constant vigilance over something, as a shepherd watches over his sheep or a leader watches over his charges (Hebrews 13:17). Watching signifies a state of being untouched by any influence that may cloud the mind; one "watching" guards against drowsiness or confusion. Hand-in-hand with "pray always," it denotes being alert for spiritual dangers and beguilements. Obviously, this state will not transpire from following—or even deeply analyzing—current events.

Luke 12:35-40 provides a good illustration of watching:

Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning [that is, be prepared]; and you yourselves be like men who wait for their master, when he will return from the wedding, that when he comes and knocks they may open to him immediately. Blessed are those servants whom the master, when he comes, will find watching. . . . And if he should come in the second watch, or come in the third watch, and find them so, blessed are those servants. But know this, that if the master of the house had known what hour the thief would come, he would have watched and not allowed his house to be broken into. Therefore you also be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect.

In verses 37-38, Jesus pronounces a blessing on those whom the Master finds watching when He returns. It is not that they have their noses pressed to the glass, watching for His return. Instead, those who are vigilant and careful in their responsibilities will be blessed. They are watching over the Master's house, ensuring that all is in order, even if it means sleepless nights. "Be ready" in verse 40 is a simple summation of the "watching" He desires.

Verse 38 warns that He might return in the second watch or in the third. Regardless of whether the Master returns early or late (from our perspective), He wants His servants to be ready and His household in order. He wants them to be maintaining the house, diligent in their duties, so that all is prepared for His return. If they spend their days staring out the window, watching the road for His return rather than fulfilling their duties, they will be neglecting what He has charged them to do.

The duties of a typical servant include many mundane, monotonous, and repetitive chores. It is easy for a servant to think, "What is the use? Do I really have to do this right now? Since there is no sign of the Master right now, perhaps I can just relax, and prepare quickly when His return seems near." Such a servant would be inclined to spend more time watching from the window for the Master's return than he would be performing his assigned tasks. Yet, a servant's responsibility is to be prepared and to make sure the household (the church) is prepared, not to anticipate the timing of the Master's return.

Jesus says repeatedly that we will not know. If we believe Him, our focus will be on being faithful and vigilant in the things He has given us to do. His return will take the household by surprise—there is no other way to understand His many statements. The critical point is the state of readiness and the usefulness of the household and the servants when He returns. If the household is not ready, or if the servants have been sleeping rather than working, they will face His wrath.

A Steward's Responsibility

In verses 42-47, the instruction to watch continues. However, this time Jesus focuses specifically on the responsibility of the steward—the one given authority over the household while the Master is away:

And the Lord said, "Who then is that faithful and wise steward, whom his master will make ruler over his household, to give them their portion of food in due season? Blessed is that servant whom his master will find so doing when he comes. Truly, I say to you that he will make him ruler over all that he has. But if that servant says in his heart, 'My master is delaying his coming,' and begins to beat the male and female servants, and to eat and drink and be drunk, the master of that servant will come on a day when he is not looking for him, and at an hour when he is not aware, and will cut him in two and appoint him his portion with the unbelievers. And that servant who knew his master's will, and did not prepare himself or do according to his will, shall be beaten with many stripes."

His theme is preparation and faithful continuance of duty. He tasks the steward—a type of the ministry—with giving the household "food in due season." Similarly, Paul outlines the responsibilities of church leadership in his letter to the Ephesians. Notice that the focus is on the church, not on the world: "And He Himself gave some to be apostles, some prophets, some evangelists, and some pastors and teachers, for the equipping of the saints for the work of ministry [service], for the edifying of the body of Christ. . ." (Ephesians 4:11-13). Church leaders are responsible for feeding and preparing God's household and encouraging them to watch themselves.

If the steward does not properly watch, however, the human proclivity is to let down—and abuse. The steward in Luke 12:45 is focused on the Master's return—or lack thereof—rather than on his own alertness and attention to his duties. As a result, he falls into excesses of eating and drinking (rather than providing food for the household). He ends up beating those he was supposed to watch over, as if he thought they belonged to him. Clearly, those who have stewardship responsibilities in the church have an added weight to "take heed to themselves" lest they neglect or even damage those for whom they are supposed to be providing spiritual food.

Mark 13:32-37 provides another illustration of watching:

But of that day and hour no one knows, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. Take heed, watch and pray; for you do not know when the time is. It is like a man going to a far country, who left his house and gave authority to his servants, and to each his work, and commanded the doorkeeper to watch. Watch therefore, for you do not know when the master of the house is coming—in the evening, at midnight, at the crowing of the rooster, or in the morning—lest, coming suddenly, he find you sleeping. And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!

In this parable, it is even more apparent that the Master intends for the servants to be watchful—diligent, alert, taking heed to themselves—in their work and authority rather than for His return. Twice, He says that no one knows the timing of His return—not even Himself! Here, He tells us that we do not know the "day and hour," but after His resurrection He expands this unknown variable to "times or seasons" (Acts 1:6-7).

So, even though we might be able to have a rough idea when that time draws near (see Matthew 24:32-33; Luke 21:29-31), in general, it is secret and indeterminable. Our time, then, is best spent focusing on our responsibilities before God rather than being caught up in the details of how it might unfold. These things are unknowable, but even if one could correctly anticipate them, it would all be for naught if the individual is not spiritually prepared for Jesus Christ's return (see also Matthew 24:42-44).

Coming in the Night

The Parable of the Wise and Foolish Virgins (Matthew 25:1-13) uses a different metaphor, but the critical admonition is the same. A cry awakens them all at midnight, but it leaves them no time for preparation—it announces the Bridegroom's presence and commands them to meet Him. At that point, there is no opportunity to get things into shape quickly—to grow hurriedly, overcome, develop a relationship with the Father and the Son, and take on their character image. The period of preparation has ended; the time that has been prepared for has come. The Bridegroom tells those who had not made advance spiritual preparations, "I do not know you." They lose out on the opportunity that God had given to them because they would not watch themselves—not make the necessary preparations.

In I Thessalonians, Paul also addresses the Day of the Lord coming "as a thief in the night":

But concerning the times and the seasons, brethren, you have no need that I should write to you. For you yourselves know perfectly that the day of the Lord so comes as a thief in the night. . . . But you, brethren, are not in darkness, so that this Day should overtake you as a thief. You are all sons of light and sons of the day. We are not of the night nor of darkness. Therefore let us not sleep, as others do, but let us watch and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But let us who are of the day be sober, putting on the breastplate of faith and love, and as a helmet the hope of salvation. For God did not appoint us to wrath, but to obtain salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ.
(I Thessalonians 5:1-2, 4-9)

Like us, the return of Christ was much on the minds of first-century Christians, yet Paul tells them he felt no need to write concerning its timing. Why? Because they should have known that the Day of the Lord will come like a thief in the night. There was no point in Paul trying to outline it all, as it will happen at a time that nobody can anticipate.

However, he writes something that seems contradictory in verse 4: Since they are not in darkness, that Day should not "overtake [them] as a thief." What is actually meant is that the day of God's wrath would not possess them—literally, "take them over." God's wrath would not swallow them up, or the destruction of that Day does not need to have power over them. He does not mean that it would not surprise them, but as a parallel verse clarifies, "For God has not appointed us to wrath" (verse 9), even though they will be surprised.

Verse 6 contains the same admonition seen elsewhere to be awake, to be sober, and to watch. Though we are not appointed to wrath, other verses show that we can certainly still incur it if we are not taking heed to ourselves (see Hebrews 10:26-31). So we are instructed to watch—to be vigilant about our spiritual state, to have continuous and wakeful concern over fulfilling our part of the covenant, to be on guard against spiritual dangers, spiritual drowsiness, and deception. Those who do these things, along with praying always, will be accounted worthy to escape the wrath. Simply watching down the road for a sign of the Master's return really does not prepare us for anything at all.

Letter to Sardis

Finally, Jesus writes this same message to a portion of the end-time church:

And to the angel of the church in Sardis write, "These things says He who has the seven Spirits of God and the seven stars: 'I know your works, that you have a name that you are alive, but you are dead. Be watchful, and strengthen the things which remain, that are ready to die, for I have not found your works perfect before God. Remember therefore how you have received and heard; hold fast and repent. Therefore if you will not watch, I will come upon you as a thief, and you will not know what hour I will come upon you.'"
(Revelation 3:1-3)

After calling them essentially the "church of the mostly dead," He instructs them to "be watchful." He complements this with, "strengthen the things which remain," which qualifies the meaning of "watch." There is still a glimmer of life within this church, but the letter gives the impression that they have relaxed in their spiritual responsibilities so much that they are nearly comatose. They have not been vigilant in their core responsibilities or on guard against deception, apathy, or neglect. They have not had sleepless nights over their standing with God.

Interestingly, in the Bible's first mention of the Day of the Lord (Isaiah 2:12), it says that it "shall come upon everything proud and lofty, upon everything lifted up—and it shall be brought low." The primary target is the proud—the self-assured. The ironic thing is that this state of spiritual near-death could easily come about even while they are avidly watching world events. They could be quite adept at following the news reports and may know better than anyone what is really going on in the world and how it fits with prophecy.

But that does not fulfill Christ's and the apostle's commands to watch! It is not that it is wrong to keep tabs on world news, but watching world news is chiefly about observing. True watching emphasizes diligence; it is being alert to spiritual dangers more than physical ones. It is about faithfully carrying out our God-given responsibilities, like a servant in the Master's house. None of that results from simply being a news- or prophecy-addict.

In verse 3, He tells them to call to mind the previous lessons and instructions they have heard. He tells them to repent and to guard and maintain their position so they backslide no further. As before, His description gives little indication of spiritual vibrancy or zeal. There probably is a great deal of activity, since He says that they have a name—or reputation—for being alive. Yet, in the areas that truly matter—like growth, faith, seeking God, and overcoming—not much is happening.

He also warns them that, if they will not watch themselves and their covenant responsibilities to their Master, He will come upon them like a thief. He implies that they will not be counted worthy to escape. They may not be appointed to wrath as the world is, but they certainly are not immune to it. In fact, they stand a good chance of experiencing some of it, having not been vigilant and alert in watching over the things that God has given them.

Plainly, Christ will return when we do not expect Him. We may be able to observe some general indicators when key prophecies are fulfilled, but the overall timing will be a mystery. His coming will be like a thief in the night, purposefully hidden from all. Rather than trying to discern the timing, we are instructed to "watch"—not world events, but to watch over all that God has given to us, so that when that Day arrives, we are ready. He knows that if we are faithful in little—in the mundane, the monotonous, the unexciting—we will also be faithful in the truly great things that lie ahead.

Source: Forerunner, July-August 2008, © 2008 CGG

Do Not Let Him Find You Found Sleeping
Augustine, a man in the 5th century who became Bishop of the church and a saint in history, originally lead a life of sin giving himself over to whatever pleasures presented themselves. His mother had earnestly prayed for him his entire life that he would give his life to the service of Christ, but Augustine persisted in his sins until one day he sat with a friend on a bench weeping over the state of his life. It was at this moment that he heard a boy or girl--he says he does not know which it was--singing a song. The sound was coming from a neighboring house. The child was chanting over and over: "Pick it up, read it; pick it up; read it." Here is what happened next in Augustine's own words:

Immediately I ceased weeping and began most earnestly to think whether it was usual for children in some kind of game to sing such a song, but I could not remember ever having heard the like. So, damming the torrent of my tears, I got to my feet, for I could not but think that this was a divine command to open the Bible and read the first passage I should light upon.

So I quickly returned to the bench where Alypius was sitting, for there I had put down the apostles book. I snatched it up, opened it, and in silence read the paragraph on which my eyes first fell:

"Not in rioting and drunkenness, not in chambering and wantonness, not in strife and envying, but put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh to fulfill the lust thereof."

I wanted to read no further, nor did I need to. For instantly, as the sentence ended, there was infused in my heart something like the light of full certainty and all the gloom of doubt vanished away."

Had Christ returned before that fateful day, Augustine would have been caught unprepared. He would have been found asleep. From that moment on, however, Augustine was prepared. He was on the alert! He had awaken from his sins.

Brett Blair,
Quote is from Augustine's Confessions.

How We Know The End is Near

by Dr. Jack Graham

"And this gospel of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come."
Matthew 24:14

I'm amazed when I stop and think about how far the human race has come technologically. It's astonishing that just over a century ago, only a small percentage of our country would've known what the President looked like. He could've sat next to you at a dinner table and you'd never have known it was him!

Our world has become one big neighborhood in the past century. Just think what things like email, cell phones, and Facebook have done to make our global village so much smaller. And because of these advances, we're closer to fulfilling the Great Commission than ever before.

And now we've seen in recent months the opening up of much of the Arab world through the Arab Spring, where so many are protesting for freedom. Many ministries have been able to rush biblical literature into formerly closed countries at a rapid rate. What a wonderful time to be alive!

The day will come when the last person will be reached before the return of Christ. But until that day, stay focused on expanding His Kingdom by praying, giving, and going to accomplish His global purposes!


Source: Power Point with Jack Graham

Awake, Awake, The Son of Man Is Coming

by Bob Cornwall

Gospel: Mark 13:24-37

24 "But in those days, after that suffering,
the sun will be darkened,
and the moon will not give its light,
25 and the stars will be falling from heaven,
and the powers in the heavens will be shaken.

26 Then they will see 'the Son of Man coming in clouds' with great power and glory. 27 Then he will send out the angels, and gather his elect from the four winds, from the ends of the earth to the ends of heaven.

28 "From the fig tree learn its lesson: as soon as its branch becomes tender and puts forth its leaves, you know that summer is near. 29 So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that he[a] is near, at the very gates. 30 Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all these things have taken place. 31 Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.

32 "But about that day or hour no one knows, neither the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father. 33 Beware, keep alert;[b] for you do not know when the time will come. 34 It is like a man going on a journey, when he leaves home and puts his slaves in charge, each with his work, and commands the doorkeeper to be on the watch. 35 Therefore, keep awake—for you do not know when the master of the house will come, in the evening, or at midnight, or at cockcrow, or at dawn, 36 or else he may find you asleep when he comes suddenly.37 And what I say to you I say to all: Keep awake."
New Revised Standard Version (NRSV)

The ancient hymn Let All Mortal Flesh Keep Silence (4th Century) sets a penitential tone for the season of Advent, which is an appropriate stance as we begin the journey of a new liturgical year:

Let all mortal flesh keep silence,
and with fear and trembling stand;
Ponder nothing earthly minded,
for with blessing in his hand
Christ our God to earth descendeth,
our full homage to demand.

Advent is a penitential season. It is a time to take stock of one's life in preparation for the great festival to be held in the coming weeks. It is a season of hope and expectation. It is also a season where we begin to look at how faith is related to the facts of life and whether judgment is in store for us. In other words, Advent is an eschatological season.

Mark 13, the gospel reading before us, is known as "The Little Apocalypse," because of its similarity in tone to Revelation. There is the sense that the coming of the Lord demands of us a certain fear and trembling. It requires that we be cognizant of our own resistance to the things of God. It is a reminder that too often we fail to pay attention. This first Sunday in Advent is, therefore, with Mark's Gospel in hand, a wakeup call. Yes, the Messiah is coming and not in a sleigh with eight tiny reindeer. So be prepared.

The reading begins ominously. The sun is darkened. The moon fails to give off light. The stars are falling. The moment before the coming of the Lord is one of pure darkness. As I prepare this meditation I'm mindful of events that took place the evening prior under the cover of darkness. A prosecutor chose to make an announcement that a grand jury voted no indictment on a police officer who shot and killed a young African American man. We don't know all the details. They are fuzzy. The way they have been set out is meant to keep things fuzzy. The announcement stirred anger in the crowd, and some chose violence as a way to respond. This is nothing new. Violence is always an option. Others chose nonviolent protests. The choice of timing, of course, seems to many, myself included, to be craven. The verdict could have been just easily read at 8 AM as at 8 PM. But the prosecutor chose to issue the report at night, when such a response could be predicted. Why do we never learn? Why do we try to hide under the cover of darkness? With regard to Ferguson and Michael Brown, I as a white, middle class, pastor, must first listen to the voices calling out for justice. I may want to understand, but in many ways I cannot. So what is required of me is solidarity with those who grieve and mourn and suffer.

Apocalyptic texts like this one emerge out of similar feelings. Mark writes either right before or soon after the great Jewish War that led to the destruction of Jerusalem. Could it be that the reference to a time of suffering has in mind that reality. Where is hope to be found in the midst of all of this destruction and grief.

In this gospel reading Jesus speaks of the coming of the Son of Man, an image that is lifted from Daniel 7:13. The image is one of the Messiah coming riding on the clouds. We know that Jesus often used the title "Son of Man" as a self-appellation. The question is whether this mean to speak simply of his humanity, which he shares with us, or does it speak of something more? Is this not a recognition that the people are crying out for a redeemer, one who will rescue them from the time of trial. At the same time, Jesus speaks of this apocalyptic moment as one of a final verdict. The Son of Man will come and gather the elect, the chosen ones, from the far winds. Yes, this speaks of a final moment of gathering, much like the judgment scene spoken of in Matthew 25, the reading for Christ the King Sunday, just a week earlier.

The greatest threat to justice and mercy is complacency. We become immune to the cries of those suffering. We might not even hear them or understand the nature of the cry. We fall asleep. Our oil goes out. We miss the sign of the fig tree, whose changing leaves signal a new day. The signs suggest the time of deliverance and judgment is near at hand. So will we be prepared?

There is only one problem – even if the signs are there, we don't know the exact time and place of this coming of the Son of Man. Not even the Son himself knows the exact time of this event. If you know the exact time it is easy to be prepared. Just set out your clothes, pack your bag, and set the alarm. Then you can go to sleep knowing that when day breaks you will be ready. But in the apocalyptic world things don't work that way. You can't predict time and place, even if certain figures have made a fortune on trying to make the prediction. It makes for best-selling fiction, but in the end proves unhelpful. Why? For one thing it leads to disappointment. The followers of William Miller found that out the hard way in the 1840s. Besides, we can get hung up on details and miss the big picture. So don't get caught trying to figure out what only God knows for sure.

In our context it is better to see this as a call to always be ready for the Day of the Lord. I realize that this is not easy. It's difficult to stay on high alert always. It's a ready recipe for burn out. You can do it for a while, but then you have to get some sleep.

Recognizing the challenges of remaining awake and alert, the word remains present with us – Don't be found asleep when the day comes. Don't get complacent. Don't get too comfortable with your surroundings. Instead, keep ready by being engaged in the word of God in the World. Seek justice and mercy wherever you go. Listen for the cries of the suffering. This is our calling in the interim. We all have our assignments, our callings, and it is to this work that we have been elected.

In hope we will continue to sing as the body of Christ:

O come, O Come Emmanuel,
and ransom captive Israel,
That mourns in lonely exile here,
Until the Son of God appear.
Rejoice, rejoice!

Emmanuel shall come to thee, O Israel!

Keep Awake

by Rev. Todd Weir, bloomingcactus

What does it mean to keep awake? I grew up in a religious culture greatly influenced by the hope and threat of the apocalypse. Fiery mushroom clouds of nuclear explosions, sitting in the hallway with a math book over my head during "nuclear readiness drills," speculation about "the Beast" of Revelation, the number "666" and the four horsemen of the apocalypse were powerful images in my head growing up. When I was nine years old, the next door neighbor urged me to give my heart to Jesus because Russian paratroopers were poised to plummet down on Boone, Iowa at any moment and force us all to be godless communists. Hal Lindsey had predicted that the world would not last past my sophomore year of college, and somehow he managed to keep selling books of sophomoric predictions even after that date.

I wonder-does anyone really know the mind of God on such things? 20 percent of Americans were wrong about the year 2000. One of the major tenements of many Christian apocalyptic writers is the belief in an anti-Christ, a world leader who will be Satan's chief ally in the end times, a sort of evil twin to Jesus. On the website of PBS Frontline you can take the Anti-Christ quiz to see which prominent figures have been labeled the anti-Christ. Some are quite predictable, ranging from Yasser Arafat, Saddam Hussein, Mikhail Gorbachev (because of the strange mark on his forehead that some said was the mark of the beast). But how about these folks: Jimmy Carter, Ronald Reagan (because each of his three names have 6 letters), John F. Kennedy (because he received 666 votes at the 1956 Democratic and a head wound killed him), Bill Gates (who would enslave the world through computers) and even Pete Seeger (I have no idea why!). Let me wonder again-What if all this time and money were spent on loving others and making the world a better place?

The setting and authorship of Mark's Gospel has much to say about this issue. Scholars agree that this Gospel was the first one written, sometime between 66 and 70 AD, just over 30 years after the crucifixion and resurrection of Christ. This was a time of revolt as rebels took over the city of Jerusalem and overthrew both Roman rule and the chief priests and Sadducees. After about 3 years, in 70 AD, the Roman army came and re-conquered the city and destroyed the great Temple to punish Israel. So the writer of Mark's Gospel was living through this turmoil and remembered Christ's words of a generation earlier about the destruction of the Temple.

I wish I knew for sure whether the Gospel was written either right before the destruction of the Temple or right after the destruction? Had he already seen the great army come and rape and pillage the city, watching the fires rise over Jerusalem and hearing the screams of its terrified citizens? Or was he writing while the rebels were in ascendancy and Christians were deciding whether or not to join the revolt against Rome?

Either way I think we learn two things from Mark's Gospel. First, Mark was sympathetic with the grievances of the Zealot rebels. Mark makes it very clear that Jesus came into strong conflict with both the Temple priests and the Jewish Herodians. He turned over the tables of the money changers and condemned those who gained unjust wealth and oppressed the needy. Mark had no sympathy with the Temple aristocracy. At the same time, Mark does not seem inclined to encourage Christians to support the Zealot rebels. Mark sees a grander vision of the Gospel that is not content with the mere nationalistic aspirations of Israel. Remember that Jesus is very careful about the use of the term Messiah in Mark's Gospel. He will not conform to the hope for a military leader to throw off the Romans. He does not choose to lead a revolt, but ends up suffering on the cross.

I understand the desire to see Christ come again and set this world straight. I long for that time when justice will roll down like waters and righteousness like an ever flowing stream. I sometimes grow weary of the corporate greed and materialism, the ceaseless warfare and hatred, the lies of politicians, and the despair of poverty, AIDs, hunger and homelessness. I get tired some days just trying to make sure we take care of the homeless in Dutchess County. Sometimes I want to say, "Come Lord Jesus and end this misery and set the world straight. Punish the evil doer and lift up the righteous." We all would like the world to be set right, to be the way we want it to be." The great preacher Fred Craddock once said, "Maybe people are obsessed with the Second Coming because deep down they are disappointed in the first one."

People of Christ's day expected a lot more of Jesus than he delivered. They wanted a messiah to make the world right --by their terms. There terms were limited to narrow nationalistic expectations for Israel, by a sense that God was only concerned about one little patch of land at the junction of three continents. They didn't realize that God so loved the world, that the only begotten Son was sent among us.

In what ways might the church still be dissatisfied with the First Coming of Jesus? Are we worshiping and following the Jesus that hung out with sinners like prostitutes and tax collectors because they are the ones who needed a physician? Are we comfortable with a Jesus that wasn't afraid of people on the margins of society who hugged the lepers and forgave an adulteress and told stories of a Great Banquet where all people are welcomed to God's feast? Are we ready for a Jesus who came not just to save our own soul, but who came because God so loved the whole world?

What does it mean to "keep awake?" Being spiritually awake is a state of awareness. This awareness sees life as God desires us to see it, full of its hopes and possibilities; as well it's suffering and longing for completeness. Buddhist thought calls this an attitude of mindfulness. Thich Nhat Hahn writes,

In Buddhism, our effort is to practice mindfulness in each moment-to know what is going on within and all around us. When the Buddha was asked, ‘Sir, what do you and your monks practice?' he replied, ‘We sit, we walk, wand we eat.' The questioner continued, ‘But sir, everyone sits, walks, and eats,' and the Buddha told him, ‘When we sit, we know we are sitting. When we walk, we know we are walking. When we eat, we know we are eating.' Most of the time, we are lost in the past or carried away by future projects and concerns. When we are mindful, touching deeply the present moment, we can see and listen deeply, and the fruits are always understanding, acceptance, love and the desire to relieve suffering and bring joy. When our beautiful child comes up to us and smiles, we are completely there for her. (Living Buddha, Living Christ; p. 14)

I believe with the witness of scripture that some day Christ will come again and all things will be reconciled to God. But until that time, my prayer is to be mindful, to stay awake in the present moment to the presence of God. I am going to struggle with all my heart, mind and soul to follow the Jesus of the First Coming who calls us to love, compassion, justice, unity and peace.


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