36“But about that day and hour no one knows, neither the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father.”
I want to say that nothing puzzles me more about some streams of contemporary American Christianity than the conviction that the end is hand in the face of clear testimony of Jesus that even he does not know when that day shall come – but such a statement would not really be true. I am puzzled by a great deal of contemporary American Christianity, for there are many clear words of Jesus that we don’t take seriously. We seem to hate our enemies rather than love them. We seem to tithe mint and cumin and neglect the weightier matters of justice and mercy. We seem to want to marry God and Caesar (God and country) not render to Caesar what is Caesar’s and to God what is God’s (meaning that we who are formed in the image of God should render our lives to God and let Caesar have his money.)
Still, this obsession with the end of times is odd given Jesus’ explicit and repeated warnings not to be led astray. The reason we love to think we live at the end is because it makes us important. When I was a child playing with a rolled up sock and small souvenir bat in my cousin’s house, we never imagined that it was the 6th inning of the 32nd game of a 162 game season; it was always the bottom of the ninth of the 7th game of the World Series with the bases loaded and the home team down by three runs. We want to be heroes. We want to live in urgent and meaningful times. We aren’t really much interested in the ordinary and lowly tasks like washing feet – again, despite Jesus’ clear command.
We want our lives to matter. But the truth is what matters is the washing of feet. What matters are acts of mercy and justice. What matters are kindness and compassion, an open ear and open heart. What matters is the simple sharing of bread.
And when Jesus tells us to be ready, this is what he means. We are ready when we are doing what he has told us to do, not when we are excitedly talking about the signs in the heavens and the day and the hour that no one will know. I met a man in in July of 1970 who earnestly told me, as we lay on a roof in Taiwan gazing at the stars, that Jesus had said we wouldn’t know the day or the hour, but that didn’t mean we wouldn’t know the month and the year. It was exciting to think that Jesus would come in March of 1972 (I think that’s what he said God had revealed to him), but the plain and clear meaning of the text is not found in such clever manipulations. It is found in the warning not to worry about that day, but to worry about this day and the children to be cared for and the hungry to be fed and the sick to be visited and the justice to be sought and the gospel to be shared.
We want to be the center of time, but Jesus wants to be the center of our hearts – not the center of our emotions, mind you, but the center of that place where we make our choices. And, again, Jesus was quite clear that serving God and serving our neighbor are one and the same.
There is comfort to be gained from Jesus’ recognition that “there will be wars and rumors of wars.” The chaos of our time doesn’t mean the end is at hand. And even if it were, the place we would want to be when the Lord of heaven and earth comes is where he told us to be: with a towel around our waist and a basin of water in our hands.