Wednesday, November 13, 2013

Meditation on This Sunday's Gospel

The readings for Sunday, November 17, 2013:

First Reading: Malachi 4:1-2a

First Reading (Semi-cont.): Isaiah 65:17-25

Psalm: Psalm 98

Psalm (Semi-cont.): Isaiah 12 (Isaiah 12:2-6 NRSV)

Second Reading: 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

Gospel: Luke 21:5-19

This week's Gospel finds us back in the landscape of apocalypse, a landscape where we find ourselves periodically in our Bible readings.

In a way, these readings offer a kind of comfort. To be sure, it's a hard consolation, since these readings promise us that hard times are ahead. But surely we knew that, at least those of us who are the least bit observant understand that hard times will always come on the heels of good times. You can be living in one of the most stable nations in the Pacific Rim, only to find yourself facing the worst storm on record. In this age of extreme weather events, it’s hard not to wonder when we will be next.

We read the words of Jesus, the words that warn we'll be hauled in front of harsh governments, and this indignity we'll suffer once we've lived through famine and pestilence and any other portent of doom. Our families will abandon us, and our friends will desert us. Many of us reading these words this Sunday may not perceive the threat. We're convinced we're safe, that we live under a Constitution that will protect us. But those of us who study the cycles of history know that we're very lucky and that we can't necessarily count on that. Millions of humans thought they were safe, only to find out that in short order, the hooligans were at the gate.

But Jesus offers us encouragement: "This will be a time for you to bear testimony. Settle it therefore in your minds, not to meditate beforehand how to answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict" (verses 13-15). Yes, we might lose our lives. But we will gain so much more.

In this time of gloomy news, it's important to take some deep breaths and remind ourselves of what's important. Our friends and families won't always be with us. We can appreciate them while they are. We may be facing trouble at work, but at least we're employed. Even if we're not employed, if we live in the U.S., we have a lot of advantages that we wouldn't have if we lived in, say South Africa or Russia.

A few years ago, my friend John told me about talking to an older black man who came into the state park where John was working. John asked how his Christmas had been. The man said, "Well, we had enough food and no one took sick. So, it was good." Now there's some life wisdom, especially as we turn our thoughts towards the upcoming holidays.

I've always loved Thanksgiving, for many reasons. There's not the pressure of gift giving. The holiday meal is hard to mess up, unless you forget to thaw the turkey. The holiday is rooted, at least in popular imagination, in the idea of colonists saved from the brink of destruction by natives who show them how to live in a new community. The cynical amongst us can deliver powerful counterarguments to my optimism, but for the rest of the month, we can tune them out.

As we get ready for this season, let us remember to be grateful. Let us remember to say thank you, especially to people who might not hear it very often. Let the prophecy of apocalypse from the gospel remind us of our ease of life now and remind us of those who are not so fortunate. Let us keep perspective and remember that we're called to a higher purpose.

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