In the opening sentence of today’s Gospel reading, we learn that Jesus is reassuring his disciples that they need not be afraid of opposition, particularly from the Pharisees, because they have the promise of the Kingdom of God. No-one can take that promise from them because it does not rely upon earthly possessions, so cherished by the Pharisees, but upon ‘treasure in heaven’.
Jesus’s call upon his disciples not to worry features many times in Luke’s Gospel. In the text preceding today’s reading, Jesus tells his disciples not to fear those who kill the body, only fear God who has ‘the authority to cast into hell’. He goes on to urge them not to worry about their life because God will care and provide for them.
If we read on beyond today’s Gospel text we realize that what Jesus is asking of his disciples by way of fearless trust in the promise of the Kingdom is a tall order because, as Jesus says of himself, he has come ‘to bring fire to the earth’ and ‘division in households’. I would have thought that any one of us would have needed much reassurance in those circumstances that to follow Jesus need not be a fear ridden task. The controversy that Jesus engendered was, after all, going to lead to his death on the Cross.
I believe there is a message here for us all in today’s world, which is mired in pandemic and anxiety about the future. A message that says if we trust in the promise of the Kingdom we need not buckle under the weight of issues that confront us. Rather let us stand firm and protect the weak and let us shift away from too much value on material possessions and towards trust in the provision that God makes for us. There is much evidence of this happening today in the increase of help given to others in the difficult circumstances we are in. Here, I believe, is a sign of God working his purposes out as the waters cover the sea.
Returning to today’s Gospel reading, we learn that the disciples need to be ready for the Son of Man ‘coming at an unexpected hour’. They must be on their guard as they wait for this to happen. So to be fearless does not mean that they can relax but be mindful at all times of the coming of the Son of Man. They must be ‘dressed for action’ and have their lamps lit.
This watching and waiting cannot have been an easy task for them as watching and waiting can be more demanding in a tense situation than action. I think here of the soldiers of the First War who would have had to endure the silence and stillness in the trenches before going over the top to confront the enemy. Here we see that being alert and waiting does not in itself necessarily bring about a happy conclusion. In opera and literature we can also find unhappy endings that result from watching and waiting. In Puccini’s opera ‘Madam Butterfly’ the heroine, Cio-Cio San, the Japanese geisha, waits throughout the night in utter stillness and trust as she looks out on to the horizon for the return of the one she loves, Lieutenant Pinkerton, but he does not come at that time. In Thomas Hardy’s novel ‘Far from the Madding Crowd’ Sergeant Troy waits in the church for his bride-to-be, Fanny Robin, but disastrously she has gone to the wrong church and he can wait no more.
Watching and waiting though can produce a happy result and there is a wonderful example of this in the recent triumph of the Lionesses in women’s football after many years of waiting, but it is a variable. Yet this variable does not negate what Jesus is asking his disciples to do. He is calling upon them not to achieve a result from watching and waiting that relates to earthly existence but a result that has a heavenly meaning. That heavenly meaning is the Kingdom to come. This will require an agonizing death on the Cross and we know that this requirement was so demanding that even Jesus himself cried out on the Cross ‘My God, my God, why has thou abandoned me?’. Only then can the Resurrection follow and the promise of the Kingdom be fulfilled.
It is the Resurrection and the promise of the Kingdom that we are assured of in this call to the disciples to watch and wait. The disciples followed Jesus until near the end of his life and although they could not quite watch and wait until the end as they fell asleep in the garden of Gethsemane, it did not prevent Jesus encountering them once more after his death and instructing them to go and, as given at the end of Matthew’s Gospel, to make disciples of all nations.
Here we have for us today this assurance of the outcome of the Resurrection and the promise of the life to come. In our highly mobile world, that is what puts a value on stillness and watchfulness. Stillness can help us to stay calm and focussed in the storms of life and allow us time to reflect upon the glory of the Kingdom to come.
So in our troubled world today, let us not look down in despair but upwards to the sky above where, as the Psalmist wrote: ‘God watches us from heaven, fashioning our hearts and observing our deeds’. It is that heavenly realm that is our ultimate destination. A destination where there will be no more fear, no more need to watch and wait, only to dwell in the light of God’s love for us all.