We live in scary times.
Millions of people in this country and around the world find themselves unemployed or underemployed â in spite of the upbeat explanations of some economists that the recession is already at an end. The housing market, other experts tell us, has not stabilized. And the same is probably true of the vital banking system. Meanwhile, war â or near-war â continues unabated in many of the countries of the Middle East and in other parts of the world as well. Terrorism lingers as an ever-present danger. And global warming and critical environmental problems bring in their wake the threat of famine and other hardships. We could go on and on. The litany of problems facing the world today is seemingly endless.
Economic crises and wars have of course been a part of human existence from time immemorial. What we are going through in our present age is nothing new, no matter how vivid and painful it may be for us today. We have been through far worse. Just ask those who remember the Great Depression of the 1930s or the horrors of World War Two and the Holocaust. Truth is, no age and no place on earth is immune from the consequences of both human frailty and arrogance and the foibles of misguided leadership. It is all part and parcel of our fallen nature.
Throughout salvation history, the scriptures â both Hebrew and Christian â have come to terms with these and similar quandaries. What to make of the depravities of conflict and violence among the nations of the world? How to explain the vagaries of illness, hunger, betrayal, and even death? Are such tribulations somehow all related? Are they portents of Godâs displeasure â or, on the other hand, harbingers of better things to come? Most importantly, where is God in all this?
And where are we?
For the evangelist Luke, such questions converge in his understanding of Christ and his mission on earth. And their answers are, for him, absolutely critical to the everyday lives of Christians in the here and now. Luke writes with the benefit of hindsight some decades after our Lordâs death and resurrection, seeking to bolster the faith of his contemporaries. He tells the gospel story with compassion and vigor: Jesus suffered the cross and thereby subsumed the sin and evil of this world into his own death and resurrection. He made possible an end to suffering and death for all time to come.
But for some in Lukeâs day and age, the questions remained the same as those of the bystanders in todayâs gospel account: When will this be? What will be the sign that this is about to take place? Has it already taken place? Where is Christ now when we need him? When will he, at long last, return and fix things for good?
And always lurking behind such theological probings, is the question: When will we, Godâs people, be forever safe from harm?
Todayâs gospel narrative is Lukeâs profound â and perhaps profoundly troubling â response to these questions. For it seems to Luke that the troubles of this world are but sure signs that things are developing as they should and in accord with the Lordâs eternal plan. If the present age is replete with terror and fear, it is only because the world itself has been in some sense knocked off kilter â staggered by the power of Christâ resurrection and his presence in the world.
Scary times, indeed.
Far from losing heart in the face of existing adversity, Luke asserts, Christians must come to know that these things â war, earthquake, famine, and plague â will but provide âan opportunity to testifyâ to the deeper truths of the gospel itself. For everything in the here and now already contains within it the promise of salvation to come.
As much as the Christians of Lukeâs day might have wished for the Lordâs speedy return and an end to their trials, they were not to lose heart nor be âled astray.â It would have been all too easy for them â faced with persecution and mockery â to turn aside from the way of truth. But ânot a hair of your head will perish,â Luke reassures them. âBy your endurance you will gain your souls.â It takes endurance â and great faith â to see Christ already present amid the turmoil of the age. But that is the challenge Luke sets before followers of Christ.
We face the same challenge today.
We, too, need reassurance of Christâs nearness and imminence in our world. Everyone wants change. Every one of us wants a better future for ourselves and our children. Everyone, alas, also has differing views of the problems before us and the solutions to them.
It is easy to think that the world has changed significantly in our own time; that our current problems and challenges are unprecedented or that our age has undergone a unique âparadigm shiftâ in thinking and understanding. But the human heart does not change so quickly or easily. And, the truth of the gospel â and of Christâs promise â remains as alive as ever it was. If we live in scary times, we also live in sacred times not unlike those of Luke in the first decades of Christian faith. Christ still has work for us to do.
Paul, by tradition Lukeâs mentor in faith and mission, might challenge us as he challenged the Thessalonians of the first century: âBrothers and sisters,â he might say, âdo not be weary in doing what is right.â
Brothers and sisters, we have our work cut out for us.