These are my thoughts for this Sunday, the 24th Sunday after Pentecost.
For some reason, a few weeks ago, someone said something that caused me to think of an old 60’s song from the group Pacific Gas & Electric. The song was entitled “Are You Ready?” and it was one of the first pieces of music that could be called “Jesus Rock.”
It was a song that carried a very subtle Christian message. I really don’t think that too many people at that time understood the connection between the music and the message. And I was one of them. I heard a good song with a good beat. But between the conversation a couple of weeks ago and the reading for the Gospel today (1), the connection comes back.
Peter, James, John, and Andrew are asking Jesus about the end times, the times when God’s Kingdom will come on earth. Jesus answers in terms of rumors of wars and nations rising up against nations, earthquakes and famines.
For us today, there are those who speak of these days being those times. They point to the conflicts in the Middle East as a coming sign that Jesus will be returning soon. The only thing that bothers me about such connections is that the people who claim that these are the times Jesus speaks of in today’s Gospel are actively encouraging war. Somehow they think that if they encourage war and discord, especially in the Middle East, Jesus’ return will be hastened.
It is very clear that Jesus is speaking of a time when God’s Kingdom will be here on earth and I think that we should be ready for that moment. But I also do not think that we should work to make that moment a possibility by seeking war and other signs of discord. To do so would work against the very nature of the Gospel which commands us to heal the sick, help the lame to walk, the deaf to hear, give sight to the blind, and bring freedom and hope to the oppressed. Encouraging war and seeking destruction, ignoring famine just because it is a sign of the end times hardly seems logical in those terms.
And when we read from Hebrews for today that we are to consider how to provoke one another to love and good deeds (2), then what are we to do? If God’s Kingdom comes through war and destruction, is that not a sign that we have not done that which we should have done? Do we really think that Jesus will return if we are encouraging war and division? If God’s Kingdom comes when nations turn against nation and we stand by and let war engulf regions, how can we say that we are able to enter into His Kingdom?
The words of Matthew 25 echo the contradiction. We are to be ready for Jesus’ return; but when He does return, we will be asked what we have done on this earth. Did we help the poor and needy, did we give assistance to the downtrodden, did we visit those alone and forgotten? Or did we just stand by?
The words of Jesus, given to us in Mark, tell us to be ready. The words of Hebrew tell us that we cannot stand back but must act in our readiness. If we look at the Old Testament reading for today (3), we are introduced to Hannah, the mother of Samuel.
The passage opens with Hannah lamenting that she has no children. And in a society where the number of children that a woman has is a marker of her success in life and her social status, Hannah is justified in lament. Yet, we read that Elkanah, her husband, loves her as much or more than he loves Penninah, his second wife. There is every indication that Penninah holds it over Hannah that she has been fruitful in bearing children while Hannah has not.
But in her despair and grief, Hannah continues to pray to God that God will offer a solution. Year after year, she pleads with God to give her a son. If God grants her prayer, she will raise him to a life of service to God. And eventually God does grant Hannah’s prayer and Hannah gives birth to Samuel. And Samuel will serve God all his life.
Samuel will become the judge who will launch the long liberation of Israel from foreign rule. His birth and the joy of Hannah parallel the joy of Mary when she is told that she will be the mother of Jesus the Christ child. As we read of the birth of Samuel today, we are being foretold of the birth of Christ, who will free us from a life of tyranny through sin and death.
But we cannot stand back and wait for Christ to come. We cannot stand back and allow the world to self-destruct just so we can rejoice in the coming of the Lord. Rather, we must take the steps that will ensure that all are able to rejoice and welcome Christ when He returns again. For Hannah, it was a quiet and humble prayer that allowed her life to have meaning. In her rejoicing, Hannah sings of the Lord bringing home to the poor; in her rejoicing, Hannah sings of the new vision of the world. (4)
The writer of Hebrews encourages us to not neglect others as we prepare for the coming of Christ. The Gospel message tells us that the care of the poor, the sick, and the needy will be a sign of our preparation. If we neglect those who are less fortunate than us, how can we expect to be ready?
Are you ready for the coming of the Lord? Do you not see the signs? As the days grow shorter and we awake each day in darkness, do you not see the signs of the coming of the Lord? Though we are still in the days following Pentecost, Advent and our preparation for the coming of the Lord are just a few weeks away. Are you ready?
(2) Hebrews 10: 24
(3) 1 Samuel 1: 4 – 20
(4) 1 Samuel 2: 1- 10