Little Timmy got a toy drum for his birthday. And he loved that drum above all the other gifts he got that day. Timmy loved that drum. Aunt Dottie, growing weary asked Timmy: “Aren’t you tired of playing that drum yet?” It was the wrong question. About 10 minutes later, Uncle Mike tried: “Timmy, you got a lot of other toys for your birthday, don’t you want to play with some of those? That too, was the wrong question. Finally, grandpa Mac, who was a bit wiser than most asked Timmy: “Timmy, do you have any idea what is inside of that drum?”
It was the right question to ask…
In today’s gospel, Jesus, who has finally completed his long journey to Jerusalem begins this apocalyptic discourse – a series of sayings and teachings about the end time. It progresses from the destruction of the temple, to the cataclysmic happenings that will wreak destruction on the earth and among peoples, and finally, to the destruction of the individual believer. “There will come a day…,” Jesus begins. And the people around him immediately jump into the wrong questions. “When will this happen? What will be the sign?” They wanted to know day, hour and minute. And in response, kind of like Grandpa Mac, Jesus says: “You’re asking the wrong question!” He never gives an answer, does he, to that “when” question. Not in this gospel or any other one.
Instead, he directs his listeners to HOW to respond to these events. That’s the question he needs us to be asking. And if we do that, we will not be defenseless in times of crisis. So what does he tell us about how?
First: “Many will come in my name. Do not follow them!” Jesus is asking to be the Lord of your life. Not your wife, your parents, your CEO, your best friend. As wonderful as they might be, we have to get rid of anyone we put in Jesus place. All those people we submit our lives to in the hopes of getting happy. All those we turn to quell our loneliness – they have to go. Jesus will not be one figure along side of others. To get to the next age, he must be the Lord of your life. And if our focus is on Jesus, and not our tribulations, then we will be able to stand fearless. We will when we are doing what we are called to do, which means that sometimes we will have to stand up against the powers that be, we’ll have an opportunity to witness – to give testimony – to what God’s reign is about.
There is a parishioner who is traveling next weekend to protest at the school of the America’s [The SOA continues to train folks from oppressive regimes on how to conduct war and over throw governments using less than savory/ethical tactics.] He told me: “I’ll be at the meeting on Tuesday, unless they arrest me.” Talk about a freedom in the face of oppression. Talk about a life that gives testimony.
The testimony Jesus calls us to give is not a speech that one carefully composes ahead of time. The preparation consists in persevering in a life of faithfulness and trust in the one who provoked crises by the manner of his life. I will give you a wisdom that your adversaries will be powerless to refute. And in Luke’s gospel, just a few weeks before he death, that testimony will be the witness of the cross – the wisdom of pushing self emptying love into all the situations of our lives. If there is a ‘narrative’ about this world and how it works that no one will be able to refute, there it is. You can try power, prestige, etc. Those fail. The story that remains has always been the story of a love that gives itself away in sacrifice.
Not when, but HOW are we to stand in the midst of cataclysms and trials and persecutions? That is the question we must prepare for each and every moment of our lives. Here around this altar, receiving the body and blood of our Lord, we take into ourselves that gift of sacrificial love. Our very bodies are ‘built’ on that gift of a love that gives itself away, as the bread and wine, now transformed into the body and blood of Jesus are transformed by our digestive system into ‘us’. And if we are true to what we receive, -rather to WHO we receive, then, we’ll hear those final words spoken to us by Jesus. “By your perseverance, you will secure your life…”