Recently a woman I know was trying to factor some fearful predictions into some economic decision she needed to make. It’s hard enough for Lily to navigate realms of finance not having been entrusted with singular or even mutual decision making before being widowed, let alone with someone whispering in her ear that she should sell everything she has and just stock up on supplies.
Of course I’m aware of earthquakes and up-risings, and “down-troddings” and wars and rumors of war on a daily basis but I don’t tend to pay much attention to people who think they can give time lines for the future.
I was concerned as she described to me a man who was not currently living up to his financial obligations but was offering her financial advice and either basing it on or peppering it with time tabled predictions of various global disaster scenarios. As a result of his certainty she now felt confused and uncertain as to what she should do.
As much as I was concerned about Lily making a hasty decision about her largest financial asset, in some ways I was more concerned that she thought she would have to be a Bible scholar to sort through this man’s predictions and the seemingly direct line of implications he drew to her circumstances. I’m no scholar myself, but I knew the Gospel according to Matthew addressed cosmic predictions.
Jesus was asked directly by his disciples what are the signs of the end of the age. Matthew 24:3 records that Jesus began his answer this way: "Watch out that no one deceives you...you will hear of wars and rumors of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed..."
What a great place to start while figuring things out, “See to it that you are not alarmed..." Not only is not being alarmed a desirable state of being, the 'see to it’ language intrigues me. It’s an invitation to look inward. Yes, what are you doing in there, getting alarmed and to what end?
I’m struck with the emphatic quality of the instructions of Jesus to his questioning disciples. “Watch that no one deceives you and see to it that you are not alarmed.” I really can’t imagine any realm where this isn’t good advice.
I find it interesting that before the end of the eons is discussed, or even the precursor times of trouble are described, a mindset is mandated. If you think about never being alarmed or anxious about anything, you know that it is not something most of us embody all that well.
So if you are going to read Matthew chapter 24 about earthquakes and famines, and the end that is not yet, if you are going to read the hard words about persecutions and fleeing Judea...it seems important to first soak in the admonition to watch that no one deceives you and see to it that you are not alarmed. If you don’t read the chapter, but just wander around in the world and listen to the opinions and predictions of others, it seems the right response as well.
In Matthew chapter 24, there are thirty-five verses describing days of distress before Jesus describes "the Son of Man appearing...."
and then he says, ( 24:36) “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father."
I sure don't know, do you? It sounds as if we are neither expected nor supposed to know about the future, and that is certainly one of the things that I wanted to remind Lily; people telling us when something will happen in the future is not validated by the very book they purport to interpret.
Jesus does say (verse 42) that one should keep watch. Pay attention, keep watch. But watch for what? In Chapter 25, Matthew records Jesus launching right into a series of stories starting with his parable of the wise and foolish virgins. Those women weren’t sent out to watch for or prepare for disaster, they were waiting on a bridegroom. That’s the first example that follows all the hard to read about trouble, a story about having enough oil to have light in your lamp no matter how long you have to wait in the dark for the promised arrival.
I know I’m more than capable of imagining all manner of difficult things that may, but haven’t, happened. Perhaps I have to fight that tendency because a few hard losses and difficult trials did come my way early in life, but maybe not, maybe it is just how I am; perhaps it’s how many people are? As I read these familiar stories, I glimpsed the futility of trying to be prepared for woe, except by being faithful day by day and being ultimately prepared for joy. How many dollars per barrel do the oils of gladness or gratitude go for?
So going to this storied chapter that I have been exposed to my whole life and read any number of times, with concern for someone else really struggling with fear, was a great reminder for me how important it is to not be distracted by what you think you know. How easy it is to gloss over the essence of something. How easy it is to focus on the earthquakes and wars and stars falling from the sky, and miss the admonition to neither be deceived nor alarmed.
It’s true that there’s plenty of trouble to go around and it isn’t that I don’t believe in being as prepared as able, I do, but preparedness and routine caution is not the same as anxiety. When people make global predictions others’ anxiety is generally what they are preying upon.
If troubles we don’t yet have worry us we are likely to miss the opportunities of today. The Bible says that there is trouble sufficient unto the day and that there will be troubles, but Jesus is very clear with his disciples that no man knows when specific events will come and then illustrates in three parables, the parable of the 10 virgins, the parable of the talents and the parable of sheep and goats, a ready focus. The examples are each so straight forward. Have oil for your lamp so you can be ready with light, be a good steward of all that is entrusted to you, feed and visit the poor, the sick and the imprisoned, and by all means be watchful and ready.
Suffice it to say that I was glad that I didn’t undertake to answer Lily’s request for help “straight off the hip,” rather than use the very book being loosely referenced. She was quick to respond to my letter about what one could readily glean from these two chapters and wrote back that she had received “...peace in the eye of the storm.”
I had to laugh at the effective way her expressed need had caused me to it sit down and study a bit. I can always use all the reminders myself.