There is no doubt about it, the first Christians fully expected Jesus to return soon. But they were disappointed as days, weeks, months and years went by, and Jesus was a no-show. Some began to wonder if Jesus was coming back at all.
Matthew’s gospel was an answer to this dilemma. It is aimed at those who are losing heart, losing faith, and giving up. He offers a parable from Jesus that basically warns his followers to be always ready, no matter what the schedule. The Lord, like the bridegroom, will indeed come, but He will come when we least expect Him. So do not be foolish, be prepared.
Christians have been prepared for 2,000 years now. Even with a no-show and a weaker sense of urgency than the early Christians, we still recite every Sunday a creed that proclaims He will come again to judge the living and the dead.
And there are people in every century who say they know exactly when Jesus is coming. Even today the latest warnings and timetables are to be found in a best seller, the “Left Behind” series. They are full of eccentric, false and misleading readings of scripture.
Far out as they are, they are very popular. Maybe because our world is in such a mess that some just yearn for Christ to come and put an end to it all. But we are stuck with the meanwhile: Until Christ comes, what do we do? How do we live?
Matthew gives us an answer in today’s gospel. He offers us two themes: be prepared, be recognized.
First, be prepared. Not only for the visitation of Jesus in judgment and death, but also for His visitation in life. Jesus is already here!
The inspiration to help those in need, the out of the blue sense that we should pray, the time we ask ourselves, is that all there is? Should I be doing something different with my life? Or the sudden impulse to do good, to be more noble, less selfish.
Then there is the more insistent attention-getters: the death of a loved one, the onslaught of an illness. Or looking in the mirror and seeing an old person looking back. Or seeing the awesomeness of nature. The falling asleep child in your arms, your first child or grandchild.
All these common occurrences are inspirations of the Holy Spirit. These, my friends, are visits from Jesus. He comes to us in the now. If only we would stay awake, recognize and embrace these times when the groom arrives, we would be prepared, no matter when the final visit.
The second lesson in Matthew’s gospel is to live in such a way as to be recognized by Jesus. And we are recognized by Christ not by our card-carrying memberships, but by our faith and good works.
Remember in the story when the foolish virgins ask the five wise ones to share some of their oil, and the five reply no way. That might sound selfish, but the fact is that the oil stands for faith and good works, and these are not transferable.
You cannot borrow the oil of faith. You cannot borrow another’s good works. You must respond to God’s call yourself.
Yes, Christ will come to judge the living and the dead, but no one knows the day or the hours. I suggest that we live as if Christ is coming today, not in fear and trembling, but in the realization that the Christ who is coming is already here in so many ways.
He is in those around you, here and at home. He touches you in the hungry you nourish, in the stranger you welcome. In the sick, you take time to console, or the child you encourage. When you touch them, you touch Christ, and so when He does come He will recognize you because you will not be a stranger to Him.
So stop worrying about the end of times, when Christ will come. He is coming to you today as you come up and receive Him. And if you are looking for Him, He is seated all around you.