Summary: The Lord will come again, and it is given to us to diligently work at our ministries as if these were the final moments
Many dates have been proposed for the end of the world. Recently: May 21, 2011, October 21, 2011, and December 21, 2012. What do they have in common? It’s not the number 21. None of them are correct. You’d be more accurate saying, “Today is the end of the world,” every day you actually wake up, rather than picking a specific date. And even if someone, by chance got the right day, by the time it was discovered, the Lord would already be here, and who would care then?
Jesus says, “No one knows about that day or hour, not even the angels in heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mk. 13:32). If our Lord Himself says that no one knows, any effort spent searching out that day is at best ignorant vanity and fruitless effort. At worse, it is sorcery and sinful rebellion.
We simply don’t know when that day will come. And it may come for you or me before the final day arrives. It may be soon. A sudden illness or accident may leave us with no time left. It may be late. An apparent demise through sickness may be healed or a deadly situation may be resolved, and any vow or commitment we made, if not fulfilled, will testify against us
Why does Jesus deny us knowledge of that day? Who has ever been a teenager? Who had parents who went away and left you home alone? Who told you when they would return? And then you had a party? And your parents came home early? See the point? Part of fallen humanity is laziness—which is a corruption of Sabbath rest. Too often, people (you know, people, “them”, but never us!...well, truthfully, me included) will do the absolute minimum to achieve a goal. If I need to bring a dish to supper, I pick up something from Giant, rather than make it with love and my own hands. If I have to fold my sister’s laundry, I throw the wet rolled up damp socks in a lump in the basket.
If Jesus said that it’s all over on December 21, 2012, it would be naïve to think that everyone would shape up now, rather than live notoriously till December 20, 11:59pm, and then try to make nice-nice with God. There’s no point in trying to divine when that day will be, so we need another strategy to prepare for the Lord’s coming.
Since we have no idea when the Lord will return, Jesus gives us the better plan: “Be on guard! Be alert!” Rather than worrying about that day, Jesus tells us to be alert: semper paratus, always prepared.
“It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with his assigned task” (Mk. 13:34a). The Master “puts his servants in charge,” literally means that He gives them ἐxousίa, authority. It is the same word that Jesus uses in the Great Commission: “All authority in heaven and on earth has been given to me” (Mt. 28:18). We are given authority to perform our work. God is not a spiteful god who gives us a job but not the tools to accomplish it. St. Paul writes, “You do not lack any spiritual gift” (1 Cor. 1:7).
There are many tasks that our Master assigns to His servants. “In the church God has appointed first of all apostles, second prophets, third teachers, then workers of miracles, also those having gifts of healing, those able to help others, those with gifts of administration, and those speaking in different kinds of tongues” (1 Cor. 12:28). Here, at St. Thomas, there is priest, deacon, acolyte, altar guild, music minister…on and on the list goes…intercessor, shop worker, greeter, baker, teacher. Each of us has been given authority to do our task. Each has a task that is important that advances the kingdom of God in Salisbury and Wicomico County, for which we have received spiritual gifts.
We are called to attend to our duties, each to his own assignment. We are not appointed a task so that we can feel important, or have a sense of belonging, or a right to boast. We are given a task so that we can just do it. God doesn’t need us to work for His sake, for “who has ever given to God, that God should repay him?” (Rom. 11:35). It’s for our own benefit that He calls us to participate in the plan of salvation. Think of it: the work of Christ was perfected on Calvary and His blood reconciled men to God. But through His delegation of authority to us, His servants, the Church, we can share in the sanctification of the world.
“And [he] tells the one at the door to keep watch” (Mk. 13:34b). The one whose task is to guard the door is responsible to watch for the Master’s return. This is not a prediction of it, simply an announcement. This little parable points us to another truth. How many were at the door watching? One. How many servants had other tasks? Everyone else! Sitting and watching for the Lord’s return is not a universal calling. We ought to focus on the exercise of the ministry that God has given us, rather than dwelling on the Lord’s return.