“Be careful, or your hearts will be weighed down with carousing, drunkenness and the anxieties of life, and that day will close on you suddenly like a trap. For it will come on all those who live on the face of the whole earth. Be always on the watch, and pray that you may be able to escape all that is about to happen, and that you may be able to stand before the Son of Man.”
Each day Jesus was teaching at the temple, and each evening he went out to spend the night on the hill called the Mount of Olives, and all the people came early in the morning to hear him at the temple.
“Be careful. Be on guard. Pray.” The immediacy and urgency of Christ’s words may come as something of a surprise, given the relative remoteness in time of what he has just been speaking about.
The desolation of the Temple would happen within 40 years of his words, so we can see the relevance of his teaching for those present in the Temple that day, even though a significant percentage of them would have passed away before those awful events took place. It would be many more years before the events of the end – we are still waiting! Yet both Jesus and later the Apostles in their writing insist upon the importance of staying alert and being ready for the moment. Why?
One way of thinking about this is to realise that there are two speeds at which we approach the return of the King. One is the timeline of history. On this timeline, the return of the King was clearly very remote for those in the Temple and may well still be for us.
The other is the timeline of our own lives. Life is short. I am only a few years away from achieving 70. While there have been days that seemed too long, as a whole it has gone incredibly fast. And when my time ends, that will be the King’s return for me. If we focus merely on the timeline of history, the tendency will be to consider Christ’s future return as remote and not really relevant to today. But if we think in terms of our own timeline, the urgency should be obvious.
The problem is that our hearts can be so easily weighed down by self-indulgence and the anxieties of life that we lose all grip on ultimate reality.
Perhaps carousing and drunkenness aren’t our thing. These are simply aspects of self-indulgence. There are many others! The key factor is the self: a focus on the satisfying of our appetites and desires. “The anxieties of life” covers all the cares and concerns of daily living that can so easily preoccupy us. And there is certainly no shortage of those!
How easy we find it to live as if this world effectively was the only reality, and our daily cares and concerns the only things worth giving our time to, apart from the occasional opportunity, especially at the weekend, to indulge ourselves into pleasurable entertainment as an escape? “Be careful. Be on guard. Pray.”
Luke reminds us that Jesus was speaking these things in the Temple. It would appear that for all the aesthetic beauty of the Temple and the supposed worship of God being conducted in it, human self-indulgence and worldliness were neither being challenged nor changed. There already was a deep-seated complacency and lack of preparedness for the King.
So Christ warned his disciples, and through them he warns us: live mindfully, guard our hearts from being overwhelmed by the temporary and selfish concerns of this life and talk to our Heavenly Father. In this way the coming of the King will not catch us out and we will be able confidently and joyfully to stand before him.