Thank you to Rev. Diane at UCC New Smyrna Beach for sharing this Lenten devotion with us.
April 8, 2020
Wednesday night, before Maundy Thursday, I am still hoping to finish this devotion before midnight! Our Gospel reading today includes Jesus admonishing the disciples to be at the ready like servants, waiting for their master to return from a wedding banquet. The servants need to be alert, “...even if he comes in the second or third watch of the night.” It’s feeling a bit like that tonight. I’m really feeling ready to go to bed... but, I did feel called to write these little reflections after we all got locked in with coronavirus threats. (At least through Lent, which isn’t over yet.) I could list the responsibilities I waded through today... I didn’t start this late because I was not doing anything. Pastors are busy during Holy Week, even (maybe especially!) when they are housebound. So, as I wrestle with whether to finish this last task or call it a night. I look again at the Gospel. Jesus concludes, “You must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.” What does it mean, at any point in time for us to “be ready” for Jesus’ return? Every day there are many choices... things to do... things to leave undone and day after day, even stuck in the house for yet another day, there are relentless choices. How we make them shapes our readiness.
I almost always recommend that folks be more gentle with themselves than they have been. This is not such a gentle passage, though. Jesus talks about a range of punishment for the non-ready servants, from being “cut to pieces” (really! See Luke 12:46), to being beaten with “many blows,” to being beaten with a “few blows”. There’s a range of consequences from becoming toast, to almost toast, to singed around the edges. In the context of Jesus’ “what if” parable, the guy who is total toast at the end is the one who is eating and drinking and beating his fellow servants, male and female. He is gluttonously consuming everything and inflicting pain on others. This is intolerable, says Jesus, to the point that death is the only fair wage for such “service”. Okay. Share and don’t inflict pain on others. That is a clear limit. What does it mean in the days of coronavirus when trips to the store are risky? How do we choose what we take and leave for others? How do we help one another? How do we reach out to folks who have lost their income? Given that we are all servants and everything we have comes from God, are we good sharers?
Is there a way our choices were harming others? I can’t help noticing that as we all step back and are forced to stop “business as usual” the environment is healing in startling ways. Dolphins swim in canals in Italy again. The Himalayan mountains have again become visible at a great distance. Smog is clearing. Animals are dancing in new places. It feels like nature is crying out with joy, “See, this is what I am called to be when you don’t abuse me!” Can we learn from this? Certainly, this is worse than the bad servant who was beating his fellow servants. We’ve been beating down future generations by trampling what was created to sustain all life. Do we care?
The servants who get beaten with many blows are ones who KNOW what they are supposed to do, know the master’s will, but refuse to follow through. Hmmm. Are we READY? Those things that are a call in our lives, those things that make our hearts sing and bring joy to others, are we following through with those things? God’s call, God’s will for us, matters. God starts with what we are good at and nudges us to share those gifts... to put them in service! Are we ready or asleep at the wheel?
The guys who get a consequence, but a light one, are the servants who really didn’t know any better. They just didn’t KNOW. “From everyone who has been given much, much will be demanded; and from the one who has been entrusted with much, much more will be asked.” (Luke 12:48b) That can sound like advice to avoid learning anything! Maybe we should quit this One Year Bible business if what we learn can work against us! Often, we fear to do deep listening to God because underneath we can fear that God will ask too much, that we just won’t be equal to it, that God will ask something we can’t stand... like be a missionary in a jungle when you are scared witless of snakes. But that is not how God works in our hearts. Jesus was crazy patient with His disciples. He told stories to try and wake them up, but when it came time to take a beating, when it came time to die... He was the one who stepped in and took our place.
That is a lot to take in, but I think it’s important to try. So, I stayed up to write this devotion, but now, I am sure I am called to sleep! Sometimes sleep IS the faithful thing to do.