When I was young, I remember being taught that if I really believed in Jesus, I would be kept safe and sound – I and those whom I love – and we would be spared terrible things in life. I find this a very attractive theology (still) – that bad things do not happen to good people – but I find little evidence to support it: little evidence in the annals of history or in the pages of the newspaper, and little evidence to support this in the scriptures, including this gospel lesson appointed for today. Here in the gospel according to Luke we are forewarned about the prospect of persecution and suffering brought on by governmental authorities and powers, and perhaps even by our own family members. In the most bald language, we hear Jesus say, “You will be hated by all for my name’s sake.” Luke 21:17
History supports this promise. We, of course, know of Jesus’ own crucifixion. His early disciple and missionary, Paul, was imprisoned several times by the Roman authorities, was stoned and left for dead, and was ultimately executed. Of Jesus’ original 12 apostles, Judas dies (probably at his own hands) and of the remaining 11, it seems only one – John, the son of Zebedee – died of natural causes while in exile. The remaining ten were martyred. The Roman Emperor Nero (a.d. 37-68) brought on the most horrific persecution of Christians in the first century, and on it goes into our present times. History plays out the fact the bad things happen to bad people and good people alike. And we all will die. If we are spared death by persecution or martyrdom, then our death will happen through disease or diminishment, or it will happen suddenly by some kind of breakdown of the body or some kind of accident. In any event our own death is assured. What I was taught as a youngster – and maybe some of you were taught something similar – was that I and those whom I love would be kept safe and sound and spared of terrible things in life – is simply not true.
What is true are two things which are promised here in this gospel lesson appointed for today and supported elsewhere in the scriptures: God’s presence and God’s provision. We are assured God’s presence with us in the face and form of Jesus, who lived and died like one of us. We see Jesus as God Emmanuel, God with us, in the best of times and the worst of times. We are not left alone. In Jesus we are invited into this intimate relationship with the beginning and ending of life, Jesus the alpha and the omega: God’s presence with us always. And in Jesus we are assured of God’s provision. So we hear in the gospel lesson for today, we will be given words to speak and courage to behold, and in ways beyond which we could ask or imagine. Take heart.
It seems to me a very good prayer to carry in our own hearts is that the eyes of hearts be opened to see God’s presence and God’s provision. That God is with us, always, even to the end, is assured. But we could miss seeing it if we weren’t honed. If you find yourself ever saying (as I sometimes do), “What good can come out of this?” the testimony of the scriptures and of history is that the most amazing things can come out of nothing and nowhere. God is with us, and God will provide… in the best of times and the worst of times.
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