In the movie “Return of the Jedi,” Luke Skywalker freed Han Solo from his carbonite freezer. While Han was recovering, and discovers that Luke has freed him, he asked “How we doing?” Luke responded by saying “Same as always.” Han shook his head and said, “That bad, huh?” This is, of course, a fictional story and one of the rules of this type of story is that you’re supposed to beat up your main character as often as possible. Things are supposed to be bad, the heroes are supposed to be in dire straits, every seeming victory is turned to defeat until the end when the heroes actually win, finally.
As the disciples talked with Jesus about the messianic kingdom, the information He gave them in today’s reading must have left them wondering. It spoke of a distant future time, not the contemporary time. It talked about some very bad times, which was in line with Old Testament teachings on the coming day of the Lord. The Jews longed for the day of the Lord because they figured that as God’s chosen people, they’d be in good shape. They thought the label protected them no matter how much they strayed from God. Hosea let them know this wasn’t true. “The days of punishment are coming, the days of reckoning are at hand. Let Israel know this. Because your sins are so many and your hostility so great, the prophet is considered a fool, the inspired person a maniac.” (Hosea 9:7)
When the Jews thought of the day of the Lord, they expected great vindication. God was going to come in and wipe out all their enemies and a kingdom like David’s would be restored. The Messiah would usher in this kingdom and Israel would regain her fightful place in the world as God’s chosen people. The prophets, whenever they spoke of the day of the Lord, let the Jews know that this wasn’t the way it would happen. The people of Israel depended upon being the chosen people of God, yet they strayed away continuously. To get their crops to grow, they slept with the Temple prostitutes of Baal as part of a fertility ritual that was supposed to nourish the land. They depended on Egypt or Assyria for help, not the Lord. Hosea and other prophets let Israel know that you couldn’t pay lip service to God and then rebel against His teachings. The judgment would happen first to God’s people. It was true that God would take care of the enemy, but they didn’t understand that, as noted in the immortal words of Pogo, “We have met the enemy and he is us.” Their rebellion had turned the chosen people of God into the enemy and it made the people regard God’s prophets as fools, and those inspired by God as maniacs.
We haven’t progressed very far today. We have no problem with people talking to God: we call that prayer. We do have a problem if someone is listening to God though. If God talks to someone, we worry about them, rather than listening and discerning if God has really spoken. People who are inspired to do great things in God’s kingdom, we hold at arm’s length, lest their enthusiasm rub off on us and turn us into maniacs too. We look to the return of Jesus because that will vindicate us while we forget that He warned some that they will hear, “Depart from me, for I never knew you,” or we will be reminded that when He needed ministry, we didn’t do anything to help the least of these. Are we right with God, or do we just think we are? If we have committed our lives to follow Jesus, if we have truly received His grace, our lives will be changed and our hearts will be focused on service to others. Can others see that change? While we will still look forward to the Second Coming of Jesus, there should be some sadness knowing that many will still be in rebellion against God and thus deal with eternal condemnation.
Oh Lord, how often I seek to justify myself looking forward to the end. Give me grace so that my heart is changed completely and I live each day in service to You.