Among all the insights of Scripture, the need to adapt is one of the most important. If everything remained the same, we'd have no Scripture. If we never were forced to adjust how we relate to God and those around us, we'd probably never read Scripture in the way the writers intended us to read it. Change almost always inspires our Sacred Authors to write; and change usually draws us to Scripture.

Change and adaptation happen on different levels and with different intensity. We experience new and disturbing dimensions of God. Anticipated events take place, but in unexpected ways. The thing we thought would never happen to us starts happening, and our relationships with others are drastically altered.

During these moments, we turn to those who have professed and lived our faith before us, whose insights can help us understand our changing faith experiences and whose words will show us how to adapt.

Change and pain

No prophet saw and preached change and adaptation more than Jeremiah. That's why his consoling words in Sunday's first reading are misleading (Jer 33:14-16). Because Judaism badly needed reform, Jeremiah is glad to have an opportunity to pass on Yahweh's promise to "make a virtuous branch grow for David, who shall practice honesty and integrity in the land."

It is important to now that someone eventually would lead the Chosen People back to the mind and heart of Yahweh. Yet these three verses are only a small part of Jeremiah's 52 chapters. The prophet's oracles usually revolve around his conviction that such reform will be accomplished by first destroying Judaism's religious "security blankets," then rediscovering and rebuilding the true faith during a 5-year exile in Babylon.

No matter who brings "honesty and integrity," those two virtues will be realized only after much upheaval, destruction and adjustment.

In the same way, Jesus' first disciples believed His triumphant Second Coming would change everything. But because their eyes were riveted so intently on this one event, they often overlooked what was happening around them, especially when it became evident that the Parousia was delayed.

The early Church's misplaced concentration on the Parousia both prompted Paul to compose the oldest Christian writing we possess (I Thessalonians), and also is the driving force behind Sunday's Gospel (Lk 21:2-28, 334-36).

During the 30 years between I Thessalonians and Luke's gospel, the Church shifted from expecting the Second Coming during the lifetime of the members of the Thessalonian community to being resigned to its taking place sometime after the death of the last member of the Lucan community. Yet no matter when the writers expect Jesus to return, each focuses his reader's eyes on the here and now.

Adapting

Paul's words (I Thes 3:12-4:2) are classic: "May the Lord increase you and make you overflow with love for one another and for all, even as our love does for you." Though he writes these words against the background of "the coming of our Lord Jesus," the Apostle tries to redirect his community's concentration from Jesus' coming to the "greater progress" which the Thessalonians need to accomplish in order to prove worthy of the Parousia.

If they can't adapt their faith to what's happening now, they'll never be able to appreciate what's going to happen in the future, particularly if that future's delayed in a way they hadn't anticipated.

In the same way, after reminding his community about the signs which will precede Jesus' Second Coming, Luke warns them: "Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life." Being the first Christian writer to presume that the Parousia won't happen in his or his community's lifetime, Luke gives new meaning to standing "secure before the Son of Man."

It's no longer a matter of not being surprised by the Lord's Coming, but rather adapting to a day in/day out determination to live each moment as though Jesus has already arrived.

We must always remember that only those followers of Jesus who were able and willing to adapt to new circumstances survived into the second century of the Christian era. As with nature, those who didn't adapt became extinct.

(11-27-97)