FROM A READING FOR OCTOBER 31, 31ST SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
'We ask our God to make you worthy of the life he has called you to live. May he...complete your work of faith.' -- II Thess 1:11


According to most scholars, Luke is the first Christian author to presume everyone in his community will die a natural death before Jesus returns in the Second Coming. This appears to be one reason he hammers away at mercy and forgiveness in his two-volume work.

The earliest followers of Jesus took for granted His Parousia was just around the corner; so, some, preparing for His arrival, focused on heaven instead of on this earth.

They presumed that Jesus, upon His arrival, would transform this planet. Why worry about something that wasn't going to be around?

We hear about some of this misdirected belief in our II Thessalonians (1:11-2:2) passage: "We ask you, brothers and sisters, with regard to the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our assembling with him, not to be shaken out of your minds suddenly, or to be alarmed by a 'spirit,' or by an oral statement, or by a letter allegedly from us to the effect that the day of the Lord is at hand."

The disciple of Paul responsible for this letter is still dealing with "Parousia rumors" long after the Apostle's death. When the writer speaks of "the name of our Lord Jesus [being] glorified in you, and you in him," he's not speaking about someone's ability to pick the exact date of Jesus' arrival.

Jesus today
Those who spend their days concentrating on such future events are usually overlooking the presence of Jesus in their lives right here and now. That misfocused faith seems to be driving Luke to write.

If there are no problems, there are no Scriptures. Behind every important passage of Scripture lies a problem which triggered its writing.

If Jesus' Parousia actually is just around the corner, we presume He'll take care of the divine mercy and forgiveness we hear praised in our Wisdom (11:22-12:2) passage: "You [Yahweh] have mercy on all, because you can do all things; and you overlook people's sins that they may repent....You spare all things, because they are yours...for your imperishable spirit is in all things."

God's mercy and forgiveness is based on God recognizing part of God's self in all people - even sinners.

We've got work
Part of Luke's unique theology (Luke 19:1-10), prompted by Jesus' delayed Parousia, revolves around his John Kennedy-like conviction that here on earth, God's work is our work. We not only praise God for acknowledging part of God in everyone, it's also our mission to acknowledge part of God in everyone.

The evangelist demonstrates how Jesus goes about this, even in extreme situations, with extreme sinners.

Good Jews thought tax collectors were as far from Yahweh's image and likeness as one could get. Zacchaeus hobnobbed with hated Gentiles - and tried to guarantee the Roman army of occupation would stay in Palestine by collecting taxes from his own people.

No wonder the Jewish crowd grumbles when they hear Jesus invite Himself to Zacchaeus': "He's gone to stay in the house of a sinner."

Luke's Jesus sees something in this sinful person that no one in the crowd noticed. Yahweh has embedded Yahweh's spirit in this hated tax collector just as much as in Abraham.

Jesus' ministry of seeking and saving "what was lost" is now our ministry. Can we surface anything better to occupy another Christ's time between now and the Parousia?