FROM A READING FOR NOV. 13, 33RD SUNDAY OF THE YEAR
'As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down...' -- Luke 21:6


Rarely does the future unfold exactly as we plan. There are always unexpected twists and turns, forcing us to deal with situations we never anticipated. This certainly has been the experience of people of faith, especially those committed to becoming other Christs.

As we know from Scripture, one of the most unexpected things in Christian history was Jesus' delayed Parousia. His earliest followers presumed they'd only have to endure this state of affairs for a short time before He returned in the Second Coming and changed how they lived.

Though some held onto this belief for a couple of generations, by the time Luke (21:5-19) writes in the mid-80s, most were beginning to deal with the reality that they'd live their normal lifespan and Jesus still wouldn't have returned.

The third evangelist zeroes in on how to live that lifespan. Luke is convinced we should stop giving in to the temptation of looking for signs. Jesus will return when He returns, no matter what's happening around us. International and cosmic events have no relation to His Parousia.

They'll hurt you
Because of His delay, Christians will now have to deal with something for which they hadn't planned: persecutions. Jesus warns, "They will seize and persecute you; they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons; and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name."

Their faith will also create terrific tensions in their families. "You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives and friends, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name."

But never give up hope. Jesus assures us, "Not a hair on your head will be destroyed. By your perseverance, you will secure your lives."

These unexpected persecutions aren't all bad. Among other things, they'll provide Jesus' followers with a valuable opportunity to "give testimony" to their faith. In most places in the first century CE Roman Empire, people on trial had a legal right to publicly defend themselves. In the case of Christians, their trials would provide occasions to explain their lifestyle to whole new groups of people; something Jesus said they should plan on doing with little preparation.

Jesus' delayed return also created other problems, as the author of II Thessalonians (3:7-12) discovered. The writer's mentor, Paul, was convinced many of Jesus' followers could live an ideal, communal life, sharing all their possessions with one another. Yet, as time went on, some of those ideal communities had to deal with freeloaders: people who received, but never gave.

Implications
After setting up the Apostle as an example of generosity, the author warns these selfish individuals, "If anyone [is] unwilling to work, neither should that one eat." This demonstrates that the community simply dealt with unexpected problems as they arose. As time went on, they more and more understood the implications of carrying on Jesus' ministry.

Perhaps the prophet Malachi (3:19-20a) shares the best insight into an unplanned future. Though his community was glad to hear that God would eventually consume the "proud and all evildoers" with fire, he assures them that same inferno would be for them "a sun of justice with healing rays."

For people of biblical faith, there's always another way of experiencing things. Were the canon of Scripture still open, I'm convinced that the adage, "If life gives you lemons, make lemonade!" would have made it into our Bibles.