Lateness, The Eschatos, and Heresy

Matthew 24:

“43 But understand this: If the owner of the house had known at what time of night the thief was coming, he would have kept watch and would not have let his house be broken into. 44 So you also must be ready, because the Son of Man will come at an hour when you do not expect him.”

Waking up late is one of the worst feelings ever. Amongst the various anxieties that I inevitably experience upon the realization that I am late is a concern about whether or not I will fall from the good graces of the punctual as a result of my tardiness. This, I think, is the primary source of my anxiety.

This, of course, is precisely the sort of anxiety that Jesus is evoking when he uses this metaphor. To be found sinning at the hour of the Son of Man’s return must the type of anxiety I experienced this morning times infinity.

For some time now, I have not expected a literal return of Jesus for some eschatological “cosmic cleanup.” Instead, I have become captivated by the notion of collaborative eschatology. How, then, am I to understand Jesus’ words as someone who potentially rejects the original eschatological context that gives them meaning?

45 “Who then is the faithful and wise servant, whom the master has put in charge of the servants in his household to give them their food at the proper time? 46 It will be good for that servant whose master finds him doing so when he returns…”

Perhaps the motivation behind Jesus’ words is that we remain consistently committed to ushering in the kingdom of heaven. We should never say to ourselves, “I’ll begin serving God tomorrow” or “I’ll serve God after I’m done with this.” I’ve certainly been guilty of saying things like this before.

What is interesting about this metaphor is that it seems to imply that “the judge” pays closer attention to your actions at one time than at another time. This seems a bit at odds with the notion that “God is always watching” and “every sin is equally sinful.” Indeed, the metaphor unabashedly presents a very human-based picture of the cosmic judge: the judge is away (unaware?) of the wickedness of his servant. The judge has placed his servants under the care of one of his greater servants.

Here we run into another theological conundrum: is it not the case that Jesus (the judge) cares directly for his servants (us) and doesn’t put someone else in charge to do the work? Perhaps the Jesus of orthodoxy (who cares for us directly) is at odds with the words of Jesus of Nazareth. There seems to be some other textual evidence in support of the idea that Jesus leaves his disciples (us?) in charge.

Perhaps the “Jesus left us in charge” picture is more in line with the collaborative eschatological view of “the end.” Either way, there is a serious disadvantage to rejecting the theological context that gave Jesus’ words their original meaning: Jesus’ warnings of extra harsh judgment or bonus heaven points can’t mean much to me.

These ideas need to be translated (they need to be converted from statements that have no meaning to me to statements that are meaningful), and this is how I will understand them (pending a burning bush): every moment that I serve God is a moment where I can receive God’s blessing of joy and every moment that I cease to serve God is a moment where I must live in the hell of separation from my Savior.

Like the servant in the parable, I may not immediately see where my actions will lead me. I may say to myself, “My master is staying away a long time” and I may begin “to beat [my] fellow servants and to eat and drink with drunkards.” What I must realize however is that eventually the sting of separation from God will begin to be felt: “[God] will cut [me] to pieces and assign [me] a place with the hypocrites, where there will be weeping and gnashing of teeth.”

God, correct my heresy if it is untrue heresy. Give me the strength to persistently pursue Your glory, and the wisdom to see that I cannot (and don’t want to) live any other way.

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