Why are we delaying the party?

Luke 12:32-48

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves. “But know this: if the owner of the house had known at what hour the thief was coming, he would not have let his house be broken into. You also must be ready, for the Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour.”

Peter said, “Lord, are you telling this parable for us or for everyone?” And the Lord said, “Who then is the faithful and prudent manager whom his master will put in charge of his slaves, to give them their allowance of food at the proper time? Blessed is that slave whom his master will find at work when he arrives. Truly I tell you, he will put that one in charge of all his possessions. But if that slave says to himself, ‘My master is delayed in coming,’ and if he begins to beat the other slaves, men and women, and to eat and drink and get drunk, the master of that slave will come on a day when he does not expect him and at an hour that he does not know, and will cut him in pieces, and put him with the unfaithful. That slave who knew what his master wanted, but did not prepare himself or do what was wanted, will receive a severe beating. But the one who did not know and did what deserved a beating will receive a light beating. From everyone to whom much has been given, much will be required; and from the one to whom much has been entrusted, even more will be demanded

It would seem that this passage breaks down into two parts, paragraph one is the declaration and paragraph two the dialogue.

In the declaration of paragraph one, Jesus puts his hearers at ease. Daddy God, Abba, wants to give you the kingdom where he lives, with pleasure. So you can get rid of all your possessions and give alms to the poor because your investment is in the kingdom of the heavens, far from robbers and inflation. Do this because wherever you invest your life is where your attention will be.

The master is coming soon to celebrate his victory and even his slaves will be blessed in this celebration. The master will serve the slaves (douloi = slaves who were born in slavery, not enslaved), the only condition is the slaves must be awake and recognize him when he knocks at the door. It might even be in the middle of the night so vigilance is necessary so as not to fall asleep and miss the arrival of the master.

As I read this first section, the sense of immanence and urgency is palpable. The kingdom, the basilea in Greek  is already here!

The second half of the passage has a different feel. The energy shifts and it seems that the immanence and expectancy dissipates. Could there be some delay between the writing of these two paragraphs?

The detective in me wonders why it is Peter who is asking the question? Could this be the voice of Early Christians being put into the mouth of the Petros (stone) on which Christ said he would build his church? The reference to the abuse of other slaves, eating and drinking and getting drunk are all the result of the master being delayed. Is this not a dramatization of the Early Church trying to deal with their crisis of expectations? They had believed, lived and preached that Jesus was returning soon. Luke, writing after the destruction of the Temple in 70CE, would have known the dynamics of this crisis only too well.

If that is the case, how much more acute is the crisis for us as modern Christ followers, if we are still holding out for a physical return of Christ in time and space?

Allow me to say out loud what many of us have may been thinking for some time. Given what we are discovering about the Universe, its origins, scope and scale, it seems very unlikely that the Apocalyptic visions of the book of the Revelation, Daniel, Ezekiel and all others that have been mustered to determine the details of how it is all going to end, will be realised. It seems reasonable to believe that the information streaming from The Hubble Telescope and from the Large Hadron Collider on the macro and micro fronteirs of our exploration demands that we acknowledge the universe doesn’t work like the Mayans, Nostradamus nor even the early Christians thought it did.

In fact, what I have come to realise as I navigate this ocean of opinion in the quest for mainlands of meaning, is that admitting that we have not fully understood all that Jesus was trying to communicate, may open us to a fresh perspective which in turn might be our real hope.

So let me make some statements that might be co-ordinates as we chart our course towards a more integrated and intellectually honest understanding of this Bridal feast teaching.

The first statement is about scripture. If we are to be intellectually honest we have to allow our understanding of the levels of scripture to grow. That journey begins by recognizing that in any text, be it prose, poetry, mythology or science, the literal meaning is the lowest level of understanding.

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And Eternity in an hour.

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

Why is it, when we read William Blake’s words from “Auguries of Innocence” we do not demand from the words literal veracity that we demand from similar words of scripture?¬† Yet it is this very suspension of any demand for scientific and historic accuracy that makes his poem and any other capable of moving us most deeply. I wonder what it will take for us to see the words of Scripture as the profound truths about reality that they really are, despite the fact that they may not square with current scientific information. Truth is truth when it moves our hearts and not merely when it makes us nod our heads.

Moving on from there, my second statement is premised on the first. The kingdom of our Heavenly parent is real and experienced in every moment that we allow peace, compassion and love to suspend our judgment, opinion and our demand for the power of always being correct. I need to pause for a moment, to explain that “the kingdom” is a reign (basilea). The opposite of basilea (reign, dominion, kingdom) is turannis a monarchy, or sovereignty. It is worth noting that the word turannis occurs nowhere in the New Testament. How I wish to basilea that some members of the Fundamentalist Christian Taliban would understand the subtleties of this! It suggests that if I can stop my own fear based tyrannical demand for control of everything and everyone in my world, I can live in the readiness that I am going to hear my master the bridegroom, knocking on the doors of my experience multiple times a day! I will celebrate providence and perfection in multiple moments when I know that I am already feasting with my Lord.

From this place of realized eschatology where I recognize that Jesus has already returned, (in fact he never left) I will relax from always having to judge and discern who is in the Kingdom and who is outside the Kingdom, because Jesus is here and he is the way the truth and the life and not me, nor my doctrine nor my denomination.

“But what about the end times?” you cry. Allow me an attempt at a concluding statement. There are two ways that we can understand “end”. The first is the Latin word Finis I am old enough to remember seeing that word as the final title on the movie screen. “It is Finished” This is the end of the movie. The film has spooled out of the projector.

There is however, another word for “end”. It is the Greek word Telos.
This word means end in the sense of everything being accomplished. It is the root for the word that describes Jesus knowing that all things having been accomplished (tetelestai) then says “I thirst.” (John 19:28) And later himself says, “It is accomplished (tetelestai)” and dies. (John 19:30). It is this word that allows me to suggest that what many Christians still see as only coming in the future, End (finis) times, is already here in these End (telos) times. You see, telos time is like the “whodunnit” mystery novels, it makes sense of the clues that we have been glimpsing all along. The things we suspected all along, but were too afraid to ask or that the Church was too afraid to let us believe lest we would no longer be controlled, attend worship and pay our tithes!

The disturbing second part of our scripture passage, that I suggest are the words of a later, well developed church, point to a community that is beginning to obfuscate the direct experience of Jesus by neglecting and abusing their fellow servants in the belief that Jesus is not going to be around for a while and so the leadership have to take over control and dominate the membership. It is the beginning of the Christian Taliban that has blossomed at various times of history and is in full bloom all around us at the moment.

Exclusionary, xenophobic, ethnocentric, separatist… how many words have we found in our modern vocabularies to describe the horrific clues we have been witnessing in the church but are not confident to name or challenge? At the heart of the abuses of the second paragraph abuses in our passage, lies the drift from a telos understanding of end to a finis, understanding of end. Jesus proclaimed the telos had happened. The church realised that only with the threat of finis, could they keep control. So they switched the focus!

Fortunately, not everyone was fooled. In very generation and thankfully in our own, there have been saints and sages who have lived as if the echoes from the cross were true. “Tetelestai!” they cried as they lived in the reality that the Kingdom is already amongst us, and the challenge of our Gospel first paragraph life is possible. For them, despite severe opposition, from the finis camp, the telos of a loving Father’s kingdom made the present moment vibrant and pregnant with grace and redemption.

Would you like a checklist of the clues they discovered?

  • Reconciliation with God? Accomplished.
  • Binding of Satan? Accomplished.
  • Defeat of evil? Accomplished.
  • Freedom for all? Accomplished.
  • Emptying of Hell? Accomplished.
  • Living in paradise? Accomplished.

But why can’t we see it?” we whine.

Because we are blinded by our dogmas and our devotion to outdated and increasingly irrelevant creeds (If we demand they be understood literally)

But for those who know what the Master wants, who understand that he requires compassion and care for every one of his servants; those who know a lot and those who know very little, if we will do what he told us to do in the first paragraph we read…:

“Do not be afraid, little flock, for it is your Father’s good pleasure to give you the kingdom. Sell your possessions, and give alms. Make purses for yourselves that do not wear out, an unfailing treasure in heaven, where no thief comes near and no moth destroys. For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also. “Be dressed for action and have your lamps lit; be like those who are waiting for their master to return from the wedding banquet, so that they may open the door for him as soon as he comes and knocks. Blessed are those slaves whom the master finds alert when he comes; truly I tell you, he will fasten his belt and have them sit down to eat, and he will come and serve them. If he comes during the middle of the night, or near dawn, and finds them so, blessed are those slaves.

… for these who can look above the literal and see the mystery of heaven already present and breaking through into present time, those will understand exactly how…

To see a World in a Grain of Sand

And a Heaven in a Wild Flower,

Hold Infinity in the palm of your hand

And Eternity in an hour.

TETELESTAI!!!!

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8 Comments on “Why are we delaying the party?”

  1. Diakonos says:

    Can I offer a Hallelujah! So many people use the so-called end times to try and scare people into heaven. If we don’t live from the knowledge that everything has been accomplished by Jesus already, we are only trying to add to His work – and that’s impossible.
    TETELESTAL!!

  2. Ben Durham says:

    Thanks Peter, for “delaying the party” and your realised eschatology that Jesus has never left. I must confess to balking at the part in the Anglican liturgy “Christ has died, Christ is risen, Christ will come again.” Christ is in me, in you, in ALL PEOPLE, as the hope of our glory (Col 1:27) – ah – there’s the mystery. If He is in us, there is no need for him to “come again” – to what end, when all has been accomplished! Yes, tetelestai indeed.

  3. Fullshine says:

    Amen!! Just what I needed to hear today. Thank you so much for sharing your knowledge and experience with the Divine.

  4. lyn says:

    Just to say thank you once again Peter for your writing which I find invokes and stimulates my own thinking.

    You have a wonderful gift of dusting off the staleness of old interpretations and bringing Scripture alive and meaningful for all of us today.

    Keep writing.

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