"Holding Hands," Image by netzaneete via Flickr, licensed under CC BY-NC 2.0
I love it when Scripture points out the ambiguity of God’s judgment -- a rather helpful reminder these days. There is nothing to distinguish or determine another’s fate, as much as we try -- and we try hard. “Then two will be in the field; one will be taken and one will be left. Two women will be grinding meal together; one will be taken and one will be left. Rather, all are called to keep awake and to be ready.”
"Are you ready?" is the question usually asked by people who are certain that they are and even more certain that you are not. They are the saved and have secured an ocean view cabin on Noah’s cruise ship. They are taken. Those who aren’t ready? Well … we love to determine the condemnation of those who still have their suitcases in their closets, who don’t have their bags packed.
You better be ready, lest you will be left behind with all of the ... the what? The unbelievers? The sinners? (Insert all unmentionables here) That’s what we assume, I think. But then comes Matthew who ends up equalizing the “rapture” two by two. No determined discriminatory details to help us decide who will end up saved with Noah or who will be left behind. Damn him.
So maybe, “Are you ready?” is not just a question for the other about readiness for the coming of Christ, or a question for yourself, but a question about your acceptance of the consequences when that coming happens. Are you ready to believe that the one whom you have judged a sinner in whatever state of sin you have determined as sin, could end up on the ark, with you -- or without you? Are you ready to see that the one working alongside you could be one who gets on the boat, when you had hoped they would end up on some life raft, at best? Now what?
For those preachers reading this column who serve churches in the United States, “now what” is indeed the question. “The election is over, so what about all those frayed relationships among loved ones? Mothers and sons, sisters and brothers, friends unfriended -- it's been tough for some on opposing sides who must now figure out the way forward. They wonder what their ties will feel like a month from now. A year. What about the holidays?”1
Now what when Democrats and Republicans, Clinton supporters and Trump supporters, liberals and conservatives have to share turkey, mashed potatoes, and stuffing together? Have to work in side-by-side cubicles together? Have to worship together? Have to do church together? Have to run a country together? Have to hope together? Have to lead change together? Have to stand up and speak out for what is truth together?
So, here is another question for us -- do we believe that Jesus is ready? Do we believe God is ready? Do we believe that God is about readying God’s self to show up, regardless of the response of the two in the field and the two women grinding meal together? And what difference does this make?
Well, it actually imagines that God might have a stake in our readiness. That our being ready is not just about us, especially us as individuals, but us as persons in relationship; as us in some sort of manifested commitment to the other. This is the overlooked detail of this passage. Two by two. Relationship. Companionship.
God is committed to relationship, you see. Yet how often we eschew that truth. Therein lies the demise of many leaders, even in the church. Listen for this kind of autonomy in the leaders around you. They have likely forgotten that they are not in the field alone or that they grind meal alongside someone, and choose instead to fix their gaze straight ahead.
Relationship in the Kingdom of Heaven is not about determining who goes and who stays, but being there together in the field, grinding meal together … and trusting that God is getting ready, too.
Are you ready? Is not only a question for you, but also that which you ask your neighbor. What can I do to help you be ready? What do we need to do to be ready together? There is someone else in the field with you. There is someone else grinding meal with you. “For the sake of my relatives and friends I will say, ‘Peace be within you” (Psalm 122:8).
This is not about an easy fix, quick forgiveness, mending without grief, or putting the past aside. Rather, it is to reclaim the fundamental truth of our God -- our God is a God of relationship. God cannot not be in relationship and is relentless when it comes to maintaining relationships. God called Abraham, and then just kept on going, interjecting when it seemed the relationship was going astray or strained, and coming up with a new strategy for those who had yet to know “Immanuel.”
At the same time, God was not exactly compliant or complacent when it appeared that there was “disagreement” between God and God’s people. There was conversation. There were words. There was truth-telling. We might take our cue from God when it comes to our own relationships. Tending, nurturing, maintaining relationships, it seems, is a mark of discipleship.
To get ready in Advent is to affirm God’s own readiness for and commitment to relationship. Are you ready for this kind of relationship? This kind of intimacy? This kind of togetherness that does not allow one-upwomanship, that does not permit the determination of another’s fate? That insists on two-by-two and not single-minded, “my way, I’m right you’re wrong, too bad so sad for you,” left behind, unyielding, judgmental, condemnatory, isolationist, siloistic, relationship? This should be obvious. Relationships, by definition, are mutual and reciprocal.
The truth of Christmas, for which we are getting ready, is a truth that very well may make some people choose dry land over the ark. Why? Well, you have to get on that ark and be with people and then there is no going anywhere, no escape. Getting ready in Advent, according to Matthew, means imagining being on Noah’s ark with some of those with whom you’d rather not sail out into salvation.
God is ready. Are you?