It's raining here in the early morning hours as I write this. I can hear the showers come through, drumming on my cabin roof and dripping from the oak leaves outside my windows. The odd thing, though, is that when I pulled up the weather app on my phone to see how long these showers were going to last, the radar says my weather is clear and dry until later today. It's not that the radar system is down, as when I zoom out there's a large mass of showers out in South Dakota headed my way for later today when it is actually, according to the weather forecast, supposed to rain. The other odd thing is that I couldn't believe the evidence of my ears but checked the radar two more times, using two completely different sources. Apparently it wasn't enough for me that I could hear -- see -- feel -- it raining.
Jesus builds on the theme we left off with, the same theme he has been stating and restating throughout Luke's gospel. Most recently he states it in verse 24: "Where your treasure is, there your heart will be also." The clear idea is that he is to be our treasure, the focus of our affections. He generously gives us all kinds of other gifts, as we enumerated yesterday, including work for his kingdom and partnerships toward that work and the gifts of human relationships, loving bonds that are a joy in themselves and point us toward him. But Jesus is and remains the supreme goal and focus of our faith. That's the launching point for what we often take to be a dire prediction of the future.
But Jesus is not speaking of the future in these verses -- he is speaking to the present reality of his situation, and that of his hearers. Apply Jesus' words first and foremost to his original context, and imagine how his listeners would have heard them. (We are so quick to make ourselves the immediate focus of scripture!) Jesus is the master coming home. He will very shortly dress himself for service and wash his disciples' feet. He will be poured out, his body and blood given for them on the cross. When he says "The Son of Man is coming at an hour you do not expect," he is in effect asking if they recognize him, standing before them. "Here I am!" The verses that follow are an indictment of the current leadership of the Jews: Herod, Pilate, Caiaphas -- all these are included in the description in verses 45-46. His words are reminiscent of the prophets, notably Ezekiel 34 where God speaks to indict the shepherds of his people. Jesus speaks in a kind of code, which is always the function of apocalyptic speech and writing in the Bible. What sounds to outsiders like dire predictions of a science-fiction-style future are actually clear messages about current realities to the insider.
Jesus' message as he goes on bears this out. His followers are walking immediately into a situation in which their people will be divided over Jesus and his message. His followers will become estranged within a generation or two from their Jewish families. The war that ended with the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD drove the final nails in the coffin that divided Christian from Jew.
Verses 54-56 tell us clearly that Jesus is speaking not of some distant apocalyptic future, but to his present moment. He says so in so many words. The key message is that his hearers fail to recognize Jesus for who he really is.
So what are we, two thousand years later, to do with this passage? As we'll see in chapter 13, the message for us is fairly simple: What do we do with Jesus? How do we react to him? In essence we are not so different from Peter and John, or Herod and Caiaphas for that matter. We may be indifferent to Jesus, or admirers who want to use him for our own ends -- or we may consider him our supreme treasure and lose all else to find him.
In his devotional for this morning, Oswald Chambers says, "Watch when God shifts your circumstances, and see whether you are going with Jesus or siding with the world, the flesh and the devil." Following Jesus often looks very different than we think it does. He may call us to follow into difficulty, into alienation, into loneliness. These things are not the goal, but they are sometimes the temporary consequences of following him faithfully. The only way this makes sense is if we are keeping our eyes focused on Jesus, trusting that he will lead us into good pastures (Psalm 37) and that when he engineers our circumstances, he is working not just for his kingdom and his glory but also for our good within it.