Least Expectations

Twelfth Sunday after Pentecost | Luke 12:32-40

Some of us may find that we are not as intelligent as we once were. I am not, I am afraid. I cannot remember so well or so quickly as once I did. I cannot make new associations, realize connections, or work through problems so well as in years past. In learning some new skill, I find that while I once may have sought mastery, I now settle for sufficiency.

One grows old.

Still, there are compensations. Perhaps I am not so quick witted, but I may be wiser. It may take me longer to work out a problem, but I have a better idea of which problems are worth working out. There are the things that matter, and there are the things that merely distract. There are many more distractions.

The things we own begin to own us, if we are not careful. Sometimes it happens even if we are. Jesus makes radical suggestions in Luke’s Gospel account—sell your stuff, give it away. Treasure eternal things. (If you are not sure which things are eternal, there is a simple test. If you can touch it, taste it, see it, hear it, or smell it, it isn’t.)

Then, he says, get ready.

Ready for what? He tells a story to illustrate, full of servants and an absent master, people dressed and waiting in the middle of the night, a master who puts on a servant’s garb and upends all expectations, a master serving his servants.

Be ready, Jesus is saying, for the presence of God.

Though the Spirit of God is not named in this passage, and though most people understand these verses as referring to the return of Christ himself, we might understand these sayings better if we consider that Jesus is talking about the Spirit of God, another aspect of himself, another person of God.

In John’s later Gospel, Nicodemus is bewildered to hear Jesus say that the wind blows where it chooses, though we do not hear the sound of it, and we do not know from where it comes or where it goes. Or when, John might have added.

Saudade (Longing) by José Ferraz de Almeida Júnior, 1899
Saudade (Longing) by José Ferraz de Almeida Júnior, 1899

“The Son of Man is coming at an unexpected hour,” says Jesus. We always cast our minds forward when we hear it, wondering when the most unexpected hour could be. In the middle of the night? At our death? Long after we are gone?

How about already?

I suggest that is the most unexpected hour of all—already. We almost never expect the thing we anticipate to have already happened.

I don’t mean like when we expect the meeting to start at 2:00 in the afternoon, only to find that it is already 3:00, or that it was scheduled yesterday when we thought it was today, though these things sometimes happen with age.

Live long enough, and anything is likely to have happened, or nothing at all. Wonderful things, important things, happen, and we do not notice. A child’s smile, or a friend’s grief, eternal things happen, things that we should have noticed if we had been paying attention, if we had not been distracted, if we had not thought that all of the things gathered around us were so important. We miss the eternal things, the things we cannot touch but that would have left a mark on us had we bothered to notice.

Maybe Jesus did come at the unexpected hour. Maybe the Spirit of God has been present all along, the entire time, waiting to upend our world, to turn over our expectations, to join us at the moments of our real, eternal, need. We just haven’t been paying attention.

We want trumpets and angels. The more harsh minded among us want plagues and famine, judgements and end times. Maybe some people get those things. I do not know; I do not want them.

I know that Jesus is telling us that God is like a thief, always anticipated but never expected. Just as a thief might already be standing quietly in the back room of a house, undetected, so God may be already waiting in the back rooms of our minds, waiting and watching from the corners of our souls.