daily biblical sermons

Take heed to always be ready, for the Lord will come suddenly, when you least expect him
Fr. Steven Scherrer, MM, Th.D.
Homily of Friday, 34th Week of the Year, November 29, 2019
Daniel 7:2-14, Daniel three, Luke 21:29-33

Biblical quotations are taken from the Revised Standard Version unless otherwise noted




“But take heed to yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a snare; for it will come upon all who dwell upon the face of the whole earth. But watch at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of man” (Luke 21:34-36).



I am combining today’s gospel reading with tomorrow’s ferial gospel reading, since tomorrow is the feast of St. Andrew with different readings, lest we miss these important two final gospel readings of the liturgical year about the glorious second coming of our Lord Jesus Christ and our need to be ready for it.



The point of Luke 21:29-36 (the two readings combined) is that the return of the Lord could come at any time, and we should therefore be ready for it now, for it will come suddenly like a snare that catches an animal or a bird when it does not expect it. It falls into it suddenly and without warning.



So Jesus starts out with a parable of the fig tree and all other trees, saying, “As soon as they come out in leaf, you see for yourselves and know that the summer is already near” (Luke 21:30). The moral is, “So also, when you see these things [the signs in the sky of the coming of the Lord] taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near” (Luke 21:31). That is, once the signs in the sky appear, the end will follow swiftly, and you will not have time to prepare, so be prepared now – today, in fact! You should make your decision today to reform your life.



Then Jesus adds a saying that is very difficult to understand, “Truly, I say to you, this generation will not pass away until all has taken place” (Luke 21:32). We can hardly take this verse at face value for what it seems to mean, because that generation that was listening to Jesus has long since died, and two thousand years have gone by and Jesus has still not returned.



So many different attempts have been made to find some other meaning that Jesus could have had. Whatever solution you come up with, the point is really the same, namely that the Lord is coming soon and you better be prepared now, because when the signs of his return first appear in the sky, his coming will be upon you, and you will have no time to clean up your life, right all the wrongs that you have gotten yourself into, and straighten out every compromising situation that you may be in.



So “this generation” might mean the Jewish race, namely that it will still be around when the Lord returns. Or Jesus could mean that the generation that sees the signs in the sky, which he has been talking about, will not die out before the Lord actually returns, for events will happen swiftly, once the signs appear, and the Lord will be upon you before you know it, and there will be no time to reorganize your life.



In any case, we must already be prepared when the signs appear in the sky, for the Lord will be upon us, and we won’t have time to make phone calls and write letters and get ourselves out of compromising situations that we would not want the Lord to find us in when he comes. So the point is that now is the time that we must clean up our act and be clean and pure, watching in prayer, ready to welcome the Lord with joy.



Jesus next tells us, “Take heed to yourselves lest your hearts be weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and cares of this life, and that day come upon you suddenly like a snare; for it will come upon all who dwell upon the face of the whole earth” (Luke 21:34-35). This warning is certainly true to life. It names and describes the basic struggle of the Christian life, not that everyone is struggling against drunkenness, but we all have battles with the cares of life and occasions of sin and temptation that we can find ourselves in that weaken our guard and watchfulness and dampen our spirit and devotion to the Lord.



We would not want the Lord to come when we are in such a state, even though it may not involve any actual sin. Here much discernment is necessary, and we have to learn where to draw the line between proper Christian watchfulness and compromising situations and occasions of temptation that weaken us spiritually, preoccupy our minds, and diminish the peace of the Lord in our hearts. We should be watchful about situations in which we become too attracted to worldly delights that dull our spiritual sense, preoccupy our thoughts and desires, and diminish our delight in the Lord and his work.



We need to pray hard about this and discern how to steer a correct path through the complications of daily life and eliminate situations and occasions of temptation that are harmful to our spirit, lest the Lord suddenly come and catch us off guard and unprepared to welcome him with joy.



This is how Jesus wants us to live, expecting and prepared for his return at any moment, for once we see signs of his coming in the sky, it will be too late to reorganize our life and clean up our act, for he will catch us unawares and unprepared, for “that day [will] come upon you suddenly like a snare” (Luke 21:34).



So what should we do? Jesus tells us, “Watch at all times, praying that you may have strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of man” (Luke 21:26). So, watch and pray is Jesus advice to us. This means to be on our guard, to be like a watchman expecting something bad to happen, with our eyes always scanning the horizon to catch sight of the enemy coming against us so that we can blow the whistle and sound the alarm.



We do not want to be like seed that fell among thorns, for these are people who “as they go on their way … are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature” (Luke 8:14). The thorns are the cares and riches and pleasures of life. If we think too deeply about these things, they will sap our affective energy, attention, and concentration so that we can no longer serve the Lord alone as our only master (Matthew 6:24) with all our heart and soul, mind and strength (Mark 12:30), as God wants us to.



The thorns siphon off the nutrients in the soil so that we languish and do not bear good fruit for the Lord. Beware of the thorns. Avoid them. Weed them out. “True disciples should watch and pray at all times, thus separating themselves from the ungodly world which is doomed to experience the wrath of God” (William MacDonald, Believers Bible Commentary (Thomas Nelson, 1989), page 1448).



“We are to ‘watch.’ We are to live on our guard like men in an enemy’s country. We are to remember that evil is about us, near us, and in us – that we have to contend daily with a treacherous heart, an ensnaring world, and a busy devil! … ‘Let us not sleep as others do,’ says Paul, ‘but let us watch and be sober’ (1 Thessalonians 5:6)” (JC Ryle, 1816-1900). We must do more than pray. We must also watch and be careful, for things can creep into our life like a worm in an apple and harm it if we are not careful and let it go too far.



“We are to pray especially for grace to lay aside every weight, and to cast away everything which may interfere with readiness to meet our Lord” (Ibid.). “Let us leave the whole passage [this gospel text about being ready] with a hearty determination, by God’s help, to act on what we have been reading. If we believe that Christ is coming again – then let us get ready to meet him” (Ibid.). We must remember that Abraham, Moses, and David sinned, even though they were great saints. We must be watchful, therefore, and take care not to put ourselves into an occasion of sin (see Ibid.).



Matthew Henry (1662-1714) notes on this passage, “Those shall be accounted worthy to live a life of praise in the other world that live a life of prayer in this world.” That is, those Christians that live in a prayerful and watchful way now in this life shall be accounted worthy to live a life of praise of God in the next life.



Let us pray that God will give us the insight and strength, through his grace, to put this gospel teaching into effect in our lives and have the courage to make the changes necessary to live a truly watchful and prayerful life in this world so as to be counted worthy of a life of praise in the world to come.

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