Do you remember that rather ponderous Voice-Over at the beginning of the first Lord of the Rings movie? “The world is changed. I feel it in the water. I feel it in the earth…” There are some life-defining moments that constitute a shift in the pattern, a change in the spiritual weather, a chapter ending and a new one beginning. 9/11 felt like that to me, as to an older generation did JFK’s assassination. Maybe Caesar crossing the Rubicon felt like that to those of his day – the feeling that there’s no going back to how it was before.
In Luke 12, Jesus ascribes this sense of identifying change to the listening crowd:
54 He said to the crowd: ‘When you see a cloud rising in the west, immediately you say, “It’s going to rain,” and it does. 55 And when the south wind blows, you say, “It’s going to be hot,” and it is. 56 Hypocrites! You know how to interpret the appearance of the earth and the sky. How is it that you don’t know how to interpret this present time?”
Peterson paraphrased this as: “You know how to tell a change in the weather, so don’t tell me you can’t tell a change in the season, the God-season we’re in right now.”
But it seems quite a stretch from thinking it’ll probably rain today (no great prophecy here in Ireland) to identifying a tectonic shift in God’s purposes, doesn’t it? Yet Jesus calls them to it. He summons them to a realisation that here in the works and words of God’s Messiah, something game-changing is happening; something momentous -a fulcrum on which the whole story of the world will tilt and readjust.
Here’s how he develops the idea:
57 ‘Why don’t you judge for yourselves what is right? 58 As you are going with your adversary to the magistrate, try hard to be reconciled on the way, or your adversary may drag you off to the judge, and the judge turn you over to the officer, and the officer throw you into prison. 59 I tell you, you will not get out until you have paid the last penny.’ (Luke 12: 54-59)
That is to say (using The Message): “You don’t have to be a genius to understand these things. Just use your common sense, the kind you’d use if, while being taken to court, you decided to settle up with your accuser on the way, knowing that if the case went to the judge you’d probably go to jail and pay every last penny of the fine. That’s the kind of decision I’m asking you to make.”
So Jesus calls us to identify God’s moving by applying the same kind of native shrewdness by which we might wangle our way out of a tight spot. The same idea comes into the “Story of the Dishonest Steward” when a guy, knowing he’s going to be sacked for dishonesty, plans for his own future with a bit of further dishonesty! And the boss, hearing of it, commends his cleverness because he know what was coming and planned for it.
He wasn’t commending the dishonesty, you see, only the alert appraisal of what was surely coming.
You might argue that the recognition of God’s Messiah by a crowd of Ist Century Jews is a rather abstruse point that doesn’t apply to us, but you’d be wrong.
We too are called to use our common sense, our instinct for self-preservation and survival, to plan for our own futures. We re called, so to speak, to look out of the window and to make a judgement-call on whether it’s going to rain today or not, and make plans accordingly.
Umbrella or Sun-block?
We’re called, for example, to consider the fact that one day we’re going to die and to think about our own readiness for that eventuality.
And that grim thought leads to the second: if my readiness for this certain future depends on my life and actions now, how then should I live? What is the lifestyle to which God is calling me?
And all of a sudden,the various pieces of this chapter fall into place, like the ball settling in a roulette wheel. If you take the whole chapter in reverse, you can see the thread of thought in its simplest terms:
- Don’t you know that there’s a change in the weather? Decide. Use your brain, your nerves and guts and feelings. What will you do? (v54-59).
- The change will produce a division and you have to choose which side you’re on. It won’t be easy. (v49-53)
- So be like a good servant,watchful and alert. Stay on call, focused and listening for your Master’s voice. (v35-48)
- And don’t worry yourselves about anything else. Your Father knows what you need, but don’t look to the world but to your Lord, for lasting treasure.(v22-34)
- Don’t be like that “Rich Fool”who made all his plans for this present life, and didn’t think about the coming change at all, until it was too late. (v13-21)
- And ready yourselves to stand for me like witnesses in an open-court, publicly acknowledging your allegiance. (v1-12)
There’s a change coming in the weather of your life. It’s momentous, and nothing will ever be the same after it. And God summons you to choose, to decide, and to walk by faith into his future for you. No turning back. And he doesn’t promise “good times a’comin'” -just division and difficulty ….and life itself.
That wonderful poem by Robert Frost picks up something of the quality of the choice before us.
The Road Not Taken
Two roads diverged in a yellow wood,
And sorry I could not travel both
And be one traveler, long I stood
And looked down one as far as I could
To where it bent in the undergrowth;
Then took the other, as just as fair,
And having perhaps the better claim,
Because it was grassy and wanted wear;
Though as for that the passing there
Had worn them really about the same,
And both that morning equally lay
In leaves no step had trodden black.
Oh, I kept the first for another day!
Yet knowing how way leads on to way,
I doubted if I should ever come back.
I shall be telling this with a sigh
Somewhere ages and ages hence:
Two roads diverged in a wood, and I—
I took the one less traveled by,
And that has made all the difference.”