No Preparation Needed? Reflections on Luke 21:5-19
The Coming Persecution, 21:12-19
The early Christians faced persecution at the hands of both rulers of synagogue and state. These verses are meant to console and strengthen believers facing persecution. (Patella, p. 136)
We can partially prepare for some of these kinds of historical and natural disasters and sufferings. Historical conditions can be analyzed and we can try to learn from the mistakes of the past. Meteorologists can warn us of coming tornadoes, hurricanes, and even earthquakes. Still, the author of Ecclesiastes was correct in pointing out the general truth that "No one can anticipate the time of disaster."
We can live in a constant state of dread, but that is not the same as preparation. The best way to prepare for calamity that could happen at any time is to always be looking for Christ in every person and circumstance. (Patella, p. 136)
And when we are doing that, we find that we accept and live by the apocalyptic advice Luke's Jesus offers in this passage.
We resist following false teachers and leaders.
"Many will come in my name and say 'I am he!' and 'The time is near.' Do not go after them" (21:8).
We discern the presence of God in Christ in our hardships and witness to others of our faith.
"Your hardships will give you an opportunity to testify" (21:13).
We practice faithful living and searching the Scriptures so that the vocabulary of faith will not desert us when the time comes to speak up for what we believe.
"Make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance, for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict" (21:15).
We take comfort in the presence of a God who will never leave us or forsake us.
"Not a hair of your head will perish" (21:18).
"By your endurance you will gain your souls" (21:19).
"Make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance…," says the Lukan Jesus to his disciples. Well, maybe the early Christians didn't need to carry keynote speeches around with them, but they did need to prepare to respond to times of trial by practicing loyalty to Christ as teacher and leader, attentiveness to God's presence in their suffering, and study of Scripture so they could articulate their faith in a time of crisis.
"There is nothing you need to do to prepare," the organizer of the JFK event told me. And I immediately began to prepare. It turned out it was a good thing that I did.
Michael F. Patella, The New Collegeville Commentary, The Gospel According to Luke (Collegeville, Minnesota: Liturgical Press, 2005).
Alyce M. McKenzie is the George W. and Nell Ayers Le Van Professor of Preaching and Worship at Perkins School of Theology, Southern Methodist University.