"It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of Light, it was the season of Darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were all going direct to heaven, we were all going direct the other way - in short, the period was so far like the present period, that some of its noisiest authorities insisted on its being received, for good or for evil, in the superlative degree of comparison only." – Charles Dickens, "A Tale of Two Cities"
The one thing Jesus would never do was go out of His way to prove His credentials. He was not enamored with self-promotion. He understood that His life and death would eventually speak for themselves to those inclined to believe. In Matthew 13:38-50, He is resisting the pressure to make His ministry about impressing people who wanted a flamboyant religious demonstration.
Instead, He informs the people what to look for in His future – three days of death followed by something unexplainable and earth changing.
Then, He turns the focus to how people respond to great opportunity and how the greater the opportunity, the more profound the responsibility to act upon it. He cites the judgment as one example. He appeals to their sense of historical disgust to claim that those who have been labeled the most despicable of the past will have something to say about the generation that neglected the very embodiment of Kingdom hope in their midst.
He calls attention to those who are delivered from demonic possession and oppression who do not exercise their freedom to fill the empty places in their lives once delivered. He lets us know that missed opportunity in that regard can lead to a worse condition than that from which the person has just been released.
We have all relapsed to something and we have all experienced the worsening that accompanies the neglect of fresh new found freedom.
He concludes with an embrace and a snub. He snubs members of His earthly family who feel they can interrupt His work just because of their familial ties. He embraces those who stand with Him in Kingdom purpose and who themselves embrace the immediacy of the Kingdom and all the opportunities it affords.
For me, the message is clear. Opportunity can be very dangerous.
It is dangerous if we are so stubborn in our disbelief that any opportunity exists at all. The opportunity truly is present and we can miss the moment. It may not come again. Some might see these as dark days when sudden miracles are required to confirm our faith. Jesus suggested that the darkness was itself a sign of opportunity. He would be like Jonah in the belly of the fish. Few could or would expect resurrection so they ask for lesser signs – magical demonstrations of no consequence. Perhaps these days are what are necessary for that which God would have emerge from our collective lives. It is dangerous to avoid all danger and, as a result, avoid opportunities that only show themselves in precarious times.
It is very dangerous because it calls for a simple decision and we hate simple decisions. Jesus simply asks us to recognize that one greater than Solomon is among us and follow Him in such a radical manner that there is no question as to who we are and where we stand. That sort of radicalism will not please very many. It will disturb most of those who call themselves Christian (and may well be Christians) as well as all who prefer to insure stability and predictability in our collective life. The call to follow Jesus is about stepping into the unknown and stripping ourselves bare of our cherished preconditions. It is the signing of a blank check with God and running headlong into the adventure of a counter cultural movement of grace.
It is a serious danger because things can get worse. We come to the unknown miracle worker to be delivered of our persistent and pernicious demons and are set free. That is when the opportunity begins because we have not been saved to stagnate in gratitude or relax in the river of redemption. Our deliverance from the maligning powers of destruction is purposeful. We are then to fill our lives with mission, and meaning. We are to drink deeply from the fountain of grace and be transformed through the renewing of our minds as we present our empty bodies to the one who fashioned them with a unique and wonderful purpose in mind. A vacuum will always be filled. There are no vacant lives for long. Evil is as opportunistic and malevolent as God is opportunistic and benevolent. If we don't say "yes" to God in the moment of opportunity, inertia will fill our lives with negative thoughts and choices.
Finally, it is dangerous because there is a special distinction for those who seize the moment to learn from Jesus and follow Him in the adventure of faith. It is the danger of being sidelined and marginalized because we have excluded ourselves from the true inner circle of intimacy with the Master. While it was the religious establishment who sought to sensationalize the movement and manipulate it toward their own ends, It was Jesus' own family that sought to call Him away from His work and define His life in ways that would be more conventional and acceptable for a nice religious young man of His day. They could have joined in, but they chose to distract.
Danger and opposition comes from all sides – friends and foes.
The Kingdom is present because the king is present. These are days of unprecedented opportunity for the church, but I fear a great danger lurking in the shadows. It is the danger of settling for business as usual, by putting on really good shows, for designing occasional wowing experiences for our more sensitive disciples, and by failing to be shaped into the radicals we are meant to be. It is the danger of not embracing the right kind of danger and taking God-inspired risks. It is the danger of not dreaming of a reality outside the belly of the fish. It is the danger of celebrating our liberation and leaving our housed empty and unattended.
But it can also be a wonderful time – the best of times. Dickens had it right about his time and about ours. It is always the day of great opportunity and that can be very dangerous.