When I was in college, I spent some time in the hospital after surgery. My roommate was an elderly lady recovering from the same procedure I had had. She was a devout Pentecostal and often burst into spontaneous prayer, especially when she was experiencing pain or anxiety. At first these outbursts annoyed me; they woke me up or distracted me from whatever I was doing. As our time together continued, I started to find her prayers comforting. She usually included me in them, and as I struggled with my own pain and fear, her words gave me new strength. Near the end of our time, she told me how glad she was that she could share the Lord through her suffering.
‘I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking.’ (Lk 21:15)
In what ways do you reveal God’s kingdom?
Has Christ ever worked through you in a moment of distress?
How can you reveal God’s reign to those who might otherwise miss it?
Luke imagines a scenario like that in this Sunday’s Gospel passage. Jesus and his disciples believed that God was preparing a decisive intervention in human history. Jesus would appear in glory to reward the righteous and punish sinners. Foreshadowings of this judgment appear in the Book of Revelation and in portions of the Gospels that scholars call the “Synoptic Apocalypse” (Mt 24:1-25:46; Mk 13:1-37; Lk 21:1-36). Each of these passages speaks to the needs of a particular audience. In Revelation, the message is, “Hang on! I am coming soon!” In Mark, the message is, “Get ready!” In Matthew and Luke, the message is, “Stay ready, even though the Lord is delayed!”
Matthew and Luke both give their audience insights to help them stay ready. Both Evangelists taught their listeners to use the unexpected delay to reveal God’s kingdom. Matthew stressed the role of good works in this revelation: “Whatever you did for one of these least brothers of mine, you did for me” (Mt 25:40). Luke places greater emphasis on the role of preaching. Revealing the kingdom means speaking boldly about the mighty deeds of Jesus Christ. Christ’s delay is part of God’s plan; it gives Christians time to preach the Gospel to everyone who will listen.
God’s plan requires that this message go out even to places that are indifferent or hostile to the Gospel. For Luke, this gives persecuted Christians an important role: “It will lead to your giving testimony.” Disciples who are brought to trial will be able to use the occasion to share the good news. Kings, governors, synagogue officials and prison guards who would never have encountered an evangelist will now hear the Gospel, preached by the Spirit itself through the disciple. Thus even persecution will reveal God’s kingdom.
No one ought to seek out trials, and we must never minimize the horrors that persecuted Christians face in the world today. Suffering is inevitable, however, and at least in Luke’s mind it can provide a rich field for evangelization. My roommate in the hospital used her suffering to strengthen me with her faith. Just so, a disciple who can rely on Christ even in moments of profound distress will be able to share God’s love with someone who might have otherwise been lost forever.