By Gretchen Potma
“Therefore, keep watch, because you do not know the day or the hour.” Matthew 25:13
As we walk with Jesus to the cross, we come to Tuesday, a day of confrontation and teaching. Jesus spends at least part of the day in Jerusalem at the temple, sparring back and forth in dialogue and questions with the Pharisees and telling parables to the people; then later in the day on the mount of Olives, overlooking Jerusalem, he tells his disciples about what will happen in the future, both near and distant.
If you count forward from the triumphal entry on Sunday, and backward from the crucifixion, almost exactly in the middle is this time of teaching where Jesus, seeing his departure from the disciples coming closer and closer, takes time to give them as many details as he can reveal about his return. In that sense, it’s a powerful, almost climactic moment, even though it is mostly overshadowed by the events of Jesus’ crucifixion and resurrection. Churches have traditions of Maundy Thursday services, remembering Christ serving his disciples both in washing their feet and serving them the last supper, and Good Friday services, remembering Jesus’ last words on the cross, and of course, celebratory Easter services remembering his resurrection. What if we also had a Teaching Tuesday service? It might need to be an all-day service because Jesus had a lot to say on that day. I tried to find out what percentage of Jesus’ teaching recorded in the gospels took place on that day. I didn’t come up with a number, but just consider that Matthew, Mark, and Luke each have 2 to 3 chapters focused on Jesus’ Tuesday teaching. That is a lot of red letters! It brings to mind the phrase “drinking from a fire hose”!
Imagine being one of the disciples (either one of the 12 or one of committed men and women that also followed Jesus around). You start the day off with the incredible tension of confrontational trick questions that Jewish leaders use to try to trap Jesus into saying something worthy of death. We are very familiar with all four questions posed by the crafty Pharisees and Saduccees: Was the baptism of John from heaven or from man? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar? Whose wife will she be in the resurrection? Which commandment is the greatest? We don’t often stop to realize that these questions came one after another in the same scene of the drama. The disciples must have been holding their breath and sighing with relief every time someone approached Jesus and was sent scurrying away. Each question and each response from Jesus, whether follow-up question or pointed parable is so much to think about, so full of implications for a disciple of Jesus. And then comes Jesus’ slam-dunk question for the Pharisees “Whose son is the Christ?” that finally shuts them up. The Jewish leaders are quiet but still listening, as Jesus really gives it to them with seven statements of woe or judgment. There’s no doubt who he is talking to. He calls them hypocrites, he calls them vipers, he calls them blind, he calls them fools! Maybe as a disciple you are thinking, “Way to go, Jesus, finally someone is calling them out!” while judging the distance to the nearest exit if things get ugly. Jesus isn’t ready to leave the temple yet. He stops to notice the widow putting her small coin in the offering and praises her publicly. Finally, to your relief, Jesus starts to make his way back to Olivet for the night. You’re exhausted from the drama and he certainly must be also.
Apparently, he had a lot more that he still wanted to say to his disciples, and to us as well nearly 2000 years later. I was wondering why he did so much teaching so near the end of his life. Maybe it’s like that tendency a mom has before leaving her children with a babysitter to write lots of instructions and think of last-minute things that she needs to say to the kids, or the person who is coming to the end of their life making sure all those final things have been said to their loved ones. The disciples probably weren’t even wanting to hear all this as they are realizing their time with Jesus was coming to an end just as he’d already told them more than once. When we think of teaching about the end times, we usually think about the book of Revelation, but Jesus made sure we have here in Matthew 24 and 25 basically all we need to know about it. Most important, he has gone away, but he will come back! That is reassurance! That is hope! He wants us to know it could be any day at any time. Does that cause butterflies in your stomach from anticipation or from apprehension? Jesus’ parable about the bridesmaids waiting for the bridegroom shows us how to soothe our stomachs: be prepared and keep watch. His parable about the talents reminds us to work while we watch for his return. His parable about the sheep and goats reminds us that the work we are to do while we watch and wait is to serve others. Maranatha, come Lord Jesus!