…“I can’t believe he’s gone…”
A young boy, Marcus, walked out the side door of his uncle’s home. While the family gathered for a time of thanksgiving, he left them all behind and soon realized he was in an unfamiliar place. It was the last time the family would see the nine-year-old boy alive. ‘It only takes a moment,’ people say. It really doesn’t matter the uncle is a former NBA star. When any child goes missing, the prospect of loss looms loud. In a flash of light everything can change. It did. It’s not new.
Call it Thanksgiving leftovers or a pre-Christmas warning, I can’t shake yet the words from the gospel text from St. Matthew (chapter 24: 32ff) for Sunday, November 27…
- “no one knows the day or the hour… not the angels… not the Son… only the Father!”
- “Two men will be working in the field… one is taken, the other remains”
- “Two women are grinding at the mill…one is whisked away, the other is left”
- “Therefore, stay awake!”
- “Be on the watch!”
- “Being a faithful and wise servant is a high calling indeed!” (my take)
Good words to note. Lest any of us forget. It seems there will always be occasions for wailing and gnashing of teeth, and whether we walk away from others or someone walks away from us, no one really wants to be caught off all by them self. So, at the heart of these cautious words from Jesus take note of the ‘heads up’ given to the reality of abandonment! We were not created to be alone and live in isolation and that’s why it hurts so much when people we care about take leave. The greater harm is believing we can live well on our own when instead it is just a step closer to our own self-destruction. Every day is a gift; every moment a precious thing requiring our need to stay awake and be on the watch.
Abandonment goes way beyond a young boy walking away from a family gathering… it’s the feeling deep in our hearts that something has gone really wrong and needs tending to. Sometimes we can control it; sometimes we can’t. Have you stepped back already to consider the times you have felt abandoned? Have you given thought to the moments where you have abandoned others? I’ve got a list here to help… take a deep breath… it’s not very pretty…
- The death of a grandparent—the one you loved and trusted the most;
- Parents with young children choose to divorce—there is a kind of ‘death’ all around;
- A friend moves away and you are present to see the moving van depart;
- One who lands in jail and has no one come to visit;
- When “the company” lets you go and you loved your job;
- Not getting the job we really wanted with no other job prospect in site;
- When the last child goes off to college or enters the military and the house goes silent;
- When a woman is sexually assaulted and she is made to think it was her fault;
- When one is targeted by false accusation or innuendo & no one steps up in defense;
- When you feel ignored by your church in moments of joy or sorrow;
- When you’ve ignored the church you are part of or joined with great joy & hope;
- When a child or close friend dies due to an accident or sudden illness;
- When you strike out in the bottom of the 9th with men on base & down by 1 run;
- When drugs or alcohol sink into and take over a relationship or family;
- When your doctor or dentist or plumber retires and you just don’t like the new one;
- When the pet we’ve loved for so long is required to be put down;
- When one’s own health declines and then is forced to move to an adult care facility;
- When we’ve turned our back on God while we trust God will not do that to us…
Yep, there are many moments and instances when we can feel abandoned and neglected and at the same time need to take ownership of our abandonment of others. Face it. We do. It’s a sign that life matters and that people count and little good comes of it in the long haul. Keeping watch and staying alert then becomes critical to our sense of safety and security… for each of us as individuals, within our families and for the sake of our communities.
Abandonment is rejection. Intentional or not. Real or perceived. Israel may have felt that way between the time of the great prophets and the entry of John the Baptizer. We know Jesus felt that way on the Mount of Olives the night he was arrested and certainly his cry from the cross about being forsaken helps us know that none of us declare ourselves immune from the pain that comes with being all alone. Even, for a while the disciples felt abandoned by the rabbi and Lord. So, we watch. Yes. We remain alert.
The good news that arises out of the end chapters of Matthew’s gospel is the promise that Jesus will come to us. It’s his expectation and is a BIG story at one level and an everyday story at another. The reason we watch and stay alert is so none of us dare miss Jesus’ “second coming” … the biblical promise that he will come again … as judge of the living and the dead… and bring about a kingdom that will have no end… And, yet, Jesus comes to us each day… present in our morning devotions, sitting quietly at our table when we pray… ”Come Lord Jesus be our guest…” and is the silent listener to every conversation we have … present in the preaching on Sunday, in the sharing of the peace, and in the bread and wine we consume at his table… so that the serving we do in Jesus’ name will be an action to “least of those” around us because we are doing that for him and ultimately TO him… and in this no one is abandoned by God. We cannot be. We are never left alone by Jesus. He will not allow that. And will not allow that because Jesus gets that. So, stay alert. Be watchful. There are those around us… young and old and in between… who want to walk off by themselves… wanting to turn their backs because it’s harder to understand and easier to blame. That’s why we need each other. That’s why looking out for one another is so important. Life on its own lived out in community is hard enough all by itself. Walking away… abandoning the ones close by only leads to a deeper danger.
So, may your eyes be clear and your ears wide open and your hands remain strong and your feet be swift to stay connected to each other. Jesus gave up his life for that. Abandonment is not in his vocabulary… and yet, in a flash of light everything can change. It did. It can. It’s not new. Be alert. Keep watch. It matters.
… And I heard them murmur… “I can’t believe he’s gone…”
Murmuring for the sake of God’s goodness,