Readings: Acts 1:6–14, 1 Peter 5 & John 17:1–11
There are two sayings that I often find myself repeating. The first is “patience is a virtue”, and the second is “all things come to those who wait”. I’m not 100% certain why those particular sayings have stuck with me, but I suspect they were things I heard my grandmother say in her infinite wisdom.
I was reminded of them both when I read the opening verses of our first reading from the Acts of the Apostles. Shortly before his ascension into Heaven, Jesus is asked by the disciples, “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?”
This wasn’t the first time the disciples wanted Jesus to share some ‘inside information’ with them. When he foretold of the destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, the disciples said to him, “Tell us, when will this be, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?”
Like most human beings, I guess the disciples weren’t very good at waiting for something to happen. They wanted to know the answer right there and then. Given the age of “instant gratification” that we live in today, I would suggest that people today are likely to be far less patient than the disciples were, or for that matter, any other people who lived at the time of Jesus. Unlike in the time of Jesus, if we need an immediate answer to a question today, we just “google” it.
Interestingly, I typed the question – “When will Jesus restore the kingdom to Israel?” – into Google, and I got 6.8 million results in 0.43 seconds. Naturally a lot of the results that I saw were actually connected to today’s reading from the Acts of the Apostles. In a funny way, I was kind of hoping there might actually have been an answer nominating a particular time when this would occur, given that people, generally speaking, seem to place full and total confidence in whatever Google tells them!
I like the answer that Jesus gave the disciples when they asked him that question. He said to them, “It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority.” This answer is just as relevant for us. People today, probably much more so than people in the time of Jesus, are far less likely to accept the notion that the thoughts of God surpass the understanding of us mere mortals.
For a start, we know that fewer people in the world today even believe in God, let alone believe that God is involved in the events and happenings of the world and our lives. A number of people regard it as a ‘cop out’ if we answer them, in response to a question, that it is beyond our comprehension to understand why certain things happen in the world, or when something (like the second coming of Jesus) is likely to take place. They see it as confirmation of the fact that we don’t have a rational answer to their question, and they believe we simply explain it away by saying that God’s thoughts are not our thoughts, and God’s ways are not our ways.
The other thing I like about today’s passage from the Acts of the Apostles, is the response of the disciples to the answer that Jesus gives them. After Jesus ascended to Heaven, the disciples returned to Jerusalem and “were constantly devoting themselves to prayer”. In other words, they didn’t try to ‘second guess’ Jesus; they accepted what he told them, and they went and prayed, no doubt that they would receive the gift of the Holy Spirit, which would then give them the strength to bear witness to Jesus to the whole world. They trusted in Jesus; and they trusted in God.
We know that many questions have been raised in the wake of the global Covid 19 pandemic. Questions such as: what will life be like post the pandemic? Will life ever return to the way it was before Covid 19? Will there still be restrictions, and how long might we have to live with those restrictions? When will we be able to travel again? What might air travel be like in the future?
And of course there are the much more philosophical questions that have been asked: is the Covid 19 pandemic God’s response both to the situation that humankind has created for itself today, and to humankind’s management of God’s creation in the twenty-first century? Will there be any collective changes or adjustments that humankind makes either in its treatment of one another, or in its treatment of God’s broader creation? None of us really know the answers to these questions. And what do we have to gain by stressing ourselves out in trying to find answers?
The gospels tell us that Jesus prayed often to God the Father. In fact today’s passage, from the opening verses of chapter 17 of the Gospel of John, is just one part of a long prayer (comprising all of chapter 17) that Jesus prays to God on behalf of his disciples. The disciples also prayed, especially in the time following the ascension of Jesus into heaven. Perhaps the answers to our questions lie in prayer? Perhaps we need to put our trust in Jesus, and in God; to hand our troubles and worries to them.