The first disciples were mired in the present moment. Most were poor. Like their contemporaries, they were living from day to day in a harsh world. The community faced daily struggle, fear and persecution. They needed to be reminded: though Jesus seems to be gone and things were going poorly for his community, nevertheless, he is with us now and he will return. In the light of this hope, early Christians could look at their lives through the lens of expectation. He will soon come again.
As time passed, and Jesus did not in fact return, the sense of urgency passed. It was easier to become complacent, to grow comfortable with compromise, and to put off real conversion. All of the Gospel messages about being prepared had to be reinterpreted. Very often, the motivation for authentic Christian living became the inevitability and the unpredictability of death: Christians must live good and holy lives every single day in order to be ready to meet the Lord at the moment of death.
Generally, it is not normal for people to live with the thought of imminent death unless they happen to be terminally ill, or very old, or caught in some life threatening circumstance. So for most of us, being prepared has to take on a different meaning. It has to imply a profound sense of commitment and fidelity to the Gospel and to Christian values. It means that this attitude of mind and heart should become second nature to us, always present and always directing and affecting our life choices.
One doesn't need to be a theologian or "professional religious" person in order to be a disciple. Jesus never once formulated a doctrinal or theological proposition. He spent his life and his ministry among people living with them, touching them, talking with them, embracing and healing them, and breathing His Spirit into their hearts. The first disciples became aware - begrudgingly, at first - that the Spirit they had seen in Jesus was present and active in their lives as well. Eventually, they came to believe that this Spirit could be as courageously expressed in their lives as Jesus had allowed it to be in his. And so should we.
Jesus' ministry flowed from his belief that living in love was living in God. He believed that His intimate understanding of God would be "good news" to all people - that it would bring freedom to those held captive, bring sight to the blind and set all of us free.
Jesus has indeed set us free. But this is a freedom that is far different from what we might expect. We are set free from images, ideas and practices that bind us into the enslavement of thinking and acting as if we had all of the answers. We are set free from the fear and abandonment of a distant, impersonal God. We are set free from divisions that divide us and set us against one another. This is a freedom that challenges us to break down barriers and to take personal responsibility for the emergence of God's reign in this world.
Being prepared means being ready for a spot check on our Christianity at any time. Jesus preached and lived in the Spirit. We must speak and act consistently in a way that will always identify us always as doing the same.
All this talk of perseverance in trials, faithfulness in waiting, hope in Jesus' return can be tedious. But being prepared isn't a part-time virtue. We are always on the watch for the Lord in our daily lives, trying to discern how to respond to him in prayer and service to others.
We are the people of the promise, the people of God's choice. We are the "evidence of things not seen." At the most unexpected times and in the most surprising of ways, the Lord knocks on the door of our lives and asks to be let in.
Are we ready to do so?