I once read that in the face of life threatening situations, people have a 50% greater chance of survival if they don’t panic and when thinking of going around a corner and coming face to face with a car on the wrong side of the road, to me that statistic makes sense.
An elderly man once told me of fighting a fire by making a fire break in the Adelaide hills in his open roofed tractor. It was one of the “infamous” fires that due to its speed and intensity caused extreme loss of properties and many people perished. He said it seemed to come from nowhere and was upon him and due to its speed and the terrain it was impossible to outrun. He had but seconds and in those he had to fight his every instinct telling him to run, which ultimately would be to have run to nowhere, rather than back up his tractor and charge the fire at full speed hoping that its face was shallow enough to pass through. He said it was “the most fear he has ever experienced.”
As mortal human beings it is impossible to not experience some level of fear in the face of a threat, but as seen in this man and others, instead of overwhelming and uncontrollable fear creating panic, it is fear that triggers courage.
These are extreme situations and people that have faced them almost universally reflect that they do not know “how they did it”. Extreme situations like those we heard in the Gospel today. When and how these things play out we are not told except that they will bring great distress and unanswered confusion to the world prior to when all will become clear upon the return of Christ.
As Christians we don’t talk to the Bible it talks to us and in verse 34 Jesus gives us some good advice, to “watch ourselves”, to stay awake. Which is good advice indeed when from the book of Daniel we are told these “will be times of trouble such as never has been since” (12:1), “many people will waste their efforts trying to understand what is happening” (12:4) and “many will be purified, but those who are wicked will not understand and will go on being wicked, only those who are wise will understand” (12:10)
Sobering and heavy words, and indeed Daniel himself trembled when receiving his visions of the future. But sobering words that as they were to Daniel, are given to enlighten us rather than consume us. In the aftermath of such astonishing prophecies’, the advice given to Daniel is also given for us, chapter 12 verse 9 to now “Go your way to the end”.
And we go our way to the end, in the here and now, because as Jesus himself has told us in Matthew 6:34 “Therefore do not worry about tomorrow, for tomorrow will worry about itself. Each day has enough trouble of its own”.
In 1963 civil activist Martin Luther King Jr. gave his remarkable ‘I have a dream’ speech. Five years later in Memphis, Tennessee he gave an impromptu speech in which he referred to the story of the “Good Samaritan” and makes the following insights:
“Jesus tells us that on a dangerous curve between Jerusalem and Jericho a man was attacked and felled by thieves. You remember that a Jewish Levite and a priest passed by on the other side. They didn’t stop to help him but a man of another race did stop and was not compassionate by proxy, but got down and administered first aid and helped the man in need. Jesus said this man was the great man because he had the capacity to project the ‘I’ into the ‘thou’ and be concerned about his brother. Now you know we use our imagination a great deal to try and determine why the priest and the Levite didn’t stop, like running late in getting to a church meeting(or being too busy)….But maybe it’s possible that these men were simply afraid. You see I have been there and the Jericho road is a dangerous road…and conducive for ambushing. In the days of Jesus it came to be known as the ‘Bloody Pass’. And you know that’s it possible that the priest and the Levite looked over the man on the ground and wondered if the robbers were still around, or if the felt the man on the ground was faking it, a trap. So (maybe) the question they asked themselves was ‘If I stop to help this man, what will happen to me?’ But then the Good Samaritan came by and reversed the question: ’If I don’t stop to help this man, what will happen to him?’
And that’s the question before us now”.
The Reverend Martin Luther King concluded his speech referring to death threats he had recently received with:
“I don’t know what will happen now. We’ve got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn’t matter with me now, because I’ve been to the mountain top. Like anybody I would like to live a long life….but I’m not concerned about that now. I just want to do God’s will. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man. My eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord”.
Martin Luther King had been given a special calling, and as to Daniel and as to us, “He went his way to the end” and was assassinated the day after this speech. Martin Luther King, Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Dietrich Bonheoffer and others, given special callings that shaped and became their lives in “the here and now”.
We too are to live in our here and now. We have no need to go looking for our calling as it will find us. We don’t look or aspire to be martyred or put to great tests, but face them with Christ if they arrive.
We “go our way to the end” seeking to have the courage of a Samaritan man who asked himself “What will happen to this man if I don’t stop?”.
We “go our way to the end” stopping for those in need, yet passing in fright. We “go our way to the end” in courage, yet in fear. We go our way as best we can, rising above, yet falling short. We go as sinners, yet free and righteous in Christ.
Nelson Mandela said: “To be free is not merely to cast off one’s chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others”.
We go our way as slaves and servants to our fellow earthly brothers and sisters, yet as free men, women and children because we have had the chains of death removed by our Savior, Jesus Christ.
We go our way knowing that on the other side of the approaching fire is safety, and we go our way today, knowing that come what may, Jesus will never pass us by. Amen.