When I looked at the readings for this Sunday there was a word that seemed to me to emerge from each of the readings. It was a word that surprised me: integrity.
Our first reading from Jeremiah looks forward to the Messiah. We know that it would be more than 60 years before the prophetic words of Jeremiah would be fulfilled by the coming of Christ. But still, the prophet is looking forward, eagerly, to that day. The Messiah, he says, will be the embodiment of honesty and integrity. So much so, in fact, that integrity will spread throughout the land under his influence. Jeremiah lived in troubling times, with clashes between the great powers and a royal court that seemed oblivious to what went on in the lives of ordinary people. Yet he did not become cynical and disillusioned. He continued to believe in the power of God calling people to integrity. There’s a message to us here today.
Then our second reading from the first letter to the Church in Thessalonika gives us a prayer of St Paul. Imagine the congregation gathering in one of the larger houses near the agora, the big public square in the centre of town. They had first heard the message of God’s coming in Jesus Christ through Paul, around the year AD50, when Paul had been accompanied by Silas and Timothy. Paul has since then gone on to other towns, other countries, on his preaching journeys. But still he carries the people of Thessalonika in his heart just as they remember him. His letter is a kind of blessing prayer: that God may help them increase their love until it expands through them to embrace the whole human race. Phew! That’s an incredible challenge, but also a wonderful picture of his hopes for Christians, that they should be a power for good, a people of integrity.
Finally in the gospel we find some sombre warnings spoken by Jesus. Beware, he says. Times are uncertain. Events can move swiftly. Life is unpredictable. Sombre, yes, but realistic. Don’t get coarsened, says Jesus, rather live your lives in such a way that you are ready for whatever comes. Always be ready, prepared and strengthened by your whole way of living.