Often used as a metaphor for the unknown timing of the return of Christ, but for me something else stood out: not just watching but the work of everyone in the house.
Be on guard! Be alert [some manuscripts, alert and pray] ! You do not know when that time will come. It’s like a man going away: He leaves his house and puts his servants in charge, each with their assigned task, and tells the one at the door to keep watch. “Therefore keep watch because you do not know when the owner of the house will come back . . . [Mark 13:33-35a, NIV]
While contemplating this verse, I was reminded of Nehemiah and the re-building of the walls of Jerusalem; when they became aware of the enemy’s intent to disrupt their efforts, “. . . only half of my workers continued in the construction, while the other half held the spears, shields, bows, and body armor” [Nehemiah 4:16, CEB]. In both cases, each person had a job and not always the same one. In Mark, each person had an “assigned task” while another stood by the door to keep watch. In Nehemiah, they divided the duties between working on the wall and watching for attack. Today is no different.
It takes a village, as they say, to raise a child and it takes the same cooperative efforts to build and sustain an organization, whether it’s the local church or a business. We must trust one another and share the burden of the work but we must also respect the differences.
“ If all were one and the same body part, what would happen to the body? But as it is, there are many parts but one body. So the eye can’t say to the hand, “I don’t need you,” or in turn, the head can’t say to the feet, “I don’t need you.” Instead, the parts of the body that people think are the weakest are the most necessary.” [I Corinthians 12:19-22, CEB].
But clearly, some are called to watch! Is it you?
What does it mean to watch in today’s world? We have no ramparts and few of us have mountain views or apartments on the 96th floor. But there is an element of alertness no matter where the watching takes place. And in this I think we have fallen short. We take for granted the normal and oftentimes monotonous repetition of our daily lives. We stop looking. How many guys shave off their beards and people look at them and barely notice? How many women cut their hair and we know they look different somehow, but how? There is a theater game I used to play with my students in which they would pair off and one would look at the other one for about 10 seconds and then I would have them turn around back to back and describe what the other person is wearing. The results are pretty telling. (You can try this at the dinner table without warning.)
We are not alert about the world around us much less the deeper things manifesting around us through the workings of that other realm (We aren’t fighting against human enemies but against rulers, authorities, forces of cosmic darkness, and spiritual powers of evil in the heavens. Ephesians 6:12)
Too often, we depend on our pastors to do most of the watching but I think that’s unwise and unrealistic. Perhaps they are watching over the whole, but we must be watching in the smaller areas; we must watch for and with each other.
What are we looking for? Anomalies and brutalities, lies and deception, darkness and camouflage, pretense and counterfeits. The list is endless.
What do we do after we see these things? Identify and then pray. Oh, are you surprised? Did you think we would draw our swords and run into the fray. Not yet. Because we must be united first. All of our eyes must be opened. Evil is not vanquished in a day.