Benjamin Franklin said that nothing in our world can be as certain as death and taxes. Daniel Defoe said that things like death and taxes can be believed because they are certain. (Yeah, Wikipedia is my source for these two.) And, so they seem. At least in our culture, we dread tax day and we dread the day we’ll die. They are almost inevitable, certain to happen though we may never know exactly when.
That’s the theme of Episode 523 of This American Life – Death and Taxes – aired a few weeks ago. The episode is split into 2 acts: one about death and another one about taxes. Both deal with was seems rather inevitable but try to look deeper into the things that we know. Or at least, the things that some people might know about the inevitable. The thing is, no matter how certain death and taxes might be, we might not know exactly when they will strike. Sure, we know that our taxes are due April 15 unless we file an extension, however, as evident in the second act, someone evading taxes might now know exactly when the IRS will show up at their door for an audit and collect all unpaid taxes. Similarly, death is rather unpredictable. We might know that someday we will die and we might know that we are dying. Yet, we can never know with certainty when, exactly, we will die.
Now, this week’s lectionary reading is about the ascension of Jesus into heaven. In verse 6 of Acts 1, just before Jesus begins his Superman-like trip above ground (though, personally, I like to think of Jesus more like Jedi powers gracefully lifting himself off the ground…), someone asks “Lord, is this the time when you will restore the kingdom to Israel?” He replies, It is not for you to know the times or periods that the Father has set by his own authority. But you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you; and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem, in all Judea and Samaria, and to the ends of the earth.”
So, this Kingdom of God which Jesus has been preaching to be at hand is still coming but no one knows exactly when. Kinda like death or when cheating on taxes – you know it’s coming, you don’t know when. If you listen to the prologue of the show, you’ll hear pre-teen boys discussing their fears about puberty. One of them says that it can hit you when you’re 9 or it might not be until you’re 16. All you know is that you’ll hit puberty. (It now hit me that I’m comparing the Kingdom of God to puberty but I guess what I’m trying to convey is that feeling of uncertainty about something that is rather certain.) And then, just like that, Jesus disappears and everyone looks around and two men in white said, “move along, nothing more to see here but keep in mind that Jesus will be back just like he disappeared.” At this point, people know that God’s reign is due but they don’t know when and all they do is stare, at least for a bit. They then go on and prepare in prayer. In the act about taxes, the pharmacist who had been holding tax money immediately recognizes the IRS man who comes in. He didn’t know when he was coming but he knew he’d come. Uncertain about something certain, he was ready. Just like that, those around Jesus at the time of his ascension were certain about God’s reign but they didn’t know exactly how, when or where. But they were told not to keep staring and instead devoted themselves to working towards God’s Reign.