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It was just last Tuesday — Giving Tuesday. (Don’t worry, this isn’t another installment of our fundraising campaign!)

A trusted colleague contacted me early Tuesday, rather apologetically. She represents a cause, a not-for-profit, somewhat dear to me. She realized it was very last minute but she had just become aware that another supporter had offered to double all gifts brought in on Giving Tuesday. I trust these people. This didn’t seem like hype, some sort of faux promotion.

To make the gift I wanted to give, would take a few phone calls. I knew I’d probably have to make some arrangements with an email or two.

Then I headed off to work and promptly forgot all about it.

It wasn’t until about 8pm that I remembered my good intentions and the contacts I needed to make. Hastily I sent an email to my colleague apologizing and asking if tomorrow morning would be too late. I pretty much assumed it would be okay. After all, who is really that hard-nosed and stringent about these sort of matching-gift deals? Turns out, the person who offered the match.

The next morning, Wednesday, I received an email from my colleague, “Yes, indeed it is too late.”

Opportunity lost.

I was deflated. Disappointed in myself. Rather surprised at the donor’s rigidity.

I think I have a big enough view of God and God’s purposes not to beat myself up too badly. This cause will be alright. The goal will be reached. The project will be built. Yes, unfortunately I forgot, but the Holy Spirit always has contingency plans. No doubt some other fine soul was spurred to give instead. It’s alright.

I’ve always liked the Jewish fable that Abram (as Abraham was then known) wasn’t the first person that the Lord approached. Perhaps God went up and down the street in Haran offering this covenant deal of blessing, stars of the heavens, sands of the seashore, etc. to many in town. Abram was simply the first person who said, “Yes!”

In the same way, I trust that God found someone else to say “Yes!” — to be generous, taking advantage of the matching gift that I had forgotten.

Still, I was unsettled. “It is too late” — that line from the colleague’s email gnawed at me. I’m not used to hearing it. So clear. So absolute. Really? Someone wouldn’t let my misstep slide?

I’m so privileged that I expect the benefit of the doubt. I’m accustomed to a willingness to bend the rules for me. I expected the donor of the matching gift to give a casual shrug and a “Don’t worry about it.”

It’s Advent — a time when the church historically has put forth admonitions and ultimatums, apocalyptic judgments, and abrasive messages about “staying awake” and not being caught unawares. Personally, I’ve never had much success conveying these messages effectively, always getting tangled in tinsel and subverted by sugarplums. Nevertheless, I realize Advent is a time for warning as well as welcome.

The parable of the ten bridesmaids came to mind as I brooded. You’ll recall that five took no extra oil for their lamps. When the bridegroom was delayed, they ran out of oil. By the time they found more oil, it was too late. The door to the wedding banquet was shut.

It’s one of those grim parables from Jesus’ final days. There’s the unfaithful slave, the lesson of the fig tree, the parable of the talents. To be very honest, these aren’t at the center of my canon. They aren’t my favorites. However, I don’t think I completely dismiss them. I certainly don’t want to dismiss the eschatological energy that crackles within them.

I’ve always been partial to the Heidelberg Catechism’s answer about Christ’s return (Q&A 52). “I eagerly await, with my head held high, the very Judge from heaven, knowing that the One who will judge me is the same One who was judged for me.” Without wanting to sound too cavalier, I’m just not that concerned about sleeping through Christ’s return or that I’ll be cast into utter darkness.

The door is shut. It’s too late. Those words still sting a little. But maybe in a good way. Even if I trust the big picture stuff to the grace of God, it’s the earthly day-to-day where I may need to be poked by the too-late message. That it’s Advent might have made me a little more amenable to that message. It’s a poke that is very Advent-appropriate.


It can be too late to say I’m sorry. Too late to offer that word of affirmation. Too late to show up with a helping hand. Too late to go back and try to make things right. Too late for that work to be done.

I’m pretty confident that all my unfulfilled good intentions, all the dents, wrinkles, and injuries I leave in the universe, and in my church, and in the hearts of my loved ones will be smoothed out and healed — eventually and somehow — by the One who makes all things new. But in the near term, in the close at hand, occasionally I need a warning that sometimes it is simply too late.

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell

Steve Mathonnet-VanderWell and his wife, Sophie, are the pastors at the Second Reformed Church in Pella, Iowa. Steve has served on numerous Reformed Church commissions and task forces, and also edited the journal Perspectives for many years. Before coming to Iowa, he lived and served as a pastor in upstate New York. Sophie and he have two adult children. He holds a Ph.D. from Boston College in theological ethics.

4 Comments

  • Well said. Thank you. Sometimes I need to hear this.

  • Daniel Meeter says:

    Yes. I’ve been too late for a couple of parishioners and their families, to my permanent regret. And I’ve been rescued from being too late the odd time by friends and advisors. Our Lord’s parables always speak.

  • Rowland Van Es says:

    Thanks, I think is was Robert Farrar Capon who said about the parables of judgement, no one is refused who wasn’t first invited. But your point about here on earth stands, sometimes it is too late to give or to call, etc.

  • Jan Zuidema says:

    Yes, again. One can also admit that being there, giving, supporting, loving, can sometimes let the pride that we feel in coming to the rescue come to the fore, no matter how hard we try to subdue it. The times when we fail bring us back to humility, to recognizing that our actions are not the center of God’s care for others. He will provide and we will have another chance.

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