Gospel: Luke 21:25-36
25 ‘There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud” with power and great glory.Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’29 Then he told them a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree and all the trees; 30as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.34 ‘Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.’37 Every day he was teaching in the temple, and at night he would go out and spend the night on the Mount of Olives, as it was called. 38And all the people would get up early in the morning to listen to him in the temple.
This passage in Luke is Good News, or bad news, depending on where we come from. For those who want to be biblically literalist, the text is bad news. It simply hasn’t happened. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away. (32-33) We have to do so much ducking and weaving, so much violence to the text, to make this work if it’s literally true! Maybe it would just be simpler to say, “No, not happening.” And maybe we could trust our instinct for “God” enough to ask if there might still be truth in what Luke (and Mark) write at this point.
The passage is also bad news for those who try and construct a sunny life which denies evil and rests in the delusion that God looks after the Christians. ... for it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. (35)
In his commentary this week, Bill Loader says
Luke has creatively reworked Mark 13 in this passage. Both he and Mark were standing in a tradition that knew about horror. For the future they could imagine such horror. Images of horror invite us to identify the reality they mirror both in retrospect and in looking to the future. The speculative and overdrawn imagery also matches reality for many people today and so invites us into solidarity.
That paragraph rewards meditation.
I was excluded and bullied quite badly as a child, and the effect of it still haunts me, despite years of work. Yet that agony, and it was agony, shines out as a fortunate life compared to the darkness dragging at people I know. Our next door neighbour would wake us as she cried out in the dark, reliving her wartime childhood horrors in nightmares.
When the dark trauma of gunshot wounds and massacre drags you into psychiatric care again, then you can speak of “horror.” When, like my friend, you flew with the Dam Busters, and forty per cent of your comrades died, and you live knowing your bombs drowned 1600 people in a night, or if you flew to Dresden or were on the ground there, then you know horror. Tiananmen Square, Srebrenica, Auschwitz, Cambodia, Myall Creek, the Boer War where the English invented the concentration camp, Abu Ghraib...
Luke is writing of our times and our doing.
From Wikipedia: Emily Hobhouse tells the story of the young Lizzie van Zyl who died in the Bloemfontein concentration camp: She was a frail, weak little child in desperate need of good care. Yet, because her mother was one of the "undesirables" due to the fact that her father neither surrendered nor betrayed his people, Lizzie was placed on the lowest rations and so perished with hunger that, after a month in the camp, she was transferred to the new small hospital. Here she was treated harshly. The English disposed doctor and his nurses did not understand her language and, as she could not speak English, labeled her an idiot although she was mentally fit and normal. One day she dejectedly started calling for her mother, when a Mrs Botha walked over to her to console her. She was just telling the child that she would soon see her mother again, when she was brusquely interrupted by one of the nurses who told her not to interfere with the child as she was a nuisance". Quote from Stemme uit die Verlede ("Voices from the Past") - a collection of sworn statements by women who were detained in the concentration camps during the Second Boer War (1899-1902).
Luke is writing of our times!
There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken.
I wish to quote John Petty at some length here.
As is typical of apocalyptic, the entire cosmos reflects the difficulty of the world. Sun, moon, and stars are all in flux, displaying "signs" of turmoil. From the cosmos, Luke sweeps onto the earth where the powers of the world are in "anguish" and "perplexity."Then Luke moves into the inner world of people by referring to hearing and breath. Hearing and breath both take place inside the body. Luke is telling us that the interior life of people will be shaken. They will hear the "sound of sea and waves"--exos, a "confused sound." This, you might say, is the soundtrack of the apocalypse.For the early Hebrews, God had tamed the primordial waters at the beginning of creation. In so doing, the Lord God had brought order out of chaos and made human life possible. These chaotic waters remained a threat, however. If God's people did not tend to the order of creation as partners with God, working with God to keep chaos within its bounds, then that established order could devolve yet again into chaos. The "sound of sea and waves" expresses this foreboding threat.People will also "breathe out life" from fear and expectation of what is coming upon the inhabited world. NRSV has "faint from fear," an acceptable translation, though apopsuxontown literally means "breathing out life." Peoples' breath will be taken away. Life being connected with breath (Gn 2:7), this is very close to saying that people will die.
We can be moved, sometimes, by the drama we see on the TV news. But mostly we are arm-chair-comfortable. The horror of 9/11 or a Bali bombing, awakens us, because we, and ours,have been attacked. Even so, we quickly forget the horror and move back into excitement and ‘being entertained mode’ as we watch video feed from smart bombs. A sort of Strangelove-ian madness overtakes us, as we lose empathy and become passive, and yet vicarious, observers. How much, in this passivity and entertainment, do we tacitly approve the evil?
For most of the world, however, the ‘foreboding threat’ of the sound of sea and waves, is simply too real, and too close. Re-quoting Bill, the “speculative and overdrawn imagery ... matches reality for many people today and so invites us into solidarity.”
If we are so lucky to visit Europe, we should go to Auschwitz. In Melbourne, we should visit The Jewish Museum. Even in Adelaide we can find stories of horror; we manufacture our own, come to that. Sombre observation and reflection is the beginning of our Christian duty.
Solidarity is not sympathy. Solidarity is to stand together in experience, and thus to know the reality of the world. I wrote elsewhere
He was telling me of his visit to one of the massacre sites of his people by early white settlers. He spoke of the feeling of violation about the place- almost with souls crying out. The old lady from Dundee spoke across the room. "If it's massacres and atrocities you're talking about, you might remember what the English did to we Scots!" And there was a melding of understanding and the making of a strange alliance.
I sometimes think the greatest effect of that night was on me!
It’s in this context that Luke writes, Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near. (28) We need to have faced the world's horror, at some level, before we claim these words. Otherwise we are holding onto a sort of cheap grace; costless and without quality when evil comes.
Discipleship is tempered and gains its mettle by being lived. The ‘promises of God’ which we may discern in our scriptures, can only be taken and incoporated into a life which is built on a foundation of discipleship. Without discipleship they are flimsy words on frail paper which will have no power when our life burns. I think I have seen real disciples, who in extremis, possessed a powerful dignity. They were living the lifting up of their head. That’s the good news.
Direct Biblical quotations in this page are taken from The New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
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