Thursday, November 10, 2016

PENTECOST XXVI (Proper 28) 2016

Destruction of the Temple - Nicholas Poussin

As Advent approaches, the Lectionary readings take on a more apocalyptic tone, with warnings about turbulent times ahead, religious persecution, and finally, the end of history in preparation for the transformation of the world. Since the Gospel passage was written after the destruction of the temple, it was written with hindsight. Luke knew that the warning was for real. Like the other evangelists, however, he places these warnings just before the passion narrative begins. So the story of persecution and suffering starts with Jesus himself. His 'followers' are just that -- people who follow in his footsteps.

Clowns of War Arguing in Hell -- Jose Orozco
As recent events amply demonstrate, modern times are no less turbulent than the days of the Roman Empire. There are plenty of 'wars and insurrections', 'nation still rises against nation', every year there are 'great earthquakes, and 'in various places famines and plagues'. Even stable and prosperous societies can become deeply divided. In the United States and Europe followers of Christ are more likely to be held in contempt than persecuted, but in the wider world Christians are more often  the victims of violence and persecution than the adherents of any other religion. So the events predicted in the Gospel are easy to believe. But what of the spectacular end to which all these trials were supposed to be a prelude? Don't we know now that these things are neither 'dreadful portents' nor 'great signs', but simply recurrent, disturbing and lamentable features of life on earth?

In this same passage Jesus says 'Beware that you are not led astray' by people who say 'The time is near!' 'Do not go after them', he tells us, because 'the end will not follow immediately.' 'I am about to create new heavens and a new earth', God declares through the prophet Isaiah in the Old Testament lesson. But we need to view this promise through the perspective of eternity. Whether we like it or not, God's time is not our time. 'In your sight a thousand years are as the passing of one day', Psalm 90 says. The task of true disciples is not to second guess God, but to say, in the face of everything, 'Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the LORD GOD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation'. In this spirit, the challenge is to fix their gaze firmly on the Christ of the Cross who has gone there before them.


  1. Gordon
    Many thanks for your insightful, dependable, provocative & thoughtful reflections on Scripture and Christian theology!

    1. Thank you for these very generous remarks, Susan. Some weeks, when not too many people read them, I wonder if it's time well spent, but when I get comment like yours I know that just one or two appreciative readers is enough!