Signs of the time – Tuesday, 34th week in ordinary time – Luke 21:5-11
Jesus is talking to his disciples in the temple which is where he has been teaching since the beginning of chapter twenty. He is seated opposite the treasury from where he observed the widow who threw her whole life into the temple treasury. Overhearing someone speak of the grandeur of the temple and their fascination for the things seen, he predicts its destruction. The disciples like us are piqued in their curiosity. They want a time line, perhaps a chart or a time table to read these predictions down to the last second. It is in this scenario that Jesus speaks of the end times.
Our text of today forms part of a larger narrative which begins in verse five and ends at verse thirty-eight. Jerusalem has not only rejected the heeding of God’s prophets but also the teachings of Jesus; it will now will face the consequences. By the time Luke puts the finishing touches on these verses, the temple had already been a smouldering ruin which had been razed to the ground by Romans. The disaster that is forecast has already taken place in 70 AD. Looking back at the destruction of the temple, this larger text also stands as a vindication of the rejected Son of Man and also as a means to strengthen the disciples who followed him and who will face a similar rejection because of their allegiance to him.
Essentially Jesus is warning about what is to come but most importantly he wants his disciples and us to realise what it will take to prepare for what is to come. Jesus moves from discussing a specific catastrophic event to more general statements about the coming of false prophets, wars, and other calamities (21:7-12). Luke employs language and imagery that is conventional in apocalyptic literature from this period. Apocalyptic literature uses unsettling language and imagery as a means to assure the faithful that they should keep their trust in God even when facing the most challenging of circumstances. Sure enough, while describing the terrible events, Jesus tells his listeners not to be afraid (Luke 21:9). Despite its language and imagery of destruction, Luke 21:5-11 and following is ultimately a passage grounded in hope; in the hope that God remains present in the world and in one’s life even when things have gotten so bad that it feels like the world is closing in on us.