The end of the world; when will it happen? – 33rd Sunday in ordinary time– Luke 21:5-19
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 us about what is to come but most importantly he wants 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.
Every generation since the cross has thought that theirs was the last generation and none of them were right. Worry and doubt distract us from the important job of spreading the gospel message. This is the sum and substance of what Jesus wants to teach us today
Sure enough, while describing the terrible events, Jesus tells his listeners not to be afraid (Luke 21:9).
The disciples were to be brought before kings and rulers who would question them about their faith in Jesus. In the immediate context, the Jews would disown and betray them to the Romans. The actual word here, “hand over” (verse 12) is the same Greek word used to describe Judas’ betrayal of Jesus as well as the handing over of Jesus to Pilate. This act on the part of the Jews was in fact a betrayal of a fellow Israelite to a foreigner, something that was forbidden in Jewish law.
Yet the disciple was to bear witness, a witness that would bring about tension and separation from parents and family, friends and relations, and some of them would even be put to death. So Jesus gave them practical advice to deal with adversity for this adversity was to be an opportunity to share the Good News and to testify to Jesus (21:13). Just as God gave Moses and other prophets the capacity to speak to and confront their doubters and opponents ( Exodus 6:28-7:13; Jeremiah 1:6-10), Jesus himself will provide strength and wisdom for such testimony (Luke 21:15). Using a proverb that signifies divine protection, Jesus tells them that not a hair on their head will perish.
Despite its language and imagery of destruction, Luke 21:5-19 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.
It’s been noted that when circumstances which may be really hard befall people, they tend to want to avoid it. The truth is that we waste more energy trying to avoid it rather than preparing for it. Jesus helps counter that. Talk of the end times is the kind of news we may want to avoid. But what is to come will come and if we listen we will understand that Jesus isn’t just giving us information he is providing words of preparation.
As disciples, we may be anxious to know what signs should we look out for when the end times comes but the timing of such an event is God’s secret! We have seen many of the signs written in this piece of scripture happen already in the twenty first century. Jesus warns about following gurus; those who claim to know when the end is coming. It is easy in times of distress or when people are terrified to look for someone to show the way but Jesus is the way and the truth and the life.
-Fr Warner D’souza
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