This blog follows the daily bible readings of the Catholic Church
Reading 1, Revelation 18:1-2, 21-23
1 After this, I saw another angel come down from heaven, with great authority given to him; the earth shone with his glory. 2 At the top of his voice he shouted, ‘Babylon has fallen, Babylon the Great has fallen, and has become the haunt of devils and a lodging for every foul spirit and dirty, loathsome bird. 21 Then a powerful angel picked up a boulder like a great millstone, and as he hurled it into the sea, he said, ‘That is how the great city of Babylon is going to be hurled down, never to be seen again.
22 Never again in you will be heard the song of harpists and minstrels, the music of flute and trumpet; never again will craftsmen of every skill be found in you or the sound of the handmill be heard;
23 never again will shine the light of the lamp in you, never again will be heard in you the voices of bridegroom and bride. Your traders were the princes of the earth, all the nations were led astray by your sorcery.
1 After this I heard what seemed to be the great sound of a huge crowd in heaven, singing, ‘Alleluia! Salvation and glory and power to our God! 2 He judges fairly, he punishes justly, and he has condemned the great prostitute who corrupted the earth with her prostitution; he has avenged the blood of his servants which she shed.’
3 And again they sang, ‘Alleluia! The smoke of her will rise for ever and ever.’
9 The angel said, ‘Write this, “Blessed are those who are invited to the wedding feast of the Lamb,” ‘ and he added, ‘These words of God are true.’
This is a prophecy of the end of the Roman Empire. Theses are a selection of verses (a bad habit of the Catholic Lectionary), rather than a full text. It is clear that “Babylon” is condemned as much for its commercial as for its military power. Indeed it is the power to sell itself and to buy the lives of people that most engages the prophet. It is the idolatrous power of the great city which challenges God and leads to its destruction.
I won’t resist the temptation to apply this prophecy to the capitalist system itself, which sells itself in its every artefact and buys the souls of men and women and children whom it enslaves to its materialism. Yes, decent societies temper its effects by taxation and the provision of services for all, but these are fragile gains, easily destroyed when the greed that fuels the system over-reaches itself and brings about recession. Even then, especially then, the rich suffer less than the poor, and all who live in developed economies suffer less than those less developed whose resources and labour are exploited without mercy. These are facts which in the past were only publicised by now discredited communist states. The fact that communism was tyrannous, however, does not alter the facts about capitalism.
When we see the shambles of the Irish economy brought about by excessive greed and enslavement to capitalist propaganda, we might be tempted to sing about the smoke going up forever, if we did not see that here people are destroyed but the system continues unchecked and bolstered by its spectacular failure. In our time Babylon still rules. We have to resist it, quietly, peacefully, imaginatively, in the name of Christ, believing that its judgment will come.
Gospel, Luke 21:20-28
20 ‘When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then you must realise that it will soon be laid desolate. 21 Then those in Judaea must escape to the mountains, those inside the city must leave it, and those in country districts must not take refuge in it. 22 For this is the time of retribution when all that scripture says must be fulfilled.
23 Alas for those with child, or with babies at the breast, when those days come!
24 ‘For great misery will descend on the land and retribution on this people. They will fall by the edge of the sword and be led captive to every gentile country; and Jerusalem will be trampled down by the gentiles until their time is complete. 25 ‘There will be signs in the sun and moon and stars; on earth nations in agony, bewildered by the turmoil of the ocean and its waves; 26 men fainting away with terror and fear at what menaces the world, for the powers of heaven will be shaken.
27 And then they will see the Son of man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. 28 When these things begin to take place, stand erect, hold your heads high, because your liberation is near at hand.’
Luke depicts Jesus prophesying the end of Jewish rule in its own land. Probably by the time he wrote his gospel, Jerusalem had been destroyed by Roman armies and its population scattered. Unlike the prophecy of the fall of Babylon which has just a hint of glee, this is a sorrowful prediction. It involves the shaking of the powers of heaven, that is, of the spiritual representatives of earthly powers, in this case of the divine gift of the Promised Land. Luke and perhaps Jesus too felt that such a terrifying change in the world meant that the time of liberation, the time of the Son of Man (Jesus and his people), was at hand. Luke may have believed that the success of the Gentile mission of the church was this liberation. We may think we’re still waiting for it, or that it’s all a first century pipe-dream anyway. The interpretation of such prophecies is an important theological task for the church, to help us resist the worldly powers of our time.