This blog offers a meditation on the Common Lectionary daily readings along with a headline from world news.
Leaving the Temple Courts, Jesus was walking away, when his disciples came up to draw his attention to the Temple buildings. 2 “Do you see all these things?” was his answer. “I tell you, not a single stone will be left here on another, which will not be thrown down,” 3 so, while Jesus was sitting on the Mount of Olives, his disciples came up to him privately and said: “Tell us when this will be, and what will be the sign of your coming, and of the close of the age.” 4 Jesus replied to them: “See that no one leads you astray; 5 for, many will take my name, and come saying ‘I am the Christ,’ and will lead many astray. 6 You will hear of wars and rumors of wars; take care not to be alarmed, for such things must occur; but the end is not yet here. 7 For ‘nation will rise against nation and kingdom against kingdom,’ and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places. 8 All this, however, will be but the beginning of the birth pangs! 9 When that time comes, they will give you up to persecution, and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. 10 And then many will fall away, and will betray one another, and hate one another. 11 Many false prophets, also, will appear and lead many astray; 12 and, owing to the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold. 13 Yet the person who endures to the end will be saved.
Jesus’ prophecy of the suffering to come is built on the pattern of his own suffering and includes some reference to the destruction of the Temple in 70CE. Both of these indicate that the hand of the author has added and altered the tradition of Jesus’ prophecy. Still, Jesus was a prophet and it’s entirely believable that he spoke words of warning for his people and his followers. There is evidence in all the gospels for the fact that Jesus prophesied the destruction of the Temple-it may indeed have been one of the accusations against him. It is also true that the Jewish people were faced repeatedly with figures who claimed to be the Messiah.
There was a theological picture at that time, of the new age of the Messiah being preceded by a time of intense suffering before the victory of divine justice. Jesus identifies that time with the prsecution of his disciples. Just as his disciples will leave him to suffer, so they too will be abandoned or betrayed. St Paul called this, “sharing the sufferings of Messiah in order to share his glory.” Phrases of this prophecy, such as “wars and rumours of war”, ” love growing cold” and “enduring to the end” have found their way into the Englaish language, but perhaps the most helpful words are those which urge believers not to be deceived by fraudulent or hysterical messiahs. These are as plentiful now as in the time of Matthew and can usually tell when the precise time of the “rapture” and the number of the last bus to it. When you see who’s on that bus, you’ll be glad you’re left behind.
This type of language is often called apocalyptic, which literally means a “revelation” of God’s secret purpose. We should note that Jesus doesn’t pretend to give any revelation. He is discerning the pattern of events whose outcome is in the future, warning of hard times and expressing confidence in God’s rescue. There is no tone of ecstatic or self-satisfied pleasure in the end; just a sober encouragement to endurance. The words and the sufferings of Jesus permit Christian believers to interpret present evils as the birth pains of God’s Rule. No suffering is useless; something is being born. Today I visited a woman who has a blood cancer which is treated by the very painful harvesting of her own stem cells. She has been very ill, and knows her illness will return, yet she is grateful for the life she has and hopes her treatment history will contribute to medical understanding of her condition; something is being born. She also trusts that if she endures to the end, she will be saved. This seems to me a good faith in which to live and die.