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Reflections on the Gospel, Week before November 17, 2013

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Luke 21:5-19

5When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 6“As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.” 7They asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?” 8And he said, “Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, ‘I am he!’ and, ‘The time is near!’ Do not go after them. 9“When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” 10Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. 12“But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name. 13This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; 15for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17You will be hated by all because of my name. 18But not a hair of your head will perish. 19By your endurance you will gain your souls.

What I am Learning:

When I was in high school, I went to a basketball game in the King Dome. My brother bought the tickets and took me to the game. He told me that the King Dome was not a very good place to watch basketball. This was true, and even more true for me because I spent about as much time looking at the structure as I spent watching the game. That building was HUGE!

Being from a small town with no stoplight and no building (except the grain elevator) over two stories I could not get over how big that thing was. As he drove me to and from the game, I also marveled at the bridges, roads and buildings in Seattle. It is easy for us to think that the way things are, is the way it must be. It is easy for us to look at the status quo and think that it will always be this way.

It is easy for us to be daunted by the forces that keep things as they are, that enforce the status quo.

In this passage, Jesus tries to help his disciples to realize that no matter how powerful the status quo is at the moment, that other forces seek to change it. Nations will fight against nations and will change things. Time will take its toll on the roads, bridges and even the King Dome. The King Dome was reduced to rubble, with 5,905 holes and 4,700 pounds of explosive. No person could take down the King Dome with one hammer blow, but it could be destroyed with one drill at a time, and one explosive placed at a time.

I wonder if those working the drills ever felt overwhelmed?

Jesus is inviting his disciples to see that what seems indestructible, what seems impossible, what seems inevitable are not so. That God is bringing a new reign to the earth – one of equity for all people. And so we are invited to recognize how daunted we are by all that is wrong with the world, and to see that our little effort to drill holes in the way things are a part of God’s larger plan to bring the reign of domination down.

When I was young, the church taught me that to be successful as a Christian meant not to cause controversy, that being nice was the goal of a disciple of Jesus. I am learning that deep love is Jesus’ way, but that deep love may call us into conflict with those captivated by domination.

We become captivated, says Douglas John Hall, when we buy into

  • the “official optimism” of our time – that things will get better and better on their own
  • the often unconscious despair that nothing can be done

Jesus invites us to recognize the way that optimism and despair work on us and in us to keep us inert and numb.

I am still inert and numb – I confess this.

But I am beginning to recognize the power Christ has called me to as a coworker with him in the reign of God. I am beginning to feel the pulse of my humanity and the pain of the world. This may mean that I will be drawn in to conflict, or more rightly to begin to unmask the injustice and conflict that exists already.

When that happens, Jesus reminds us that the Spirit will give us words and a sense of peace in the hope for a new way to live, a new kingdom of God. God’s way of mutuality is already among us and it is changing the world the way salt changes food, leaven changes dough, the way seed transforms the earth, the way light shines in the darkness.

So drill away, knowing that many more than 5905 other people are drilling with you.

In this Gospel, Luke is trying to remind his community, that although the Temple had been destroyed, that their hope had not been destroyed. That Jesus had foreseen and understood the conflicts that they were experiencing and that despite the challenges, hope was still alive. Jesus himself, in the gospel of Luke, took part in that conflict and even though he died, he didn’t stay that way. The kingdom of God was not just a possibility, not just an option. It was and is inevitable. The Reign of God is inevitable and so we are invited to live in the hope of its coming – not only in the future but in our lives.