Summary: Jesus' call to us, in the face of wars and rumours of war, is to stay with it until the end - to continue on as servants.
This part of Luke’s gospel is a type of writing - a genre - called apocalyptic. Apocalyptic literature is found throughout the Bible - the most sustained example being the book we call ‘Revelation’. This type of writing focuses on the coming of God’s kingdom, or rule, in conjunction with the end of times. It is a theme that runs through the Gospels, and one that some Christians and some Christian groups find overwhelmingly attractive. It seems to provide a basis for their energy and enthusiasm.
Today’s Gospel is really about two things ‘endings’. Most of the passage is about the fall of the Jerusalem Temple. That material is in verses 5 to 9, and 12 to 24. Jesus explains the immediate future to his followers. The ceremonial background to their lives - the Temple which is so beautiful and looks so permanent, will soon be destroyed, and they will be persecuted. Verses 10 and 11 seem to speak about the end times. But the bulk of the material in this reading is actually about what it means to be Jesus’ servant in the immediate future.
Human beings are always tempted to look to the future, to worry about it, to make it into something more than it really is. We have this social tendency to decide that we need to live for the future, instead of living here and now. So we build ourselves lives that seek to secure our futures, buying into materialist ideas of what it means to have security. We buy new and more exciting houses, cars, insurance policies and superannuation plans because we want to be able to construct a future. The reality is, as Jesus clearly and consistently teaches - you don’t know what the future is going to be like, and you don’t quite get the cost of that if you seek to live as Jesus’ disciple.
This reading should actually be deeply frightening and confronting. Not because of the uncertainty about the future, but because of the cost of being Jesus disciple. If we think that this is going to be a simple, predictable, easy and fulfilling journey, we’re going to be shocked out of our tiny minds. Because Jesus is telling us there is going to be a dreadful cost to being his disciple. For some it is going to cost their freedom and their lives. For some it will be reputation, status and a place in society. For all of us it at least means a radical choice between Jesus and the world.
Jesus is clear about the cost of following him - the cost is everything. But we’re not to despair or worry, because the flip side of the cost is that we, who follow Jesus and have chosen to take refuge in him, are intimately known, loved, cherished and preserved. Those things that don’t matter - the meaningless trappings of our lives - may be lost, but who we are in Jesus will never be lost, because it is preserved in a place far safer than the safest place we can imagine.
Ultimately, the Temple was destroyed, and Jesus prophecy came true. Many were persecuted, betrayed, killed, or had their lives thrown into a sort of turmoil we can scarcely imagine. And this happened because those Christians chose Jesus above everything else. They were serious about it. No social religion with nice clothes, tidy liturgy and few demands. They took their faith seriously, and walked as disciples and servants. Jesus call to us is the same.
We’re faced with the choice to follow Jesus, nor not to. Following Jesus has tremendous costs. At the very least, in the world we live in it means being profoundly countercultural. It means living simple inconspicuous lives, of devoting ourselves to serving the poor, the broken and the despised. It means preferring prayer to TV, preferring poverty to material goods. It means making Jesus the centre of all of our relationships. It means recognising that to be a follower of Jesus is to love everyone, regardless of how we feel about them. We are called to choose to love. To choose to serve, and to choose to keep going on as servants, staying with it till the end.
One really important thing to reflect on is why we do this. If we do it because we’re frightened, and want some sort of religious insurance policy, then we’re like the householder who built on sand. The foundations of that sort of trust won’t sustain the battles of life. It might not be a bad place to start, but ultimately we need to be choosing to be servants because we love Jesus and are in a vital, life-giving relationship with him. Jesus has to be, for us, a real presence in our lives, the centre of our lives. It is only out of that sort of relationship that we can keep going on as servants, in the face of the destruction of our temples, whatever idols they may be.