Summary: Year C. twenty-fourth Sunday after Pentecost Luke 21: 5-19, November 18, 2001 Heavenly Father thank you for giving us signs to find your hidden presence. Amen. Title: “What are the meanings of signs?”
Heavenly Father thank you for giving us signs to find your hidden presence. Amen.
Title: “What are the meanings of signs?”
In all three Synoptic gospels, just before the passion narrative, there is a “sermon” on the “last things,” called by some “Jesus’ eschatological discourse” and by others “Jesus’ apocalyptic discourse.” None of the three terms-discourse, eschatological or apocalyptic- is entirely accurate or helpful. The verses in question are not a continuous sermon but a collection of isolated sayings of Jesus put together to summarize his teaching on the end of time. Having said that, one might think that “eschatological” which is defined as, the branch of theology that is concerned with the end of the world or of humankind. A belief or a doctrine concerning the ultimate or final things, such as death, the destiny of humanity, the Second Coming, or the Last Judgment,” would be appropriate. It is not, for Jesus mixed his teaching on the “end of time” or the “end time” with other “ends, “timely ends,” the end of one’s personal time in this world, the end of “the world of meaning” for the Jews, that is, Jerusalem and the Temple, even the end of our own personal worlds of meaning encountered in disasters- cosmic, natural, political, social and personal. While it is true that Jesus used familiar “apocalyptic” imagery- the falling of stars from the sky, eclipses of sun and moon, political upheavals, wars, pestilence, famine, hurricanes and floods- he used them to illustrate, dramatize, emphasize his more profound points than to describe actual occurrences. Such occurrences, he pointed out, happen all the time, in every age. They are not necessarily “signs” of the End. They are signs of evil. Always present on earth, evil flares up at times and becomes painfully and undeniably obvious. Such as what happen on September 11th to the World Trade center.
Luke copied some of what he says here straight from Mark 13:8-11 (quickview) . However, he depends on Mark for more than that. To Mark he adds his own peculiar material, called “L” for Luke. He wants to clarify what Mark has said in the light of two related matters: First, the prophecy that Jerusalem would be destroyed has been fulfilled, Luke writes well after 70AD; and second, the End has not yet come and does not look like its coming any time soon, in earth years. So, he separates, more than Mark or Matthew, the end of Jerusalem from the End Time. It is advisable to refrain from using the term “end of the world” here, for Luke does not use it or really have it in mind. “End Result,” the final state of affairs, might be a better term. In fact, neither Luke nor Mark use the term “Parousia,” which means second coming, for the coming of the Son of Man. Only Matthew does. Luke wants to make a different point.
Jerusalem represented to a Jew his or her whole “world,” his or her whole world of meaning. All the meaning of life was wrapped up in what Jerusalem symbolized. For that city to come to a physical end meant the collapse of their world, wherever they might physically live. Jesus predicted that it would end and it did. Luke wants to say to “everyone who lives on the face of the earth” (21:35) that their world and world of meaning will come to a similar end. Thus, all must prepare for the inevitable, sudden and surprising though it may be. The fulfilled prophecy of the end of Jerusalem serves to bolster the fulfillment of the as yet unfulfilled prophecy of the end of everybody’s world, everybody’s center of meaning and life. The end of Jerusalem was a foreshadowing, a precursor, a harbinger of the big End at the end for all. It was a prime and typical example of what Jesus means when he speaks of the last things, the end, the End Time, the day of judgment, the day(s) of the Son of Man, Notice he does not say the end of all. There is really no clear indication that the physical world, God’s creation, this universe will ever stop existing, at least, in some form. What the Bible and, especially, Jesus indicate is that our world, as we know it, the meaning this world holds for us, will end and where we are when that happens is determinative of where we begin in eternity. Thus this world, especially world of meaning, this time, our time on this planet, is our opportunity to make decisions about who is first in our lives and to live according to that decision, so that the “end” will find us ready to begin.