XXIV Pentecost, Year C
Is 65:17-25 or * Mal 4:1-2a
Is 12(resp) * Ps 98
2 Thes 3:6-13
For I am about to create new heavens and a new earth; the former things shall not be remembered or come to mind. But be glad and rejoice forever in what I am creating; for I am about to create Jerusalem as a joy, and its people as a delight. I will rejoice in Jerusalem, and delight in my people; no more shall the sound of weeping be heard in it, or the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant that lives but a few days, or an old person who does not live out a lifetime; for one who dies at a hundred years will be considered a youth, and one who falls short of a hundred will be considered accursed. They shall build houses and inhabit them; they shall plant vineyards and eat their fruit. They shall not build and another inhabit; they shall not plant and another eat; for like the days of a tree shall the days of my people be, and my chosen shall long enjoy the work of their hands. They shall not labor in vain, or bear children for calamity; for they shall be offspring blessed by the LORD– and their descendants as well. Before they call I will answer, while they are yet speaking I will hear. The wolf and the lamb shall feed together, the lion shall eat straw like the ox; but the serpent–its food shall be dust! They shall not hurt or destroy on all my holy mountain, says the LORD.
You will say in that day: I will give thanks to you, O LORD, for though you were angry with me, your anger turned away, and you comforted me. Surely God is my salvation; I will trust, and will not be afraid, for the LORD GOD is my strength and my might; he has become my salvation. With joy you will draw water from the wells of salvation. And you will say in that day: Give thanks to the LORD, call on his name; make known his deeds among the nations; proclaim that his name is exalted. Sing praises to the LORD, for he has done gloriously; let this be known in all the earth. Shout aloud and sing for joy, O royal Zion, for great in your midst is the Holy One of Israel.
* (Malachi 4:1-2a)
See, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings.
(2 Thessalonians 3:6-13)
Now we command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labor we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies,
not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right.
When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, "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." They asked him, "Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?" And 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. "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." Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven. "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. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.
New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Today’s reading is less in the way of exegesis or hermeneutics but more of a personal reflection.
Let’s talk terror today. There was a time when the United States knew about terrorism as a non-domestic phenomenon. There was a time we were afraid of nuclear missiles screaming down upon our heads but bombings and attempts to stop economies happened elsewhere. But not here.
Since then, we too have been caught in the fear that now grips the entire planet, there is not a country that is not exposed to terror. We hear that it is not a matter of “if” but “when.” And we spend incredible sums of money to try and figure out when. We call that intelligence. The disciples were no different, they wanted to know when too. They knew about the birth pangs of the Messiah, it was a stock piece of the program of apocalyptic. They wanted to know when so they could have a chance to escape. Jesus gives them a ‘talk.’
In mimetic theory ‘Apocalyptic is an anthropological category’ (Tony Bartlett). That is, apocalyptic is a description of the human condition under the sway of the victimage mechanism. Apocalyptic describes the end results of our corporate human bondage to the evil of violent mimesis. Apocalyptic is about the judgement of our systems, our institutions, our structures. Apocalyptic, at least in the teaching of Jesus, is the triumph of the Love of God over all evil.
So what is Jesus talking about? He is talking about the last five minutes of the movie. He’s describing a time of both globalization and planetary anomalies. And he could very well be describing the present. If you read the papers you know that the great nuclear race is back on again. There is trouble afoot. And whether you accept the science behind global warming or not, you can’t help but be aware of the vast changes we humans have made to the earth’s ecosystems these past two hundred years, especially this past fifty. Its ‘The Day After Tomorrow’ meets ‘The Sum of All Fears.’
Nowhere but nowhere is God the source of any of this. It all stems from the human. It is the time of the self-immolation of the human. It is the time of our self-destruction. Ask the climatologists what their projections are for the next twenty years. Read the Pentagon report on the environment where climate change is viewed as a threat to national security (in Fortune magazine Jan. 2004). How much can countries withstand before they fall apart? How close are the “Powers and Principalities of his age” to reaching their goals and how desperate will they become before the end?
To be sure, it is easy to read this discourse in the light of the events in Jerusalem in the late 60’s C.E. It’s just as easy to wonder if there isn’t some consonance with what is reported on the news. The collapse of sacrificial systems, the failure of the principles that prop up the victimage mechanism (prohibition, ritual, myth), and the exponential ratcheting up of the consequences are all signs of what can only be described in apocalyptic terms.
Perhaps people will survive all this all over the world. But if they do, try and imagine what ‘‘the world’’ will be like for them. Imagine ‘Mad Max’ meets ‘Dawn of the Dead.’ It’s just not pretty. But neither is our text for today. There is coming a time when a generation of humanity will carry the burden of our corporate sins. Who is to say we will not be the ones? Or our children or grandchildren?
Finally, there will be no rapture because there is no such thing as a rapture. The followers of Jesus will go through hell during this time, along with everyone else on the planet. Not very comforting but then who said the facts about the war in Iraq, nuclear ambitions in the Mid-East and Asia, the growing phenomenon of terror, increasing social conflicts and violence, increasing poverty, genocide in the Sudan, bombings all over the place, or AIDS are comforting? Today we are called to confront the lifestyles we lead that produce such realities. And wait for the coming Son of Man.
Apocalyptic is a perspective we can take on our world. It is a category that seems to encompass all known terrors happening at once. Apocalyptic is honest literature. It doesn’t paint a rosy picture of the end. The gross amount of violence and violation that takes place in apocalyptic literature is stunning. Whatever occurs after the end, usually a last judgement, would be good, but the end itself? Well you would not want to be of that generation.
Year C begins and ends in apocalyptic, Year A will open with it. If apocalyptic is used poorly, it will manifest the need for scapegoats, thus revealing itself as Christian myth. The Left Behind series is a prime example of such thinking, this is a literature full of ‘good violence’ and ultimate scapegoats (people who end up in the hands of a retributive god). Their misrepresentation of the end should not keep us from reading the signs of the times. We might acknowledge that the time may be short but somebody had better tell rapture believers that when the final breakdown of human culture occurs and we humans set ourselves on a one way path to annihilation that the ABBA of Jesus will be with us all to the end.
The myth of human progress has taken many forms. Communist, utopian, Socialist, Democratic, capitalist. There are many dreams, there are many dreamers. The early Christians were not such dreamers. The early Christians experienced being charged with atheism. Why? Because they denied the powers of the gods of the state, it was as though the gods didn’t exist for the early Christians and everybody everywhere believed in gods. Who were these people for whom there appeared to be no earthly or heavenly authority? And who was this common criminal they were following, a Jew at that?
Apocalyptic as an anthropological category means that we can ‘read ourselves’ from the text. It plays to the ‘text reading us’ side of the hermeneutic. Every generation ought to wonder if they are in the last act. Hate and death and war won’t last forever but it will go out with a big bang! Are we ready?
Luke’s version of ‘the little apocalypse’ was surely meant to be interpreted in the light of what had only recently occurred in Jerusalem. The destruction of the Temple was to the ancient Jews and Christians what 9/11 is for us today. It was an apocalyptic event. It meant something. If Theissen is correct and the little apocalypse took shape in the Jerusalem church in the 40’s it is understandable that it would be incorporated as a piece of fulfilled prophecy in the gospel narrative post 70 C.E.
Apocalyptic, as an “anthropological category” served one function up until the time of Jesus. In every other manifestation of apocalyptic, the violence experienced by the community demands a violent response, but the community transfers their violence onto God. It is a step toward non-violence, as it moves violence a step away from us, but it is inadequate. As we can see in the Qumran scroll “The War of the Sons of Light Against the Sons of Darkness,” as soon as we allow God to bear our violence for us, we have a God who sanctifies our own, we make ourselves warrior reflections of our own projected violence. We make up holy armies to fight the wars of our created God.
Jesus does not deny the reality of the dissolution of human culture that apocalyptic predicts. He does, however, separate it from God as a source, or a violent solution. He offers himself as sacrifice to the victimage mechanisms that will also produce the violent climax, thereby stripping them of their hiddenness and showing us how to avoid becoming entangled in them.
We preach a Gospel that offers a better hope than the one where God saves us from our violence by becoming violent for us. We preach a Gospel wherein God defeats violence by suffering our violence, defeats death by suffering our death, defeats Sin by becoming Sin for us. There is no longer any need to respond to terror with terror, because there is nothing of which to be terrified. We no longer need to return violence for violence, because violence no longer has the power to bring its faux peace.
We preach a Gospel that is more confident in God’s solution because it is not just a larger version of ours.