Lectionary Readings for Nov. 17: Malachi 4:1-2a, Ps 98, 2 Thess. 3:6-13, Luke 21:5-19
It's funny how people often seem to interpret the times as getting worse. I know I do it too. For example; I think that when I was growing up, I did a lot more playing outside, had more face to face interaction with my family and friends, and was responsible for more work than most children today. I worry about what the hours of video games, the "virtual" communication of social media, and the delayed onset of adult responsibilities is doing to society. Likely these are true observations, and my worry has some justification, but my parents could have said the same things if they compared their growing up to mine. (And I think my generation largely turned out okay!)
It's natural for us to worry and wonder about the next generations and their directions, but why is it that we get stuck in negatives? When I look at my own children, I certainly see some issues with the world they are growing in, but if I think about it, I see amazing positives as well. They are much more aware of the world and issues than I was at their age. They interact with a greater variety of cultures and different people than I ever did and they do it naturally. They learn at a higher level at school we used to. They are better at articulating their faith in well-reasoned ways than I was. They engage questions well and own their beliefs instead of just memorizing the "right" responses. They handle grey areas better than I did at their age.
The Luke passage is apocalyptic. Jesus predicts the destruction of the temple, a story which is also in Matt. 24:3-14, and Mark 13: 3-13. It isn't an easy piece to read, it can cause anxiety, it can cause us to focus on some very real negatives. There are, however, positives here as well. Verse 9 says that when we hear of wars we should not be terrified...the end will not follow immediately. There is time. And when God's people are persecuted for their faith, this results in a positive. Verse 13 says this is an opportunity to testify. Verse 14 gives assurance that the persecuted will be given the right words, they will have the support they need. Testimony changes people, it can change situations. Then, even when the whole world, including friends and family, does not follow God, endurance will result in a saved soul and everlasting life.
So the positives; there is time. There is opportunity for testimony. There is support. And, when all else fails, God saves. God is still there for us.
Another positive is that new good things can grow, even out of destruction. The destruction of Jerusalem (verses 20-24) symbolizes the "time of the Gentiles". The followers of Jesus are scattered, which spreads the gospel. The message now goes out in a wide way, to the non-Jewish world. (Remember also, that Luke wrote this gospel 10-20 years after the fall of Jerusalem and the temple. There is some hindsight here. In Acts 28:28 he writes: Let it be known to you then that his salvation of God has been sent to the Gentiles; they will listen.")
(Verse 18 is a positive too, it says not a hair on your head will perish. I didn't include this one, because it's a bit difficult to figure out. If it is speaking in a spiritual sense, talking about everlasting life, it works. If it's talking about a purely physical hurt, a this world thing, it's harder to understand. The disciples hearing this were certainly not exempt from physical persecution and harm. Fred Craddock, a New Testament scholar, discusses this problem in his commentary on Luke. He says; "In any case, faithfulness and endurance under threat, under arrest, and under penalty of death are the qualities of disciples during this time of witnessing . Disciples are not exempt from suffering...")