"But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people. And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.
"And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars, and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring, men's hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near."
- Luke 21:20-28
At this point in Luke's gospel, Jesus is in Jerusalem, and it is Passion Week. He has entered the city in His Triumphal Entry, and wept over the city, lamenting its lack of peace. He has cleansed the temple, and already run into confrontations with the leadership, as they asked Him, "Who is he who gave You this authority?". He told a parable against them, warning them of the times of the Gentiles and of Judgement. The leadership has tested Him regarding payment of taxes to the Romans, and life in the Resurrection. He has spoken against the hypocrisy of the scribes and tested them, asking "How can they say that the Christ is the Son of David?" He pointed out the poor widow, who gave all she had to the treasury, saying of her, "Truly I say to you that this poor widow has put in more than all; for all these out of their abundance have put in offerings for God, but she out of her poverty put in all the livelihood that she had." On Saturday, we read that as some spoke of the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and donations, He said, "These things which you see -- the days will come in which not one stone shall be left upon another that shall not be thrown down." So they asked Him, saying, "Teacher, but when will these things be? And what sign will there be when these things are about to take place?" And He said: "Take heed that you not be deceived. For many will come in My name, saying, 'I am He,' and 'The time has drawn near.' Therefore do not go after them. But when you hear of wars and commotions, do not be terrified, for these things must come to pass first, but the end will not come immediately." Then He said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. And there will be great earthquakes in various places, and famines and pestilences, and there will be fearful sights and great signs from heaven. But before all these things, they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons. You will be brought before kings and rulers for My name's sake. But it will turn out for you as an occasion for testimony. Therefore settle it in your hearts not to meditate beforehand or what you will answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom which all your adversaries will not be able to contradict or resist. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. And you will be hated by all for My name's sake. But not a hair of your head shall be lost. By your patience possess your souls."
"But when you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation is near. Then let those who are in Judea flee to the mountains, let those who are in the midst of her depart, and let not those who are in the country enter her. For these are the days of vengeance, that all things which are written may be fulfilled. But woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing babies in those days! For there will be great distress in the land and wrath upon this people. And they will fall by the edge of the sword, and be led away captive into all nations. And Jerusalem will be trampled by Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled." Jesus speaks here directly of the Siege of Jerusalem. My study bible notes, "A prediction of the siege and capture of Jerusalem by Titus, son of the emperor Vespasian, in A.D. 70. Damage included the total destruction of the temple." The "times of the Gentiles" seems to be the initiation of the time period in which we now live. We note something remarkable that is important to us: this time is not eternal. It will be "fulfilled." Because of His warnings, the early Church survived, leaving the city to escape the worst of the destruction.
"And there will be signs in the sun, in the moon, and in the stars, and on the earth distress of nations, with perplexity, the sea and the waves roaring, men's hearts failing them from fear and the expectation of those things which are coming on the earth, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. Then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. Now when these things begin to happen, look up and lift up your heads, because your redemption draws near." In these verses we shift to the end of the age and the "fulfillment of the times of the Gentiles." Jesus speaks of His return. My study bible says that "cosmic as well as historical upheavals will precede the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. The expectation of Christ's return sums up the Christian hope and constitutes an important doctrine of the Church."
It's interesting to consider the return of Christ in the light of what He has to say about the different "ages" or "generations" (in upcoming verses in tomorrow's reading). We get a sense from the Gospels of the nature of time as we know it and understand it. This is a sense in which modern science, especially physics and theoretical physics, confirms what Christians have understood from Scripture. Time is something we experience in a particular way, and we understand it through our experience. But it is a God-created reality within which we live, and one in which we are to understand our own nature as finite in this sense that our notion of time will end. When the "times of the Gentiles are fulfilled" it is the time of the initiation of the Kingdom and of His return. Jesus has also spoken about life in the Resurrection in recent readings, when He addressed a question about marriage from the Sadducees. The important thing that we learned -- and it is truly a transcendent statement, giving us understanding of a cosmic significance -- from Jesus' reply is that "He is not the God of the dead but of the living, for all live to Him." In this place at the end of what we know as time, we live and so do those who have gone before us; there is a communion of saints, and this is the nature of what is inaugurated at His return. In the initiation of this time that is the end of our understanding of time, Jesus says, "the powers of the heavens will be shaken." Perhaps we may speculate that time, which twentieth century scientists have called the fourth dimension within which we are bound in our lives, will be one of the "powers of the heavens" that will be shaken in the inauguration of this new time, the eternal time of the Kingdom, in which all live to Him. At any rate, I am not a scientist, and perhaps I speak generally about things I do not unfortunately completely understand. But it's important that we note that while popular presentation would have us believe that religion and science don't mix, I would beg to disagree, and I point to the Church Fathers' understanding about this "temporal" or "temporary" nature of time and its shift in order to point out that the Gospels give us insights which modern theoretical physics would tend to bear out. We can speculate all we would like, and this is quite interesting, but as we read on we will see the nature of Christ's emphasis despite His predictions. As in Saturday's reading, His emphasis is on the choices we make, our constant need for alertness and preparation for His return in the here and now -- as indeed it has remained true through twenty centuries since His Incarnation that Judgment, or Resurrection will happen for all of us. And so, in reality, every moment counts, to each moment we are to live as if He returns imminently, "like a thief in the night." Jesus has promised that His return will be "at an hour you do not expect." Time, in this respect, created for us in our nature, gives us opportunity: for choices, for repentance, for thinking about who we are in relatedness to God, for moving forward on that journey to Christ, to the place in which we all live to Him. St. Athanasius, among other Church Fathers, has expressed the thought that, "God became man so that man might become a god." In other words -- and it is important that we are talking about the created nature of time in which we live -- we return to the Beginning, to Genesis and read that we are to grow in God's likeness. We are created "in the image and likeness of God." Created in God's image, time as we understand it gives us constant opportunity to grow in that likeness, to cooperate with grace, to say "yes" to the Spirit, to our baptism. How do we take advantage of each moment? Can we consider its importance as He would have us do? On Saturday, Jesus spoke of the overwhelming preciousness of our souls. Each moment must be valued for what it truly is: a gift.