Saturday, June 20, 2009

Then they will see "the Son of Man coming in a cloud"

‘When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those inside the city must leave it, and those out in the country must not enter it; for these are days of vengeance, as a fulfilment of all that is written. Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress on the earth and wrath against this people; they will fall by the edge of the sword and be taken away as captives among all nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

‘There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, 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 take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’

- Luke 21:20-28

As we continue with this discourse, begun in yesterday's passage, we are once again encountering a discussion that intermingles the destruction of the temple (and indeed, of Jerusalem itself, and the scattering of the people of Israel) with the time of the end of the age, and the return of the Son of Man. It's of great significance that these two events are linked in Jesus' dialogue with the people, because the two events must be tied up in the minds of the people due to prophecy - especially that of the desolation of the temple. As we wrote yesterday, this destruction of the temple predicted here by Jesus was to occur in 70 A.D. The temple was fully destroyed; however, I read in commentary that those members of the early church at Jerusalem survived essentially due to this prophecy. They were able to leave Jerusalem before this great tumult and cataclysmic event due to this prediction and their faith in it. Certainly we can see the history of Israel and the Jewish people reflected in this prophecy 2,000 years later. I, for one, wonder what it means or if it is spiritually significant that there is now a state of Israel once again in the world - but in the spirit of respect for Christ's words in yesterday's reading about such speculation, I leave that discussion to others.

However, I would like to make a little digression about notions of "the age" and what it means to be in a certain "age." Jesus here denotes - as far as I can see - three significant periods of time, significant "ages." The first concerns the destruction of the temple and its desolation (as prophesied in the Book of Daniel). Jesus calls this the "fulfillment of all that has been written." This phrase denotes a marking of one particular period of time, an age, a marker of events of tremendous significance, a fulfillment of a particular time.

Then Jesus comments on the time that is to follow, as he uses the phrase "until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled." I suppose we are to understand this to link to his statements about the church and the cornerstone: having been rejected by Israel, it will go to the Gentiles. But I cannot be sure of the interpretation of this statement. At any rate, it is a significant statement of a marker of time, of an age, a fulfillment of yet another prophecy.

And finally, there is the statement about the clear end of a great age, when the Son of Man returns. We are given statements about signs, things that portend the fulfillment of a time, but we've been told before we are not to speculate about when such things will happen. This remains a great mystery. However, into this digression on "times" or "ages" I'd like to add a little note for further reading. It's about the introduction of the time we must consider ourselves to be in, that is initiated through the birth of Jesus into the world. As we approach in Luke's gospel Jesus' imminent death as a human being upon the cross, we pause to remember that it is his birth that initiates this "time" we're currently in. This is a time in which we consider ourselves, like the early church members, to be awaiting Jesus' return. Thus we are in what is called an "eschatological period." We are awaiting his return, and all the history of the church in each period, through all that it has been through, has been a part of this eschatology, this period of waiting. When we think about such "end times" we shouldn't forget that we're living in them now, and that we must live with this awareness about what that means for the significance of our own choices day to day, to live a spiritual life, to understand the meanings there for you and me, to make our own choices accordingly.

I'll end this particular commentary with a link to an essay that I greatly admire. I hope it sparks thoughts and considerations in my readers for what they are to make of these notions. It's an excerpt from a book by Thomas Merton. The book is titled "Raids on the Unspeakable" and the excerpt is frequently reprinted under the title The Time of No Room. I hope you will find it as inspiring and thought-provoking as I do.

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