I think I am going to have a productive Advent. Painful but productive and productive precisely because it will be painful. It may seem premature to speak of Advent. Although the season officially is the 4 weeks before Christmas the church prepares us with prayers and readings for the two weeks before the first Sunday of Advent. Next week we celebrate the Solemnity of Christ the King, acknowledging that God alone can bring the kingdom. This week, the 33rd Sunday in Ordinary Time is often called “little apocalypse” Sunday. This year we read it from Luke. It tells us why Jesus must return and the signs of his coming. This week’s election should set our minds on these matters. It will take some time to get over the ugliness of the campaign but also the increasing difficulty of finding candidates we can support without violating our consciences. This may seem apocalyptic in the way we usually use the word, dreadful and hopeless, but it is also apocalyptic in the biblical sense.
Apocalypse comes from the Greek word for unveiling. It reveals the hidden powers behind events. For Christians this is always the work and presence of God. Luke is a master of this kind of revelation.
He wrote about 90 AD. The church had been developing for 2 generations and has a history which Luke is telling in his Gospel and in the Acts of the Apostles Two key events that he must incorporate and explain are the destruction of Jerusalem in 70 AD and the persecution of Christians.
The temple was the presence of the LORD on earth. We may have gotten something of the importance of this during Covid when Mass could not be said, and we felt Jesus’ absence in the Eucharist. The Jews connected the maintenance of the temple with the maintenance of the world itself. If the Temple were destroyed life as they knew it would end. (Ps 78:69)
Jesus is acting like a prophet in the conventional sense of the word by telling future events before they happened. This was considered especially important by both Jews and Gentiles. It showed that the prophet was not responding to situations but was in communion with the power that created them. He reveals – uncovers – for his audience, the true meaning of the destruction of the temple. It was not because of geopolitics, nor religious enthusiasm. It was as he had told them earlier in the Gospel because the temple had become a den of thieves and no longer where the Lord wished to dwell. The people had become too smug and believed that if they had the temple Jerusalem would never be conquered. They had believed this before and the Lord had left the temple and allowed the Babylonians to destroy it. (Jeremiah 7 1-15, the temple sermon) It is a lesson we must all learn, we always need God, he never needs us.
The second issue is persecution and our response to it. If Jesus showed himself superior to death by rising from it, why are his followers persecuted? Is this just a cataclysmic but ultimately useless disaster? No, Jesus is telling his followers that it is part of God’s plan. It will allow people to give testimony. Luke is a very careful writer, and little is left to chance. Everything that he says in these verses of his gospel will be related in the Acts of the Apostles. The list would be far too long to state here, so I have included it in the homily notes online. (Footnote 1)
The disciples find themselves hated and despised, perhaps even abandoned by family and friends. Yet “not a hair on their heads will be destroyed” God is in control. Scripture is clear that whoever loves his life will lose it and whoever loses his life will find it. This is difficult so it requires perseverance.
These are apocalyptic and thus traumatic events and sayings but also reveal that God is the key player in the world, and we are playing by his rules. Luke has already told us that “The kingdom of God is not coming with things that can be observed; nor will they say, ‘Look, here it is!’ or ‘There it is!’ For, in fact, the kingdom of God is among you.” (Lk 17:20–21)
The kingdom is harmony between God and humanity, among humans ourselves and humanity and nature. It is already among us because Jesus has risen from the dead, but it must still be fulfilled. We are fulfilled when we are made righteous. In both Hebrew and Greek, the word for Righteousness is the same for judgement (see footnote 2 below) It is to be in a good relationship with God but recognizes that we are not naturally righteousness but must be made righteous. We are works in progress.
An Apocalypse is usually communal, but we need a personal apocalypse. We may be an exemplary Catholic obeying every rule and fulfilling every law but just like the temple, we need to be fruitful. The judgement of God is always that we need reform to have a relationship with him. His judgment is ongoing and purifying. (See poem by Gerald Manley Hopkins in footnote 3)
Thus, the Saints are not granted lives of external tranquility but as Luke tells us were and are persecuted and reviled. Being treated badly is not automatically a sign of holiness, some people are just obnoxious, but as we see in Jesus there is always push back to goodness. That is a sign that Judgment is working on us and it good,
St John saw this clearly. We all know the first part of John 16: “God so loved the world that he sent his only begotten son” but too often forget the second part, ‘Not to condemn the world but that the world might be saved through him” The process of judgment is how Jesus makes us fit for the kingdom. It is his way of saving us; Advent is the season we pray to be judged so that we will not be condemned.
- 21:12–19 During the time of upheaval before Jerusalem’s fall, those in authority will persecute Jesus’ disciples. In God’s plan, this will give the disciples the opportunity to give testimony to Jesus. In Acts, Luke describes the fulfillment of these words (Acts 4:8–13, 20; 5:29–32), with the apostles even rejoicing that they suffer on account of Jesus’ name (Acts 5:41). The disciples will be tracked down in synagogues (Acts 9:2; 22:19; 26:11), put into prisons (Acts 5:18; 8:3; 12:4; 16:23), and led before kings (Acts 9:15; 25:23) and governors (Acts 23:33; 24:1; 25:6). As they make their defense (Acts 24:10; 25:8; 26:1–2), they will be given a wisdom that their opponents cannot withstand (Acts 6:10; see Acts 4:13–14). In such circumstances, the disciples will be taught by the Holy Spirit, as Jesus earlier said (Luke 12:11–12). Persecution will divide families (12:52–53), as disciples are handed over even by relatives and friends. For some, it will lead to death by martyrdom (Acts 7:60; 12:2). Paradoxically, by being hated in these ways on account of Jesus’ name, disciples will receive the blessing promised in the Beatitudes (Luke 6:22–23)—a great reward in heaven. Hence, God’s providential care for them will extend even, so to speak, to the hair on their head (12:7), if not here on earth (Acts 27:34), then hereafter. Their perseverance will bear fruit (Luke 8:15) in eternal lifeGadenz, P. T. (2018). The Gospel of Luke (P. S. Williamson & M. Healy, Eds.; p. 348)
- Righteousness in the Bible (Baker Evangelical Dictionary of Biblical Theology)
God the Father is righteous (just); Jesus Christ his Son is the Righteous (Just) One; the Father through the Son and in the Spirit gives the gift of righteousness (justice) to repentant sinners for salvation; such believing sinners are declared righteous (just) by the Father through the Son, are made righteous (just) by the Holy Spirit working in them, and will be wholly righteous (just) in the age to come. They are and will be righteous because they are in a covenant relation with the living God, who is the God of all grace and mercy and who will bring to completion what he has begun in them by declaring them righteous for Christ’s sake.
The noun righteousness/justice (Gk. dikaiosune [dikaiosuvnh]) bears meanings in the New Testament related to two sources. The major one is the Hebrew thought-world of the Old Testament and particularly the sdq [q;d’x] word group, which locates the meaning in the sphere of God’s gracious, covenantal relation to his people and the appropriate behavior of the covenant partners (Yahweh and Israel) toward each other. The other is the regular use of the words in everyday Greek as spoken in New Testament times, which fixes the meaning in the sphere of a life in conformity to a known standard or law — thus honesty, legality, and so on. This latter meaning in terms of doing God’s will is of course also found in the Old Testament.
When we translate the Greek words based on the stem dikai- into English we make use of two sets of words based on the stems, just and right. So we have just, justice, justify and right, righteous, righteousness, rightwise (old English). The use of two sets of English words for the one set of Greek words sometimes causes difficulties for students of the Bible. This is especially so when the verb “to justify, ” describing God’s word and action, is used with the noun “righteousness, ” pointing to the result of that action.
3. This is an excerpt from G M Hopkins “Wreck of the Deutschland” The commentary below is very much worth reading.
Thou mastering me
God! giver of breath and bread;
World’s strand, sway of the sea;
Lord of living and dead;
Thou hast bound bones and veins in me, fastened me flesh,
And after it almost unmade, what with dread,
Thy doing: and dost thou touch me afresh?
Over again I feel thy finger and find thee