Sunday, December 2, 2018
The Manifestation of the Son of man:
Beginning of the new times
Beware! It can happen at any time!
Luke 21:25-28, 34-36
1. Opening prayer
Lord Jesus, send Your Spirit to help us to read the Scriptures with the same mind that You read them to the disciples on the way to Emmaus. In the light of the Word, written in the bible, You helped them to discover the presence of God in the disturbing events of Your sentence and death. Thus, the cross that seemed to be the end of all hope became for them the source of life and of resurrection.
Create silence within us so that we may listen to Your voice in Creation and in the Scriptures, in events and in people, above all in the poor and suffering. May Your word guide us so that we too, like the two disciples on the way to Emmaus, may experience the force of Your resurrection and witness to others that You are alive in our midst as source of fraternity, justice and peace. We ask this of You, Jesus, Son of Mary, who revealed the Father to us and sent us Your Spirit. Amen.
2. A reading of Luke 21: 25-28,34-36
a) A key to the reading:
The liturgical text of this Sunday leads us to meditate on Jesus’ discourse on the end of the world. Today, when we speak of the end of the world, reactions are quite varied. Some are fearful. Others are indifferent. Others begin to take life more seriously. Others still, as soon as they hear some terrible news say, “The end of the world is drawing near!” What is your opinion on this matter? How is it that at the beginning of the liturgical year, the first Sunday of Advent, the Church confronts us with the end of history?
Keeping these questions in mind, let us now try to read the text in such a way that it may challenge and question us.
In the course of our reading we shall try to concentrate not on the things that are fearsome, but on those that give us hope.
b) A division of the text to facilitate our reading:
Luke 21:25-26: There will be signs in sun and moon and stars.
Luke 21:27: The Son of Man will come on a cloud.
Luke 21:28: The rebirth of hope in our hearts.
(Luke 21:29-33: The parable of the fig tree).
Luke 21:34-36: An exhortation to watchfulness.
c) The Text:
Jesus said to his disciples: “There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on earth nations will be in dismay, perplexed by the roaring of the sea and the waves. People will die of fright in anticipation of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. And then they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. But when these signs begin to happen, stand erect and raise your heads because your redemption is at hand. “Beware that your hearts do not become drowsy from carousing and drunkenness and the anxieties of daily life, and that day catch you by surprise like a trap. For that day will assault everyone who lives on the face of the earth. Be vigilant at all times and pray that you have the strength to escape the tribulations that are imminent and to stand before the Son of Man.”
3. A moment of prayerful silence
that the Word of God may penetrate and enlighten our life.
4. Some questions
to help us in our personal reflection.
a) What did you feel during the reading? Did you feel fear or peace? Why?
b) Did you come across anything in the text that gave you hope and courage?
c) What is it today that encourages people to have hope and to keep going?
d) Why is it that at the beginning of Advent, the Church confronts us with the end of the world?
e) What can we answer to those who say that the end of the world is drawing near?
f) How do we understand the image of the coming of the Son of Man on a cloud?
g) Throughout history, or even today, have there been false messiahs leading people astray? While it is easy to see war and natural disasters, how might one be deceived by a false messiah?
5. A key to the reading
for those who wish to delve deeper into the theme.
I. The context of Jesus’ discourse
The text of this Sunday’s Gospel (Lk 21:25-28,34-36) is part of the so-called “eschatological discourse”(Lk 21:8-36). In Luke’s Gospel, this discourse is presented as Jesus’ reply to a question put to Him by the disciples. Looking at the beauty and greatness of the temple of Jerusalem, Jesus had said: “Not one stone will be left standing!” (Lk 21:5-6). The disciples were looking for more information from Jesus regarding the destruction of the temple, and they asked: “Master, when will this happen and what will be the signs to show that it is about to happen?” (Lk 21:7).
The aim of the discourse: to help discern events.
In Jesus’ time (year 33), many people, when faced with disasters, wars, and persecutions, said “The end of the world is drawing near!” The communities of Luke’s time (year 85) thought the same. During the time of the destruction of Jerusalem (year 70) and the persecution of Christians which had now been going on for 40 years, there were those who said “God is no longer in control of the events of life! We are lost!” Hence the main point of the discourse is that of helping the disciples to discern the signs of the times so as not to be deceived by such sayings concerning the end of the world: “Beware not to allow yourselves to be deceived!” (Lk 21:8). The discourse presents several signs that help us in our discernment.
Six signs to help us discern the events of life.
After a short introduction (Lk 21:5), the discourse proper begins. Jesus enumerates, in an apocalyptic style, the events that can be seen as signs. It is important to remember that Jesus was living and speaking in the year 33, but that the readers of Luke were living and listening to the words of Jesus about the year 85. Many things had happened between the years 33 and 85, for instance: the destruction of Jerusalem (year 70), persecutions and wars were everywhere, along with natural disasters. Jesus’ discourse announces these events as taking place in the future. But the community sees these things in the past, as having already taken place:
First sign: the false messiahs who will say, “It is I! The time is at hand!” (Lk 21:8);
Second sign: war and rumors of war (Lk 21:9);
Third sign: nation will rise against nation (Lk 21:10)
Fourth sign: earthquakes, hunger and pestilence everywhere (Lk 21:11);
Fifth sign: persecution of those who proclaim the word of God (Lk 21:12-19);
Sixth sign: the siege and destruction of Jerusalem (Lk 21:20-24).
When they heard Jesus’ proclamation, the Christian communities of the year 85 might have come to this conclusion: “All these things have come to pass or are in the process of happening! All this is happening according to a plan foreseen by Jesus! Therefore, history is not slipping from God’s hands!” Especially regarding the 5th and 6th signs they could say, “This is what we are experiencing today! We have already reached the 6th sign!” Then comes the question: How many signs are there left before the end comes?
In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus says about all the seemingly very negative things, “These are just the beginning of birth pangs!” (Mk 13:8) Although birth pangs are very painful for a mother, they are not signs of death but of life! They are no reason for fear, but for joy and hope! This way of reading the events brings calm to all. As we shall see, Luke expresses this same idea but in different words (Lk 21:28).
After this first part of the discourse (Lk 21:8-24) comes the Gospel text of the Mass of the first Sunday of Advent.
II. A commentary on the text
Luke 21:25-26: Signs in sun and moon and stars.
These two verses describe three cosmic phenomena: (1) “There will be signs in sun and moon and stars”; (2) “The roaring of the sea and waves”; (3) “The powers of the heavens will be shaken”. In the eighties, when Luke was writing, these three phenomena had not taken place. The communities could say, “This is the seventh and last sign still to come before the end!” At first sight, this seventh sign seems more terrible than the preceding ones, especially since Luke says that men will be fainting with fear and with foreboding of what is coming on the world. In truth, in spite of their negative appearance, these cosmic images suggest something very positive, namely, the beginning of a new creation that will take the place of the old creation (Rev 21:1). It is the beginning of the new heaven and the new earth, proclaimed by Isaiah (Isa 65:17). They usher in the manifestation of the Son of God, the beginning of the new times.
Luke 21:27: The coming of the Kingdom of God and the manifestation of the Son of Man.
This image comes from Daniel’s prophecy (Dan 7:1-14). Daniel says that after the disasters caused by the four kingdoms of this earth (Dan 7:1-8), the Kingdom of God will come (Dan 7:9-14). The four kingdoms all have animal features: lion, bear, panther and wild beast (Dan 7:3-7). These are animal–like kingdoms. They take the life out of life (even to this day!). The Kingdom of God is represented by the figure of the Son of Man, that is, it has human features (Dan 7:13). It is a human kingdom. The task of the Christian communities is to build this kingdom that humanizes. This is the new history, the new creation, in whose realization we must collaborate.
Luke 21:28: A hope that grows in the heart.
In Mark’s Gospel, Jesus says, “This is just the beginning of the birth pangs!” (Mk 13:8) Here, in Luke’s Gospel, Jesus says, “When these things begin to take place, look up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near!” This affirmation shows that the aim of the discourse is not to cause fear but to raise hope and joy in a people suffering from persecution. Jesus’ words helped (and still help) the communities to read events from the point of view of hope. It is those who oppress and exploit the people who must fear. They, indeed, must know that their empire is finished.
Luke 21:29-33: The lesson of the parable of the fig tree.
When Jesus invites us to look at the fig tree, He is asking us to analyze the events taking place. It is as though He was saying, “Learn to read the signs of the times from the fig tree and so you may discover when and where God comes into your history!” Then He ends the lesson of the parable with these words: “Heaven and earth will pass away; but My words will not pass away!” By this very well known phrase, Jesus renews hope and once more alludes to the new creation, which was already taking place.
Luke 21:34-36: An exhortation to watchfulness.
God is always coming! His coming takes place when least expected. It may happen that He comes and that people are not aware of the hour of His coming (cf. Mt 24:37-39). Jesus advises people to be constantly watching: (1) avoid all things that may disturb or burden the heart (dissipations, drunkenness, and worries of life); (2) pray always, asking for strength to go on and wait standing for the coming of the Son of Man. In other words, the discourse asks for a double attitude: on the one hand, the watchfulness of one who is always aware, and on the other, the serene calmness of one who is at peace. These attitudes are signs of great maturity, because they bring together an awareness of the seriousness of the task and an awareness of the relativity of all things.
III. Further information for a better understanding of the text
a) When the end of the world will come
When we say “The end of the world”, what world are we talking about? Is it the end of the world of which the Bible speaks or the end of this world, where the power of evil that drives away and oppresses life reigns? This world of injustice will come to an end. No one knows what the new world will look like, because no one can imagine what God has prepared for those who love Him (1 Cor 2:9). The new world of life without death (Rev 21:4) surpasses all things just as the tree surpasses its seed (1 Cor 15:35-38). The early Christians were anxious and wanted to know the when of this end (2 Thess 2:2; Acts 1:11). But “it is not for you to know the times and the hour that the Father has set with His authority” (Acts 1:7). The only way to contribute to the end is to witness to the Gospel in every moment and action even to the ends of the earth (Acts 1:8).
b) Our time! God’s time!
“For no one knows the day or the hour: not even the angels of heaven, nor the Son, but only the Father” (Mk 13:32; Mt 24:36). God sets the time for the end. God’s time cannot be measured by the clock or calendar. For God, one day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years like a day (Ps 90:4; 2 Pet 3:8). God’s time runs independently of us. We cannot interfere with that, but we must be prepared for the moment when the hour of God comes into our time. Our security does not lie in knowing the hour of the end of the world, but in the Word of Jesus present in our lives. The world will pass away, but His word will not pass away (Isa 40:7-8).
c) The context of our text in Luke’s Gospel
For us 21st century people, apocalyptic language seems strange, difficult and confused. But for the people of those times it was the common way of speaking and all understood. It expressed the strong certitude of the faith of the little ones. In spite of all and against all appearances, they continued to believe that God is the Lord of history. The main purpose of apocalyptic language is to foster the faith and hope of the poor. In Luke’s time, many of the people of the communities thought that the end of the world was close at hand and that Jesus would have come back. That is why there were those who stopped working: “Why work, if Jesus was returning?” (cf 2 Thess 3:11). Others stared at heaven, waiting for the return of Jesus on the clouds (cf Acts 1:11). Jesus’ discourse shows that no one knows the hour of the final coming. Today we have the same thing! Some await the coming of Jesus so much that they do not see His presence among us in our daily concerns and events.
6. Psalm 46 (45) (paraphrased)
God is our strength
God is our refuge and strength,
a very present help in time of trouble.
Therefore we will not fear though the earth should change,
though the mountains shake in the heart of the sea;
though its waters roar and foam,
though the mountains tremble with its tumult.
There is a river whose streams make glad the city of God,
the holy habitation of the Most High.
God is in the midst of her,
she shall not be moved;
God will help her.
The nations rage, the kingdoms totter;
He utters His voice, the earth melts.
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.
Come, behold the works of the Lord,
how He has wrought desolation on the earth.
He makes wars cease to the end of the earth;
He breaks the bow, and shatters the spear,
He burns the chariots with fire!
"Be still, and know that I am God.
I am exalted among the nations;
I am exalted in the earth!"
The Lord of hosts is with us;
the God of Jacob is our refuge.
7. Final Prayer
Lord Jesus, we thank You for the word that has enabled us to understand better the will of the Father. May Your Spirit enlighten our actions and grant us the strength to practice that which Your Word has revealed to us. May we, like Mary, Your mother, not only listen to but also practice the Word. You who live and reign with the Father in the unity of the Holy Spirit forever and ever. Amen.