ColumnsSunday’s Word

He comes to rule the earth

November 13, 2016


Mal 3:19-20

Lo, a day is coming

Ps 98:5-9

He comes to rule the earth

2 Thes 3:7-12

Work while waiting

Lk 21:5-19

When will this happen? 111316.cfm

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cometAs we come to the end of the ordinary church year, we turn to the “eschatological” passages of Scripture and consideration of the end times. “Eschatology” literally means “study of the last (things).” This year in the Old Testament that means we turn to the book of the prophet Malachi. As for the letters of Paul, it means the epistles to the Thessalonians, which take the end times as their theme.

But in the Gospels it takes us to the eschatological sermon of Jesus, delivered right before the Passion account. In Mark’s Gospel, the original and one of Luke’s sources, this speech is Jesus’ farewell to his disciples. Mark indicates this by how he indicates those in attendance. Only in the call at the beginning (Mark 1:16-20) and now at the farewell (13:2) does he show the foursome, Peter, Andrew, James and John, together at the same time. It is call and farewell, hello and the goodbye.

In Mark, they are pictured leaving the city for the last time before the Passion (Mark 13:1). They look back on the city from the Mount of Olives, observing the massive stone construction of the temple, while Jesus speaks of the end.

But Luke has adapted Mark’s account for his own purposes, introducing subtle differences, as is his fashion. For one, the speech no longer functions as a farewell. Luke has transferred the farewell to the Last Supper (Luke 22:24-38), where it also looks forward to the Acts of the Apostles.

The eschatological discourse of today now takes its place as one more speech among the teachings that Jesus delivers during his time in the temple. Note its ending: “Now during the day he was teaching in the temple, but at evening he would go out and spend the night on the mount that is called Olivet. And all the people would get up early in the morning to come to him in the temple to listen to him.” (Luke 21:37-38).

This fits in with the plan of Luke, who highlights Jesus’ teaching, rather than his activity, as the cause for his enemies moving against him. Whereas the cleansing of the temple is the reason for their final decision in Mark (11:19), Luke has deftly adjusted this account to make it Jesus’ teaching as the trouble (Luke 19:47; 20:1).

There is a second important difference in Luke’s account. Mark, who was writing during the time of the Great Revolt (66-70), which resulted in the destruction of the temple, in his account of chapter 13 has blended accounts of the end of the temple and city with references to the end times. Luke, however, decisively distinguishes the two. Writing later, he is interested in the subsequent story, as seen in his book of Acts. He very carefully distinguishes references to the temple or city, on the one hand, and references to the end times, on the other.

As so we notice that in places like 21:9, 12, he separates the near and the far. Perhaps the most telling verse is his addition, not included in today’s reading. In Luke 21:24 we read, “they will fall by the edge of the sword, and will be led captive into all the nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled under foot by the Gentiles until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” He introduces an interim time, the time of the Gentiles. The Acts of the Apostles will serve as the first installment of that era’s story.

So Luke is talking about the end times, but he is more interested in the period occurring in the meantime. In fact, he devotes his Gospel to the meaning of living in that meantime, as a Christian.

For reflection: What does it mean to live in the “meantime”?

Father Beck is professor emeritus of religious studies at Loras College, Dubuque.