Luke 21:20 – 28
20“When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. 21Then 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; 22for these are days of vengeance, as a fulfillment of all that is written. 23Woe 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; 24they 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. 25“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. 26People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27Then they will see ‘the Son of Man coming in a cloud’ with power and great glory. 28Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
Jesus continues, answering the disciples’ question, when and how will we know? The first part of this paragraph appears to refer to the destruction of Jerusalem. The Roman army surrounded the city, and it was under siege for many months. Food ran out and the people suffered, especially mothers with small children as they had nothing to feed their children. There was great distress and those left when Rome broke through the walls were hauled away as slaves, or killed. Jerusalem was burned to the ground, and the temple itself torn down. All of this happened in 70 AD, forty years after Jesus lived.
But then, that coming tragedy and fulfillment of scripture reminds Jesus of the fulfillment of scripture yet to come. He uses images from scripture, apocalyptic language from Daniel, Ezekiel, Amos, and Joel to describe the event of the coming of the Son of Man. We might say something like, “that news is earth-shattering”, not meaning that the earth itself is breaking apart, but that the news changes everything. In the same way, these descriptions are not meant to be actual descriptions of the events, for what Jesus is talking about is indescribable; he uses quotes from scripture that lead to something greater, a time of God’s choosing, when everything is changed, all creation is renewed. Jesus begins this renewal just a few days from that time, when he dies on the cross, taking into himself all our sins, all the evil of the earth. And then, 3 days later, when he rises from the dead, defeating those forces of evil. But his renewal is not yet finished – we live in his kingdom now, evil is defeated already but does not know it yet, as an army hiding and still fighting when the leadership has signed a treaty, but the time of the consummation of the kingdom, the return of her King, is yet to come. And when it does, that army of evil will know its final defeat.
But we cannot live just waiting for that coming. We live in the “between times”; Jesus has inaugurated his kingdom, but evil does not yet know it is defeated. Evil still exists in our world, in the forms of hate, fear, war, pestilence, hunger, greed, and selfishness. We sin, even though sin has been defeated. The difference is – God is with us through this time; the Spirit is in our hearts. Our job is to overcome the evil with good. A prayer attributed to St. Frances (probably not really his) says this:
Lord, make me an instrument of Thy peace;
Where there is hatred, let me sow love;
Where there is injury, pardon;
Where there is doubt, the faith;
Where there is despair, hope;
Where there is darkness, light;
And where there is sadness, joy.
O Divine Master, Grant that I may not so much seek to be consoled, as to console;
To be understood, as to understand;
To be loved as to love.
For it is in giving that we receive;
It is in pardoning that we are pardoned;
And it is in dying that we are born to eternal life.