LUKE 11-19: The attentive reader begins in this section to feel the cold shadow of something ominous approaching, and not just the impending crucifixion, foreshadowed even in Simeon’s words to Mary (ch. 2). Jesus’ contemporaries fail to read the signs of the times (12: 54ff); they must repent, lest greater disasters than those already known come to pass (13: 1-3); Jesus foretells Zion’s rejection (13: 31ff); he foresees false Messiahs and the ravages of war (19: 20-37). A telling sign will be “where eagles [or vultures?] gather (19:37),” which may allude to the imperial eagle symbol of Roman military might. The rejection, crucifixion and death of Jesus is connected to the other impending event that casts a backward shadow in time over the Gospel accounts: the Roman siege and destruction of Jerusalem in AD 70. This is the event by which much of Jesus’ apocalyptic teaching must be understood, and not the more contemporary speculations about some pre- or post-tribulation rapture of the Left Behind series, or The Late Great Planet Earth. That “one would be taken, another left,” is what happens in war, and it certainly happened when Rome put down the Jewish rebellion so brutally.
This is not meant to question nor challenge the doctrine of Christ’s return, his judgment of all souls and his eternal reign. As future apocalyptic readings will show, the events of AD 70, which Jesus predicted, were not the end of the end-times countdown, but the beginning of it, for they released the church from Zion’s apron strings, to pursue her mission. The mission of the church “to the ends of the earth” is much more determinative of when “the end shall come,” than are any match we might make between current events and Bible prophecies (or numerology).
The extravagant mercy which Jesus displays in these chapters of Luke, to sinners, the unclean, to Gentiles, even to Romans, displays the bright, shining alternative to the politics of purity and division that were leading Rome and Zion down the fast track toward war. Jesus’ mission was and is yet a peace mission, what Paul later called “the ministry of reconciliation.” For both Romans and the Jewish leadership to crucify Jesus was to slam the door on their only hope for peace before the cataclysm descended 40 years later. That is the light by which we should read even the story of the Prodigal Son (ch. 15), not only as stories of and invitations to personal repentance and regeneration, which they certainly are, but also as loaded symbols portraying God’s bigger, cosmic work of renewal and sanctification, to return his people from exile, install his peaceable kingdom and welcome in even the nations. They also contain a challenge: will his people (and we as well) welcome this development, or fight it, as did the elder brother of the prodigal son?
PSALM 92: Now that I have just turned 55, and am eligible for senior discount coffee at McDonald’s and other signs of respect for my age (if not always wisdom), I am claiming Ps. 92: 14-15: “They will still bear fruit in old age, they will stay fresh and green, proclaiming, “The LORD is upright; he is my Rock, and there is no wickedness in him.” Worship, of the sort of this hymn of praise, is our angle into eternity and agelessness.
PSALM 93 is another hymn of praise. Like the psalm before it, it bears no inscription, no claim to which king or dynasty or event in Israel’s history it relates to. In contrast to the eternal, almighty, serene and secure nature of God and his kingdom are the surging, restless waves of the sea, which symbolize forces of evil, and of nations and peoples in uproar and tumult. Ancient Israelite faith and culture were land and desert-based, and tended to see the waters as chaotic, dangerous and destructive things. But no matter how unruly the waves (of the oceans, or the nations) may be, God’s laws, God’s throne and God’s holiness endure secure.
PSALM 94 confronts us with a major difference between Biblical Hebraic faith, and modern notions of “spirituality.” Biblical faith is very earthy and material; it cannot conceive of any disconnect between personal spirituality and social justice. Contemporary and other notions of “spirituality” are more about grooming the soul and the self with a smorgasbord of “spiritual” techniques, almost like the way we might groom our bodies with various exercise machines, without much thought given to where the soul or the self fit in to systems of just distribution between the poor and the rich, the secure and the vulnerable. In fact, one must be fairly wealthy to be able to afford much in the modern marketplace of spirituality. Psalm 94 is a prayer for justice, in ways that Jesus and John the Baptist would recognize. That it follows a hymn of praise (PS. 93) should make us stop to wonder what worship is about, if it does not lead us to the kind of justice called for in Ps. 94.