Friday, October 24, 2008

A Little More Luke

Phew, I slept in yesterday. All that work of nailing up jello in my last post really wore me out.

Fortunately, being worn out meant that I had an extremely busy day (somehow those two entities never cease to coincide); and having an extremely busy day meant I was in the car a lot; and being in the car a lot meant that I was listening to the radio a lot (always talk, by the way, never music; it's my oddity); and listening to the radio a lot meant that I heard Teri Gross' show called "Fresh Air"; and, listening to "Fresh Air" meant that I heard Teri Gross interview Tim LaHaye, the primary author of the best-selling series of books called the "Left Behind" series. So, if you follow the trail, it shows definitively that 'nailing jello to a wall' is directly related (by six degrees of separation) to listening to Tim LaHaye. There is something radically significant about that which I can't quite wrap my mind around yet.

At any rate, Tim LaHaye's first words were, "Well, the Bible is very clear about where we are on God's timeline..." then he went on to say that the next great event is the rapture, which will be followed by seven years of tribulation, which is God's wrath being poured out. I'm telling you this so you'll see why, even though I was worn out from nailing that jello to the wall, I knew that I had to get back to this blog, because TIM LAHAYE IS WRONG!!!!!!!! But, rather than letting his presence on the radio and the unmerited certainty of this voice drive us to distraction, let's just keep plugging faithfully along, shall we?

We're looking at Luke's 21st chapter and noticing the differences between what he says and what Mark says in his 13th chapter. And, following the insights of a majority of serious biblical scholars (i.e. not Tim LaHaye), we are assuming that Mark wrote his chapter around the time of the siege and destruction of the temple in Jerusalem, while Luke wrote his chapter anywhere from 10 to 20 years later.

Today, we'll look at a couple of places where Mark and Luke vary, in order to see what Luke is saying uniquely about this apocalyptic of Jesus. Remember, most Left Behind Theologians (like the aforementioned Mr. LaHaye) pretend that this discourse is a) Jesus talking about the rapture which is, now, 2,000 years later; and b) precisely the same, 'timeline-wise', in Matthew, Mark, and Luke. Neither of those pretensions is true. The second pretension, in fact, is that very 'homotexuality' that I think is ruining the church. (Is it considered 'outing' if you show that someone else is a homotextual? I never thought 'outing' was very nice, so I'll stop with the personal references here.)

Mark 13:14-15 says, "But when you see the desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be (let the reader understand), then those in Judea must flee to the mountains; someone on the housetop must not go down or enter the house to take anything away...." We recall (and if we don't, we can search this blog backwards a few weeks to do so) that Mark's phrase "desolating sacrilege" is taken directly from Daniel 7-12, which was probably written at the time that Antiochus Epiphanes desecrated the temple (2nd century BCE). The parenthetical phrase "let the reader understand" is hard to translate because it is almost as if Mark the narrator jumps right into the middle of a quote from Jesus to say, 'Hey!' while winking and nodding. My personal take is that Mark is using this phrase about a Greek empire from two centuries past to refer to the awful destruction of the temple that the current Roman empire is wreaking in his present. It simply might not have been possible to criticize the Roman empire directly during this time. At any rate, let's see what Luke does with the reference to the desolating sacrilege and the literary wink and nod:

Luke 21:20-21 says, "When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. Then 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..." Hmm, the "desolating sacrilege set up where it ought not to be" has become "Jerusalem surrounded by armies ... its desolation has come near." Why the difference?

Luke clearly has more than the destruction of the temple in mind as he is recounting this discourse. First, he is more mindful of the destruction of Jerusalem and the diaspora that follows it. Second, Luke has a broad view of history, where the destruction of Jerusalem is the beginning of what he calls "the times of the Gentiles." And last, at the risk of perpetuating some wrong-headed ideas, it does appear to me that Luke sees the destruction of Jerusalem as an act of God's vengeance. I suppose it could be a vengeance based on the Jews' rejection of Jesus, but Luke is not so clear on that point and so we shouldn't act like that is clearly the case.

Here is what Luke says, immediately following the quote above. There is one line in this quote that is found in Mark's words also. See if you can identify it. Other than that, however, everything in this quote is unique to Luke:

Luke 21:22 "for these are days of vengeance, as a fulfilment of all that is written. Woe 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; they 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."

Did you guess which line Luke holds in common with Mark? It is the line "Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days!" That is quite a "woe," don't you think? It signifies tragedy. It's not like a woman who is pregnant can suddenly say, "Oh this is a bad situation, I'll wait and be pregnant later" like a guy who is just starting to build a boat might. Or a mother of a needy infant can't suddenly decide that the infant should hold off on nursing for a couple of years until this trouble ends. No, the pregnant woman and nursing mother are those for whom the need to flee, right now, is simply not possible. That's the classic description of a tragedy, isn't it? It's horrible, and the very thing that she counts as her joy is the same thing that makes her unable to escape it. Luke did well to retain that line from Mark because it speaks very powerfully to the kind of trapped feeling that people often experience in catastrophes.

Other than that line, however, everything in the quote above is unique to Luke. Here is what I see:
- Luke is writing about Jerusalem and not the temple per se. It may be that, by the time Luke is writing, Judaism has moved beyond being temple-centered and is more and more identified with synagogues that are being built up throughout the Roman empire. If that is the case, the destruction of the temple would still be significant (that is the issue that starts this discourse), but not as critical to the survival of Judaism itself as it might be in Mark's gospel.
- Luke sees the destruction of Jerusalem as a fulfillment of scriptural vengeance...
- ... against "this people," namely Jews.
- The "times of the Gentiles" is also a fulfillment of sorts. Jesus does not say that these times fulfill anything that is written, only that the times of the Gentiles "will be fulfilled." Is this Luke's way of talking about the Roman empire? Perhaps he is seeing that empire as something that will also come to an end eventually. Or, perhaps he is seeing Rome's destruction of Jerusalem as part of God's salvific activity, much like Isaiah c.45 speaks of Cyrus the Persian King as "God's anointed." Bear in mind that Luke also writes the book of Acts, in which the gospel is brought to the Gentiles and the church takes on an increasingly Gentile make-up. So, or Luke to speak of the "times of the Gentiles" is not unusual.

Well, for someone who is worn out from nailing jello to the wall, I've said a whole lot this morning. Now, I'm going to leave off until Monday. Stay tuned, or, better yet, read it for yourself and chime in!

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