My reflection on the Gospel reading from Proper 28C on The Hardest Question.
The Sky is Falling! Everything is Fine!
(This is resolve, Jesus-style)
Gospel Reading: Luke 21:5-19 For Year C 26th Sunday after Pentecost
Who doesn’t love to preach on these doomsday apocalyptic texts?! In addition to being used only in positive and well-meaning ways (certainly never overblown or taken out of context), they also serve to remind us of another simple lesson Jesus wants to teach us: stay calm, even when the sky is falling.
Chicken (a) Little
Wars, insurrections, earthquakes and plagues. Famines and dreadful portents. Jesus says no matter: don’t be terrified.
No big deal. Just go about your day as usual, while darting through war-torn streets filled with revolutionaries and sick people. It seems Jesus is the originator of the ubiquitous “Keep calm and carry on” mantra.
We know Jesus’ words refer to events that have already occurred, but the truth of the matter is that we’re still surrounded by the same threats, and we’re still people who follow Jesus. I’m not sure the historical past tense of the destruction of the Temple lets us off the hook from Jesus’ command.
So…maybe we can, under the best of yoga-breathing scenarios, prevent ourselves from being terror-stricken. Do we have room, however, to be worried? Slightly concerned? Perturbed?
Before we get too far, we should also mention that in addition to Jesus’ command not to be terrified, he also tells the people not to bother preparing a defense in the event they are dragged before a court. This, he says, is merely an opportunity to testify. Everything you need will be provided…but some of you will be put to death.
It’s not the most consoling of gospel passages, even with the assurance at the end about gaining your soul through endurance.
A Turtle Without a Shell
You can’t help but feel that following Jesus in Luke 21 isn’t unlike being a turtle without a shell. There is no call to arms. There’s no admonition to stockpile goods or food or weapons in preparation for what’s to come. There’s no command to build a bomb shelter, or an ark. There are only these three commands:
1) Don’t be led astray.
2) Don’t be terrified.
3) Don’t prepare a defense.
That’s one trifecta of resolve.
The Hardest Question
Even though we grant this text an historical past tense, the question still remains: if this is what Jesus-like resolve looks like (and note: it’s not only here but also on the cross), are we always called to the same posture in times of trouble?
Are we always expected to show Jesus-like resolve in times of trouble?
How can we keep calm in the midst of destruction?
Are we like turtles without a shell?