Bailie on Luke 21

Notes on Lectures of the Florilegia Institute by Gil Bailie
Series: “The Gospel of Luke”
Tape #10; Re: Luke 21

  1. Excursus on Apocalyptic — What’s going on in human history? What are its driving forces?
    1. The simple answer to that question is: the stone which the builders rejected has become the chief cornerstone (Luke 20:17-18). Those on whom that stone falls are crushed by it. Those who trip over that stone and are scandalized by it fall. That’s why history has become such a messy affair. We aren’t able to clean up the mess in the old sacrificial way.
    2. At that moment, Jesus and his disciples are standing and looking at this great monument to culture as usual (21:5-6), with sacrifice at its center. Jesus’ prophecy is re-echoed here in an apocalyptic setting. He predicts the destruction of the temple.
    3. Luke is writing late in the first century, a bit earlier than John, who is said to exhibit a “realized eschatology.” The Eshaton is the end-time. We don’t realize how radical this whole worldview is. The Jews, in a sense, invented history, in the sense that it’s going somewhere, that it’s linear, not circular. You could say that the Bible invented chronological time as we know it. History is the medium through which God is going to make his self-revelation to the world. It’s progressive; it develops. A couple weeks ago we talked about how beginning in the Renaissance we secularized that whole idea of God’s self-revelation into the superficial idea of human progress. In our time, as we see human progress not panning out, we’ve had the kind of despair or nihilism which we see today.
    4. The apocalyptic tradition was an offshoot of the prophetic tradition that had spawned the Jewish notion of history. The prophets began to see how what is going on in history is related to taking care of outcasts, and so on, a precursor to what we see in Jesus’ life. But the prophets still had a largely optimistic view of history. Later on, the room for optimism seemed to shrink, and you got the apocalyptic folks who see that history is in such a fix, that you have two alternative: (1) One would be to essentially give up on the biblical idea of history and say that we’re just going in circles. (2) God is going to have to break in on it violently and change everything.
    5. The New Testament apostles took over the biblical vision of things and had faith that Jesus came to represent where the world was headed, and that it would be a full revelation of God’s plans for the world. When the whole world recognizes it, the eschaton would be upon us. Getting from here to there is what history is all about. The first generation of Christians thought the eschaton would come right away. By the time, John writes the last Gospel, he had a “realized eschatology.” The eschaton comes through the crucifixion.
    6. Luke is somewhere in between. He sees that history is going some place and that we’re in for a long haul. Similar to John, though, Luke has a sense that we can begin to experience the eschaton right now. If you want to understand what’s going on in the world correctly, you see it in terms of the revelation that Jesus represents. We see many of the same things but with a new understanding.
    7. John Donahue says of Luke’s eschatology: “I argue that the mixed eschatological posture of Luke is not due simply to a crisis over the delay of the Second Coming, nor does it reflect the emergence of an “early Catholicism,” which substituted timeless truth for eschatological urgency. Rather, Luke wanted to shift the locus of the saving event from the eschaton, the endtime, to the seimeron, the every day of Christian life. For Luke, eschatological existence means daily realization of the crisis brought to human history by the life and teaching of Jesus, rather than a preoccupation with the end of history.”
    8. Change that slightly. It’s better to emphasize the life and death of Jesus than the life and teaching. It’s Christ crucified that we preach. This is what’s going on in history. If you want to see what’s happening in the world, you see it from the point of view of the Cross.
  2. Luke 21 — Jesus’ Apocalyptic Discourse
    1. Reads 21:9-11 “When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately.” Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.”
    2. Consider nations against nations as a symptom in the eschatological journey, in an apocalyptic shift that may take place disastrously or more gradually.
      1. In Violence Unveiled I tried to show that the moment of “Crossing the Jericho” was an anthropological (not necessarily chronological) moment of moving to a new level of nation against nation. There’s a moment when cultures shift from the purest form of the sacrificial recipe, which is more of an internal dynamic within that culture, to another modality, which is to take the sacrificial passion and redirect it toward an historic enemy. The sacrificial solidarity is now in terms of us all being against them. It’s a quasi-religious form that is still capable of achieving some sacrality. Is Jesus’ phrase of nation against nation a symbol for that anthropological shift? It’s a new phase in human history.
      2. Violence Unveiled effectively argues that the phase of nation against nation is also coming to a close. We can’t seem to do it anymore. We’re too aware of victims even when they’re foreigners. Before we even send the bombers over, we send the camera crews over to interview the victim. The rejected stone has become the cornerstone, and the game is up.
      3. Nation against nation is a phase in the unfolding drama of Christian eschatology. The ancient sacrificial system isn’t working, and for a while this other innovative system is working.
    3. Reads 21:12 “But before all this occurs, they will arrest you and persecute you; they will hand you over to synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors because of my name.” Before all this occurs. Go back to the idea presented in earlier lectures of the “victim’s epistemological privilege” [from Andrew McKenna’s Violence and Difference]. We could say, “Before you’ll be able to recognize these things, you’ll have to experience some of this persecution yourself, and then your eyes will be more open to (what Donahue calls) eschatological existence.”
    4. The persecution brings about an opportunity, then, to testify. Reads 21:13-15: “This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defense in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict.” This is before the crucifixion. Jesus is talking to people who are still caught up in the fog. Later on, their defense will be prepared for them. What defense? If the stone the builders have rejected has become the cornerstone, you don’t need to say anything. The Muslim men and boys that were buried in that mass grave in Bosnia didn’t have to say anything, because the moral determination to see things from the point of view of the victim will be there, and that will be your vindication.
    5. Beginning in verse 21:20 Jesus predicts the destruction of Jerusalem — which is pretty easy in Luke’s day since Jerusalem had already been destroyed in 70 C.E. Verse 22: “for these are days of vengeance.” This sums up the apocalyptic time. The old sacrificial system existed to put a stop to the cycles of revenge that are generated during a time of sacrificial crises. Example: the former Yugoslavia. The days of vengeance. The old sacred system used to break it, by introducing into the cycle of reciprocal violence a sacred violence that was so powerful physically and metaphysically that it put a stop to the reciprocal violence. The cross demythologizes the metaphysical force of that scared violence such that no increase of physical violence can make up for it. The cross is an influence behind the days of vengeance to the extent that it robs of its power the old system of containing it.
    6. Verse 24: “Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.” The term “Gentiles” here is ethnos, also translated as “nations.” “The age of the nations.” An anthropological midrash on this term is that the age of the nations is what succeeds the era of the old sacred system. It’s an interim period that moves into a different from of sacrality — in the end, a secularized for of sacrality. The ages of nations will be fulfilled — this reading sees that as a time when the age of nations also ceases to work.
    7. Isn’t this echoed in the next verse? Verse 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.” The word “distress” here indicates a pressing together; this is a bringing together that cause more agony than harmony. The glue becomes an explosive.
  3. Excursus on 2 Thess. 2:1-8 (NJB): “About the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ, brothers, and our being gathered to him: please do not be too easily thrown into confusion or alarmed by any manifestation of the Spirit or any statement or any letter claiming to come from us, suggesting that the Day of the Lord has already arrived. Never let anyone deceive you in any way. It cannot happen until the Great Revolt has taken place and there has appeared the wicked One, the lost One, the Enemy, who raises himself above every so-called God or object of worship to enthrone himself in God’s sanctuary and flaunts the claim that he is God. Surely you remember my telling you about this when I was with you? And you know, too, what is still holding him back from appearing before his appointed time. The mystery of wickedness is already at work, but let him who is restraining it once be removed, and the wicked One will appear openly. The Lord will destroy him with the breath of his mouth and will annihilate him with his glorious appearance at his coming.”
    1. The one who was holding back or restraining the lawless one, the wickedness, is the katechon. There will come a point when the katechon no longer functions, and the lawlessness will have no restraint. And there will be only one force in the world that can destroy it, and that’s the Gospel itself.
    2. This goes back to Thomas Hobbes, one of the founders of modern thought; his Leviathan is basically the katechon. It is the power of the state, the modern form of human culture, which is that age of nations against nations that will also come to fulfillment. Karl Schmidt was a mad, genius thinker, a legal theoretician for the Nazis. He said that we can’t have culture without knowing exactly who our enemies are. The katechon can take this form of restraining the lawlessness by knowing who are enemies are.
    3. 2 Thess. 2 tells us that one day the katechon will collapse, and the lawless one will break free of its restraint. And only the Gospel, the breath of the mouth of the Lord, will destroy the lawless one. It’s a marvelous intuition about human history. The katechon is still only a limited form of restraint that will give way some day. There will be nothing left but the lawless one and the Gospel.
  4. Bringing things to a conclusion
    1. Luke brings things to a conclusion in a stunning way, 21:29-33: “Then he told them a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree and all the trees; as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.'”
    2. He’s talked about all these terrible things: nations against nations, outbreaks, suffering, persecution, catastrophe. And then he likens the whole thing to leaves coming out in the spring. It’s an absolutely amazing parable.
    3. He’s using it to say that when you see these things, you have to realize what is very difficult for you to realize unless you are an eschatological being — that is, that what is actually happening is that the Kingdom is breaking in on the human constructs designed to keep it out. If you see that, you won’t panic. You’ll be able to take advantage of the call to witness and to participate in the kingdom’s unfolding.
    4. One of the ways of panicking is to identify with the latest victim and then re-constitute the whole sacrificial system in defense of that victim. ‘Now we know who the victim is and where the righteous violence really ought to go.’ And so we crank up some more righteous violence and aim it at the latest victimizers and start the whole process over again. That’s not to say that we shouldn’t run to the aid of the victim, but not in such a way in which we end up re-generating the process. An important part of being an eschatological being is that we don’t get caught up in it again.
    5. Jesus in a sense warns against this. “Be on guard … Be alert at all times, praying that you may have the strength to escape all these things that will take place, and to stand before the Son of Man.” We must connect these two, being alert and praying. We remain alert by praying. We have a transcendent source at all times, the source of our lucidity when the world is full of scandal.
    6. Go back to some verse he saved to the end (out of place). Luke 21:28 “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.” And Luke 21:19: “By your endurance you will gain your souls.” That’s the Gospel. The word “endurance,” hypomene, is more than patience. It is a commitment to endurance. Simone Weil has a whole thing on hypomene in her little book Waiting for God. She says: “The attitude that brings about salvation is not like any form of activity. The Greek word which expresses it is hypomene. It is waiting or attentive and faithful immobility that lasts indefinitely and cannot be shaken.” Luke says, “By your endurance you will gain your souls.” The implication is that the alternative to hypomene is vengeance, retaliation, reciprocating, scandal, getting caught up in it. The alternative is losing our souls.
    7. One has to stand before the Son of Man. Only identifying with the Crucified One can make us potentially capable of the kind of endurance that can gain our souls. It’s a form of the imitation of Christ. In other words, if I’m enduring because I’m a tough guy, it’s not going to gain my soul. It only makes me tough, like Gordon Liddy or something.
    8. This enduring is a social act. The craziness is absorbed. The numbers don’t seem to compute. You may say: There’s 6 billion people in the world, and only about 1500 who can do this. That may be all it takes, strategically located. That’s why the Gospel has to be preached to the ends of the earth. At a moment of crisis, the people who can perform this act of absorbing the craziness are bearing the cross. It may be craziness at the office even, or in one’s family. We are able to do this as eschatological beings, as those who follow the Crucified One.

Notes and transcription by Paul Nuechterlein

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