Reflection on Luke 21: 25-36
by John G. Gibbs, PhD
So far as gospels are concerned,
Year C will be the year of Luke. On the first Sunday of Advent
it is appropriate to survey the two-volume work of this author
who both wrote a gospel and constructed the first chapter in
Church history (Acts).
Some characteristics of Luke
stand out. First, prominent in his theology and Christology
is social justice. For instance, though all three synoptic gospels
include Jesus' rejection at his hometown, only Luke quotes the
texts in Trito-Isaiah (Is. 61:1-2; 58:6) that Jesus read in
the synagogue on that occasion. Jesus' comments on the text,
as relayed by Luke, emphasized God's saving acts outside Israel
in Sidon and Syria, and by implication attacked the provincial
nationalism of the congregation. He did so with such effectiveness
that "all in the synagogue were filled with rage"
so that they took Jesus to the top of a cliff from which they
had expected to hurl him down to death. (Jesus announces the
universalization of the gospel, but we hear an off-stage trumpet
of crucifying doom.)
Luke thereby showed the deep
roots of Jesus' public ministry in prophetic emphasis on righteousness
within the public realm. Social justice is a pre-eminent theme
also in ecological consciousness, for it includes commitment
to Eco-Justice, which explores connections between ecology and
economics, between the creation around us and the fiscal intentions
within and among us.
There are other characteristics
in Luke's work: his interest in medical terms (leading to the
description "Luke the physician"), in geographical
matters as exhibited in his extensive use over land and sea
of the journey motif (not only in Acts, but also in Jesus "setting
his face toward Jerusalem" at Luke 9:51-19:27), his interest
also in relations between rich and poor.
The section 21:25-31 adds another Lukan characteristic. There
are various apocalyptic "signs" of redemption coming.
Here is Luke's eschatological emphasis. For our laity the term
"eschatology" may amount to a technical term. In this
technological era, however, we should not retreat from the use
of precise language. Laity deal with technical terms as a matter
of course, thereby demonstrating their capacity to understand
and use them. Why expect a faith rooted in at least 3 millenia
of continuous community not to have its own special vocabulary?
For Luke the goals set before
the Church (the community called out in order to be sent into
the world) exercise powerful influence on daily life here and
now. That's eschatology (study of the "eschaton,"
the end-time goal). There may be fear and foreboding, along
with the powers of the heavens being shaken. But Luke looks
beyond those portents to the "power and glory" of
the coming "Son of Man" (another technical term).
When those "signifying" events come, it will be a
time of great expectation and hope. At that moment "stand
up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing
near." Another technical term is "redemption"
(apolutrosis), a word that signified the buying back
of a captive or slave by paying a ransom (lutron). The
advent of our release into the freedom of God's own people is
what Luke proclaims here.