December 21, 2012
Dear brothers and sisters,
I am taking the good news today from Matthew 24:1-2.
Jesus left the temple area and was going away, when his disciples approached him to point out the temple buildings. He said to them in reply, “You see all these things, do you not? Amen, I say to you, there will not be left here a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”
According to the New American Bible, this is the beginning of the fifth book of Matthew’s gospel. It describes the coming of the new age, the eschaton. At the time Matthew wrote this he knew that the temple had been destroyed by the Romans with no stone left unturned. So, it’s difficult to know whether Jesus actually foretold its destruction.
This description of the disciples pointing out temple buildings to Jesus is interesting. They appear to be like tourists, which means some of them at least had never made the to pilgrimage to Jerusalem for the Passover festival before. The buildings were impressive indeed. Marcus Borg in Jesus writes that “some of the stones were forty feet long, ten feet high, and fourteen feet thick and weighed five hundred tons.” The temple was magnificent, a source of tremendous pride for the Jews. According the Barclay, the temple “was built of white marble plated with gold, and it shone in the sun so that a man could scarcely bear to look at it.”
Eschaton, the end time and beginning of a new age. People seem to have been fascinated by this notion from time immemorial. The Mayans apparently didn’t believe that the earth or man upon it was coming to an end yesterday. In the calendar it simply marked the beginning of a new cycle. However, for years modern man has interpreted their calendar as a prophesy of the end of the world. I heard an authority on the radio the other day talking about this phenomenon, the belief in the eschaton. While it is certainly not peculiar to Americans, we seem to have had a greater preoccupation with the concept over the years. We are continually looking for signs of the end time whether in the Bible, contemporary fiction like the Left Behind series, the writings of other cultures and religions, or upheavals in nature and the cosmos.
Why this morbid fascination with the end of the world? We seem to have a thirst for redemption, for the triumph of righteousness, and for a state of perfection, of unbounded joy. Accompanying this dream wish is often a belief that contemporary life is a form of hell, that we are living a hellish life and can look forward to life in heaven. So, the end of the world is longed for as an exit to the suffering now endured. Such people hope that they are among the elect who will be taken into the kingdom.
To me, Jesus didn’t seem willing to give up on us that easily and he always put the responsibility for a life of compassion and justice back on us, not on God. He labored to make this life better for those who suffered and were anxious. He tried to remove the impediments that kept people from enjoying the blessings of this life. The new age which he embodied was at hand. It was in the hands of the people he preached to bring about now in their own lives. But it meant change, transforming their lives in accordance with God’s will. That’s difficult, almost impossible. Maybe that’s why people look for an end time. Maybe it seems easier to let God bring this age to an end and let us all start over as perfect beings. Personally, I don’t think He’s going to let us off the hook that way. He wants us to work it out for ourselves, messy as it is. He wants us to begin our own new age. It doesn’t matter whether the magnificent edifices we have built are destroyed; what matters is what we create within ourselves. A pure heart can never be destroyed unlike the things we have created in our lives.