The lectionary is artificial in that it takes a short piece of text which can disguise the place and the role of the text in the whole book. Always look before and after for context! I have included the whole of Chapter 21 and the beginning of Chapter 22. The reading is highlighted in grey.
In the original texts you can see there are no headings. They are not in the text! Neither are the verses. The original texts had no punctuation either, and no spaces between the words! The text is all capitals!
Question: What might that mean for the text we are reading?
The Text: Luke 21:25-36
[Jesus] looked up and saw rich people putting their gifts into the treasury; 2he also saw a poor widow put in two small copper coins.3He said, ‘Truly I tell you, this poor widow has put in more than all of them; 4for all of them have contributed out of their abundance, but she out of her poverty has put in all she had to live on.’
5 When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, 6‘As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down.’
7 They asked him, ‘Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?’ 8And he said, ‘Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, “I am he!” and, “The time is near!” Do not go after them.
9 ‘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.’10Then he said to them, ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
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. 13This will give you an opportunity to testify. 14So make up your minds not to prepare your defence in advance; 15for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. 16You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. 17You will be hated by all because of my name. 18But not a hair of your head will perish. 19By your endurance you will gain your souls.
20 ‘When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near. 21Then 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; 22for these are days of vengeance, as a fulfilment of all that is written. 23Woe 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; 24they 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.
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. 26People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud” with power and great glory. 28Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’
29 Then he told them a parable: ‘Look at the fig tree and all the trees;30as soon as they sprout leaves you can see for yourselves and know that summer is already near. 31So also, when you see these things taking place, you know that the kingdom of God is near. 32Truly I tell you, this generation will not pass away until all things have taken place. 33Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will not pass away.
34 ‘Be on guard so that your hearts are not weighed down with dissipation and drunkenness and the worries of this life, and that day does not catch you unexpectedly, 35like a trap. For it will come upon all who live on the face of the whole earth. 36Be 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.’
37 Every day he was teaching in the temple, and at night he would go out and spend the night on the Mount of Olives, as it was called. 38And all the people would get up early in the morning to listen to him in the temple.
Now the festival of Unleavened Bread, which is called the Passover, was near. 2The chief priests and the scribes were looking for a way to put Jesus to death, for they were afraid of the people.
3 Then Satan entered into Judas called Iscariot, who was one of the twelve; 4he went away and conferred with the chief priests and officers of the temple police about how he might betray him to them. 5They were greatly pleased and agreed to give him money. 6So he consented and began to look for an opportunity to betray him to them when no crowd was present.
Responding to the text
A reminder: What this study is seeking to do is not to give all the answers. It is designed to model a methodology for approaching the text. This methodology is as much art as science; we can gain an instinct for which questions to ask of a particular text.
Tacey says that "the story of Jesus enables us to see the life of the spirit: the Jesus story opens a window to the soul." (op. cit. 59) He goes on to say "that the Jesus story is about the secret life of us… a story about the life of the human soul." (pp 63)
This means that at least as important as the text, is our response to the text, especially our emotional response. So the key question is:
What are your emotions after reading this? Boredom, confusion, anger, fear, curiosity…?
There is no "right response" to a text, but our emotions key into what the text may say to us. Reading our emotions is important: I knew a child who, when faced with something distasteful, would yawn prodigiously and begin to fall asleep! What does my anger/fear/curiosity/enthusiasm etc signify? My little friend's boredom was not his primary emotion; it signified something else!
A Place to Start:
Imagine we had to get the week's gospel reading onto the front page of the news sheet! What would we leave out? All the padding we remove to produce the Pilgrim Church Condensed Version is where the author has taken the basic tradition and added layers of meaning.
In this text, we have:
Repetition and Qualifiers You can see an example of this in the yellow highlighting. Why not just a person? Why a woman? Why a widow? Why poor? Why the repetition? These are a way of saying Take note. This is important.
Question: Can you find other repetition?
We saw the poor widow. There are other qualifiers.
Questions: What are the other qualifiers you can find? Why might he say:
"Mount of Olives – as it was called?"
Names and Titles
What are the names in the current text? This is one of the areas we can miss if we are focussed on a literal reading. Names are almost always included for a reason in Biblical texts: the names are part of the message. Why is Judas not just Judas, but Judas called Iscariot?
Factually, we might call him Judas called Iscariot because that is his name. But in symbolic, metaphorical, and literary readings the qualifiers to his name (and other qualifiers) often carry the meaning of the story.
But sometimes a name is just a name! Iscariot is simply a Greek transcription of the Hebrew "man of Kerioth." It distinguishes this Judas from Judas the son of James (Luke 6:16) another one of the disciples, according to Luke. The commentator Fitzmyer (Luke Vol 1 pp 620) says the interpretations that it related to the Latin word sicarius— the daggermen— or the Aramaic seqarya— false one, liar— are unlikely.
Questions: What are the other names and titles you can find? How would you decide if they were significant?
Who are the actors or players?
Who are the players in this drama? What is the role of each player?
Son of Man
Satan - Diablos
Note that the nameless people have a role in the drama.
Where does the action happen? Location is used to add to the message. What is significant about the locations; ie why did things happen here and not somewhere else?
Mount of Olive
Context of our text
Our set lectionary text is the grey highlighted text. Always look at the context of the reading, because the lectionary introduces artificial division that may not correlate with the author's intentions!
Chapter 21 begins with the destruction of Jerusalem; specifically verses 1-24. When Luke is writing this has already happened. (66-70 CE)
Question: Since people already know this detail— Luke is clearly describing a horrible event that was in living memory— what is the purpose of putting it in? If you were a Jewish or Christian person in the time of Luke, what would these words be saying to you? How would you feel?
Our Set Text
The tone changes at verse 25. It goes from the destruction of Jerusalem to a more general tone. It also reflects passages from the Old Testament and books written between the Old and New Testaments.
"…signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations…" are a trope for that time when God will intervene decisively in the affairs of earth and put things to right. Today we have tropes like nuclear holocaust to deal with our fears for the future. Can you see the trope of dystopia in movies like "The Road" or "The War of the Worlds" (I'm thinking of the Tom Cruise version) or "The Matrix" or "Mad Max."
A literary trope is the use of figurative language – via word, phrase, or even an image – for artistic effect such as using a figure of speech. The word trope has also come to be used for describing commonly recurring literary and rhetorical devices, motifs or clichés in creative works. Wikipedia
Question: What is the truth in the trope, and what is the fiction? Or in other words, what is the metaphor saying to us?
Question: What does Luke sit next to the trope of God's decisive intervention? Look at verses 29, and 34.
Be on watch, Be ready. Read the signs of the times.
How do we make sense of this text?
We have alerted ourselves to our own emotions, which colour what we see in the text. We've been asking questions about the text which help us see how people of Jesus' time might have read the text; we've looked at their situation and hopes and fears…
Our interpretation is to ask where this all intersects with our hopes and fears. This is where the art begins!
In my own words…
Imagine being with a friend who makes you feel safe and who is sincerely interested in your opinion.
Tell them in a few words how you feel about what you have been reading and thinking— the questions, challenges, emotions. What is the text saying to you? Where does it challenge you? What does it question about the way you are living?
Remember: the issue is not first of all what is right, wrong, or able to be sustained in an argument, about the meaning of the text. It is to allow the text to "open you up" to the spirit around you. A later step can be to refine your "technical" understanding of the text.
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