Thanks, Repentance, and Confession Giving

Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied . . . Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry. (Luke 6.21-25)We are just a few days away from a time spent in America around a table with good food, friends, family, celebration, and thankfulness. When I was a child, I was often accused of thinking about things too hard. “Lighten up, Herbie,” they’d say. “It’s just about having some fun.” And although I agree that I usually am looking at things way too seriously, I can’t seem to shake my thoughts about Thanksgiving this year. I want to say from the very beginning that I am in NO WAY saying anything negative about Thanksgiving, nor am I against celebrating this day to the fullest! What I’m suggesting is a more “holistic” Kingdom way through which a follower of Jesus might approach this day and the history it represents.

Let me explain. Recently, I heard a joke told by Stanley Hauerwas of Duke University. And although Hauerwas used the joke in relation to patriotism and the followers of Jesus, I believe it is also relevant to our subject this week.

The story is told of a day when Tonto and the Lone Ranger find themselves hopelessly surrounded by hundreds of aggressive Indians. Looking down at his trusty, silver six-shooter, and knowing it was not going to be enough, the Lone Ranger looked at Tonto and said, “What do we do now, Tonto?” Tonto calmly looked at the Lone Ranger and said, “What do you mean ‘we’, white man.”

In a sense, this is where I am too this year with Thanksgiving. Everywhere in America, I hear the rhetoric that surrounds this time of year where “we” as Americans celebrate how our Christian, European, pilgrim, immigrant forefathers were befriended by natives and taught how to survive. It’s a time where “we” celebrate with family and friends. And I want to just pause and sincerely ask the question, as a Jesus follower, “What do you mean ‘we’?”

Yes, I’m a white male, living in America, of European descent, but is this the only lens through which I, as a follower of Jesus and one who claim’s Christ’s Kingdom, can see? Is this the only lens through which Jesus calls me to see this holiday and its history?

You see, in the United States, the American Thanksgiving holiday tradition is very loosely traced by most to a poorly documented 1621 celebration at Plymouth in Massachusetts. In the 1620s and 1630s, pilgrims and puritans from England carried the tradition of Days of Fasting and Days of Thanksgiving with them to New England. What strikes me is how religious these immigrants were. This year, it is even more striking to me as my attention has recently been drawn to the deep contradiction between religiously worshiping Jesus and ethically following Jesus. (You’ll have to pardon me, I just finished The Cost of Discipleship by Dietrich Bonheoffer again.) You see, the “Christian” newcomers to this land, as religious as they were, were not as committed to what it meant to follow the ethical teachings of Jesus found in His landmark sermon on the mount. History is typically told from the perspective of the victors, the ones who have taken over a new territory. Rarely is history seen through the glasses of those who were defeated, those who had their homes taken away. I recently asked one of my American Indian friends what Thanksgiving means to them from their perspective. What I heard was a rich history of indigenous people who lived here long before this land was called America. I heard the story of how the Wampanoag, who had already experienced raids and slavery at the hands of Christian Europeans, nevertheless, embraced their “enemies” and taught these foreigners the skills necessary to grow their own food and survive. Whether intentionally or not, the reward they received for this was to suffer from diseases they had never known and against which their bodies had no immunity, ultimately suffering hunger and death themselves. Yes, this day stands for the survival of white immigrants as a result of the grace given them by this native tribe. But the celebration also lives within a story told upon the backdrop, sadly, of treachery, racism, and violence against millions of indigenous people that was justified then, and continues to be justified today, by Christian rhetoric.

Today, for some, this holiday is not simply a time to remember the survival of Christian pilgrims, it is also a story that includes small pox blankets, “civilizing” schools, and broken treaties. Although there are those who will endeavor to downplay and even deny these story details, they are bound together with our Thanksgiving celebration no matter how we try to reinterpret the day’s meaning and baptize it with Christian language and metaphors.

I can’t speak for anyone else, but this year, I’m choosing for my Thanksgiving celebration to also include Repentancegiving,, and some Confessiongiving. I want to experience more than simply gratitude, I want to be reminded of how easy it is for religion to be used for agendas other than those of the nonviolent Christ. At the very least, I’m choosing this year to embrace the complexity and contradictions of this day, honestly. Rather than giving in to myth and legend, I want this day to be a time, yes, spent with family and friends in laughter, celebration, and thankfulness. But I want this day to also be a reminder to continually analyze the water in which we are all swimming. I want this to be a day when I remember those who are not on the winning side of how life on earth is currently orchestrated. I want to see their stories through their eyes. And to stand in solidarity with them. This year, I want to be part of the cure, rather than the disease. Till the only world that remains, is a world where love reigns.

HeartGroup Application

1.This week, I want you to make a list of ten things for which you are thankful.

2.I want you to then, alongside each of those ten, consider those around the globe at whose expense those blessings might have come and take a moment to look at life through their eyes. Spend some thoughtful time in prayer over what this might mean and what Jesus, your mentor, would have his disciple (you) think, feel, and do as a result.

3.Share what you discover with your HeartGroup this upcoming week.

Happy Thanksgiving to each of you. And to all those who hunger and thirst for justice, you will be filled. The Kingdom Jesus has come to establish here on planet earth is slanted in your favor.

We’ll begin next week on a special four-part series on the birth of Jesus, which sparked what I consider to be the most beautiful revolution in all of human history—The Kingdom!

I love you guys,

I’ll see you next week.

 

The Pre-Constantinian Mustard Seed

“It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.” (Luke 13.19)

The last time I had seen this place was in the midst of a hasty departure when I was twelve. Many of you are aware of my childhood. When I was only seven years old, my mother and stepfather became enamored with the then-famous TV evangelist Jim Bakker and his PTL (Praise the Lord) Club. Shortly after encountering his television program, my parents sold almost everything we possessed and moved from West Virginia to Charlotte, North Carolina, where I would spend the next five years of my life. In 1988, when the ministry was in the midst of a full unravel, my mother decided it was time to leave and return to West Virginia. That was the last time I would see PTL. When I was a child, it was a place that was larger than life. It was a virtual, Bible-belt, evangelical, fundamentalist’s vacation paradise. From luxurious “Grand Hotels,” monstrous water parks, Christian dinner theaters, roller-skating rinks blaring Michael W. Smith and Amy Grant, outdoor Passion-Plays, Bible-based children’s amusement parks to an elaborate television studio and a Mega Church. Even the streets had names from the Bible. Everything the prosperity Gospel could promise and more. It was quite a production. (It’s no wonder that today I have such a low tolerance for most things religious!). When we left that place in the late 80s, it looked much different than it does now.

A few years ago, I was driving through Charlotte, and I thought, “Why not? I’ll just swing by and see the old place.” I was not prepared for what I would see. Today, most of those beautiful structures have fallen through. The horticulture of the area, once tamed by an extensive grounds crew, left to itself has overgrown many of the buildings. The bricks of which many of the hotels are comprised are worn away and chipped. The grey slate roof atop the giant auditorium called “the Barn”, where weekly church services were held, has fallen in, leaving an entire auditorium now with a giant sky light, or rather, just an unobstructed view of the clouds. Vines are growing uncontrollably up the sides of buildings. Sidewalks are barely distinguishable. Roads have completely disappeared. It once had the smell of new carpet, new construction, and now has the smell of wildlife. Where the sounds of children and families laughing and celebrating once filled the air, there now is an eerie, haunting silence as if you are the only person left on the planet. It has become a ghost town; a post-apocalyptic world that looks more like the set of a zombie film than the remains of a once vibrant Evangelical, Christian ministry.

What I want to draw your attention to is that as mighty as these edifices were both physically and ideologically, from dust these things had come and to dust they have returned. Flora’s (and maybe even fauna’s too) ever present pursuit of growth, if not vigilantly and continually opposed, will eclipse and overtake the mightiest inventions of humankind.

A fitting illustration of this point is my family’s return home this past summer after being gone for a six-week speaking tour. We came home to find a veritable jungle surrounding our home rather than the manicured state our “lawn and garden” had been left in.

Recently, I had the chilling experience of seeing some “before and after” pictures of Chernobyl, the site of a catastrophic nuclear accident on April 26, 1986. On that day at the Chernobyl Nuclear Power Plant in the Ukraine (then under the direct jurisdiction of the Soviet Union) an explosion released large quantities of radioactive particles into the atmosphere, which spread over much of the western USSR and Europe. The Chernobyl disaster is widely considered to have been the worst nuclear power plant accident in history, and is one of only two classified as a level 7 event (the maximum classification) on the International Nuclear Event Scale.

To see pictures of Chernobyl today is even more chilling than a visit to my childhood stomping grounds. This truly was an apocalyptic event that destroyed an entire city that today, due to radioactive pollution, is deserted, devoid of inhabitants (save for a very few who are still too poor to leave.) Chernobyl, which was once a thriving metropolitan city, today stands empty, silent, and still. The streets are empty. Commercial buildings are shells of their former glory. Residences sit vacant. Within these pictures, Chernobyl is decomposing right before your eyes. What used to be a beautiful city is now a haunting example, once again, of how flora and fauna quickly work together to reclaim, slowly and determinedly undoing the work of human kind. If left to their will, they will eventually, given enough time, make the presence of humanity and the nightmare humanity created here, wholly undetectable.

The most chilling picture for me, even above the empty city streets, was that of an indoor Olympic swimming pool, which once was a beautiful symbol of lifestyle, wealth, and plenty, now standing there empty, abandoned, with tiles having been eroded over time, and the giant clock on the wall, no longer keeping time, but silently standing guard and collecting dust while it too decays.

All of this brought home to my heart this week the words of Jesus in our featured text this week from the Gospel of Luke:

“It is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his garden. It grew and became a tree, and the birds perched in its branches.” (Luke 13.19)

I, unabashedly, subscribe to a form of Christianity that is decidedly pre-Constantinian. Before Christianity was coopted by Constantine and made into a religion, it was a movement, centered on the person Jesus the Christ, and focused on what that Jesus called “the Kingdom of God.” As I look at Christian history, the Constantinian shift has done untold damage to the original Jesus movement of the first century. But in a strange way, my childhood home at PTL, and these pictures of Chernobyl, strange as it may seem, give me hope. Today, Christendom (Constantinian-Christianity, where Christianity became the whore of Empire) has died in both Europe and Canada. It is dying here in America as well. Today, many believe we are living in a “post-Christian” era, and I agree. The “culture wars” here in America are over, and the Fundamentalists have lost. But what many Christians today are seeing as a cause for mourning, I see as a cause to celebrate. You see, given enough time, the mustard seed will, slowly and determinedly, grow. To just say it simply, if grass can find its way through cement sidewalks to grow toward the sun once again, then maybe, the Kingdom, the original Jesus movement, can find its way through the wreckage of Constantine to humanity once again today. Christendom, even with all its accomplishments, has left each of the societies where she has reigned supreme in as desolate a condition along the spiritual landscape today as the Chernobyl nuclear power plant finds itself along the physical landscape of the city of Chernobyl. And yet, just as the flora and fauna in this once-beautiful city seeks to return Chernobyl to its former state before the abuses of humankind, the Kingdom, the mustard seed is still growing almost imperceptibly today. If one will stop and listen, if one will place their ear to the ground, one can hear the rumblings. There is a movement afoot within Christianity that transcends the boundaries between Eastern Orthodox, Western Catholicism, and Protestantism, as well as the divisions of denominations (or “names”, as Paul calls them, see 1 Corinthians 3) within Protestantism. In almost every group mentioned above is the sound of those who are awakening to the fact that something is wrong. Somewhere we have strayed. And among many within each of the divisions just mentioned is an awakening, as almost to a new thought, that we must return to a pre-Constantinian Jesus and become reacquainted with Jesus’s central teachings in the Sermon on the Mount to find out where we have gone wrong. Many, from various and different traditions, are coming to believe that it was Jesus and His landmark teachings in the Sermon on the Mount that were marginalized by Christiandom in the fourth century with the arrival of the influence of Constantine. I find this most encouraging! After all, we believe in a story that when all hope was gone, from the tomb came a resurrection. And where many believe that Constantinian Shift killed the original Jesus movement, and I believe it did, we are witnessing the resurrection of that movement in our lifetimes today.

If the flora can triumph over the man-made “Christian” edifices of my childhood home, as well as have the power to undo, given enough time, the wreckage of nuclear technology gone awry in Chernobyl, then maybe, just maybe, the fauna of the “Kingdom”, of the “Son of Man,” of the “narrow way” of the early Jesus movement, of the “Mustard Seed” of enemy-embracing, enemy-love and forgiveness, united with concern for the sick and hope to the poor, can undo the damage of Christiandom on our world. More blood has been shed in the name of the nonviolent Jesus than any other name in human history. It’s time for that to be reversed. Jesus came possessing hope, through His teachings, for this world (see John 3.17). If we are going to return to being His followers, embracing the early Jesus movement once again, the question we have to answer, as His followers, is “Do we?”

HeartGroup Application

1. This week I’d like you to spend some time prayerfully contemplating the following passages from the Jesus story:

He told them another parable: “The kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, which a man took and planted in his field.” (Matthew 13.31)

He replied, “Because you have so little faith. Truly I tell you, if you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.” (Matthew 17.20 [21])

It is like a mustard seed, which is the smallest of all seeds on earth. (Mark 4.31)

He replied, “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mulberry tree, ‘Be uprooted and planted in the sea,’ and it will obey you.’” (Luke 17.6)

2. Take a look at the context. What was the “mountain” Jesus’s Kingdom of nonviolent enemy-love and concern for the poor could overthrow? What was this “mulberry tree” Jesus was sure could be uprooted by the mustard seed like faith in Himself and His teachings? Write down any insights that come to you as you pray over these questions.

3. Be prepared to share any new insights you receive this week with your HeartGroup.

Jesus foresaw that His Kingdom, centered in Himself and His teachings, His new way of doing life here and now, of which He was the template, could significantly impact this world. Jesus was not so much concerned with helping people escape to heaven, as he was with reestablishing heaven on earth once again. Eighty-one times Jesus refers to Himself as the “Son of Man.” Even secular scholars today are almost unanimous that this is original to the historical Jesus himself. They also agree that this is one of the clearest insights we have to Jesus’s own headspace as to what He believed He was accomplishing. Lastly, they are agreed that this is a vision of the purpose of His own mission, rooted in Daniel 7.

“In my vision at night I looked, and there before me was one like a SON OF MAN, COMING WITH THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN. He approached THE ANCIENT OF DAYS and was led INTO HIS PRESENCE. He was GIVEN AUTHORITY, glory and sovereign power; ALL NATIONS and peoples of every language WORSHIPED HIM. His dominion is an everlasting dominion that will not pass away, and his kingdom is one that will never be destroyed. (Daniel 7.13, 14)

“But I say to all of you: From NOW ON you will see the SON OF MAN sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One (see Psalms 110.1) and COMING ON THE CLOUDS OF HEAVEN.” (Matthew 26.64)

Then Jesus came to them and said, “All AUTHORITY in heaven and on earth HAS BEEN GIVEN TO ME. Therefore go and make disciples of ALL NATIONS . . .” (Matthew 28.18,19)

The Kingdom has come. . . now go heal the sick. (see Luke 9.2) Until the only world that remains is a world where Jesus’s Love reigns.

I love you guys.

I’ll see you next week.

Part 9: The Coming of the Son of Man in an Unexpected Way

Then he said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it. They will say to you, ‘Look there!’ or ‘Look here!’ Do not go, do not set off in pursuit. For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day. But first he must endure much suffering and be rejected by this generation. Just as it was in the days of Noah, so too it will be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking, and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed all of them. Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot: they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day that Lot left Sodom, it rained fire and sulfur from heaven and destroyed all of them—it will be like that on the day that the Son of Man is revealed. On that day, anyone on the housetop who has belongings in the house must not come down to take them away; and likewise anyone in the field must not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife. Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it. I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding meal together; one will be taken and the other left.” Then they asked him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” (Luke 17.22-37)This week I want to wrap up this nine part series on the eight final prophecies of Jesus in Luke’s gospel by returning to the fifth prophecy in Luke 17. I want to warn you. This final ninth part is twice as long as any of the other eight parts that have preceded it, but I want to promise you it is worth the read. Let’s begin.

What must be kept in mind from the beginning is that just as Matthew 5-7 is a Sermon on the Mount given by Jesus to his “disciples” and Luke 6 is a sermon on the plain spoken to “the people,” so the Olivet discourse given to “the disciples” in Matthew 24 is a Temple discourse given to “the people” in Luke’s gospel (Luke 21) , as is the passage we are looking at this week spoken to both a Pharisee and Jesus’ disciples in Luke 17.

Where I believe the majority of modern commentators run into problems is that they try and force Luke 21 and Luke 17 (as well as Matthew 24) into either being primarily about the destruction of Jerusalem or primarily about the Second Coming. They are primarily about neither, but rather about the coming of the Nonviolent Kingdom and Reign of Christ on earth as it is in heaven. Two quick words of caution for both audiences. First, I want you to know from the very beginning that I believe in a literal second coming of Jesus that is still in the future, although I believe the passages in the gospels that are traditionally believed to be speaking of Jesus’ second coming are really speaking of the coming of the Bar Enasha (the Son of Man and the new community centered in him; see Daniel 7.13,14 which is also about the coming of Christ’s Kingdom and not the “second” coming. Christ’s coming in this passage is to the Ancient of Days, not the earth at the end of time.) and the establishment of Christ’s Kingdom instead. In other words, the second coming and the establishment of Christ’s Kingdom are not the same event in the gospels. Christ’s Kingdom, according to Jesus, was actually established on this earth through the events of the first coming of Jesus, although His kingdom today is in its obstructed form. Also, secondly, the destruction of Jerusalem (which actually was the result of Judaism’s rejection of a nonviolent Messiah and the possibility of a nonviolent Kingdom, and their choice of violent, militaristic revolution against Rome instead) would now be a part of the history that would surround the coming of Christ’s nonviolent, enemy-embracing Kingdom. In other words, certain pieces of these passages may refer to the destruction of Jerusalem in so much as it plays a part in the overall scheme of the prophecies, yet these prophecies are not primarily about the destruction of Jerusalem, but the coming of Christ’s nonviolent reign on earth. This will become clear as we progress through the passage. Let’s start to unpack the passage this week. Please keep in mind, problems arise with these passages only when we try to make these words primarily about either the destruction of Jerusalem, or the literal second coming, rather than the establishment of Christ’s nonviolent Kingdom on earth.

Then he said to the disciples, “The days are coming when you will long to see one of the days of the Son of Man, and you will not see it.”

Within the cultural context of Jesus’ message of nonviolent, enemy embracing, enemy love, and forgiveness, was a document highly regarded by the Pharisees entitled The Rule of the Messiah (or The Rule of the Congregation, depending on your source). The coming of the Messiah, and the establishment of the kingdom of the “Son of Man” (see Daniel 7.13,14) would be ushered in by a violent war between the Messiah and Israel’s enemies. Jerusalem would be established through the violent destruction of Jerusalem’s enemies. When Jesus uses the phrase here, “the days of the Son of Man” of which the disciples would long for, Jesus is referring to the contemporary beliefs surrounding how the kingdom of the “Son of Man” would be established. Jesus clearly says that a coming of the “Son of Man” that looks like The Rule of the Messiah that “you will not see.” It won’t be happening like that at all. On the contrary, he says that because of Jerusalem’s rejection of a nonviolent Messiah in favor of a violent one, Jerusalem will now be the victim of destruction at the hands of her enemies, rather than the other way around. This was a blatant contradiction of the contemporary beliefs of the coming of the Kingdom of the “Son of Man” as presented in The Rule of The Messiah. To give you a taste of how this document reads, after the mass destruction of Jerusalem’s enemies, there is a banquet spoken of, of which it reads:

“At a session of the men of renown, those summoned to the gathering of the community council, when God begets the Messiah with them: the chief priest of all the congregation of Israel shall enter, and all his brothers, the sons of Aaron, the priests summoned to the assembly, the men of renown, and they shall sit before him, each one according to his dignity. After, the Messiah [War Lord] of Israel shall enter and before him shall sit the heads of the thousands of Israel, each one according to his dignity, according to his position in their camps and according to their marches. … And when they gather at the table of community or to drink the new wine, and the table of the community is prepared and the new wine is mixed for drinking, no-one should stretch out his hand to the first-fruit of the bread and of the new wine before the priest, for he is the one who blesses the first-fruit of the bread and of the new wine and stretches out his hand towards the bread before them. Afterwards, the Messiah of Israel shall stretch out his hands toward the bread. And afterwards, they shall bless all the congregation of the community, each one according to his dignity. And in accordance with this precept one shall act at each meal, when at least ten men are gathered.”

It is this document, this portrayal of how the Kingdom of the “Son of Man” will be ushered in, that Jesus repeatedly contradicts in passages such as Luke 14 and in his last supper in Luke 22. But the comparison of these will have to wait for another time.

What Jesus is sharing in this passage in Luke 17 is that not only will Jesus’ Kingdom not be established with this type of violence, but because of Jerusalem’s rejection of enemy love, enemy forgiveness, enemy embracing, and nonviolence, in Jerusalem’s future now lies her own destruction, rather than that of her enemies.

They will say to you, ‘Look there!’ or ‘Look here!’ Do not go, do not set off in pursuit.

Please see Part 5 for a full treatment of this section. Suffice it to say here that Jesus is saying that the Kingdom will not come through a violent insurrection against Rome as Jesus’ contemporaries were expecting.

For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day.

I believe Jesus is saying here that the Kingdom of the “Son of Man” rooted in Daniel 7.13,14 would not come the way The Rule of the Messiah had spoken, but rather it would be a light in the heavens, lighting up the dark night sky, from the east as far as the west. It would be radically more inclusive than they had understood or were willing to embrace. It would include those in the east as well as those in the west, as a light to both, bringing reconciliation, restoration, and healing.

But first he must endure much suffering and be rejected by this generation.

In this passage, Jesus clearly believes he will be rejected rather than embraced. This makes the next passages extremely insightful.

Just as it was in the days of Noah, so too it will be in the days of the Son of Man. They were eating and drinking, and marrying and being given in marriage, until the day Noah entered the ark, and the flood came and destroyed all of them. Likewise, just as it was in the days of Lot: they were eating and drinking, buying and selling, planting and building, but on the day that Lot left Sodom, it rained fire and sulfur from heaven and destroyed all of them—it will be like that on the day that the Son of Man is revealed.

Look at these stunning parallels Jesus is making. Noah had preached 1) of a coming destruction, 2) of a way to prevent that destruction, and was 3) rejected by his generation, which 4) lead to that generation’s destruction. In the exact same pattern, Jesus had come 1) warning of a coming destruction upon Jerusalem if they continued on their current path of an eye for an eye retaliation and violence toward their enemies; 2) presented a way to prevent that destruction through embracing his “narrow path” of nonviolent, enemy embracing, enemy love, and forgiveness; just like Noah, was 3) being rejected by his generation; and 4) this rejection would also end in the generation of Jesus’ day being annihilated by Rome.

The parallels between the days of Lot and Jesus’ ministry are just as stunning. Jesus, just like the messengers in Lot’s day, had come to Jerusalem warning of a coming destruction and of a way to escape that destruction by abandoning the way of eye-for-an-eye retribution and retaliation, and instead, embracing the path of nonviolent, enemy love. Just as with Sodom and Gomorrah, as a result of the path of violence, Jerusalem’s fiery destruction was now in Jerusalem’s future too. Jerusalem would see too late, she would become aware; it would be “revealed” to her in the midst of this fiery destruction that Jesus was right. There is a violent path that seems right to mankind, but the end thereof is death. Jesus’ Kingdom, the way of nonviolence, would be seen (would be revealed) to truly be the way of life when Jerusalem’s reluctance to let go of violence would end in her going up in smoke—a smoke that would ascend forever and ever.

On that day, anyone on the housetop who has belongings in the house must not come down to take them back; and likewise anyone in the field must not turn back. Remember Lot’s wife. Those who try to make their life secure will lose it, but those who lose their life will keep it.

This passage is so closely related to Jesus’ words in Luke 9.23 that it is a wonder that so many scholars have missed it. “Then he said to them all, ‘If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will save it’” (emphasis added). This is another clear case of where today there will be those who see in this the destruction of Jerusalem, as well as those who argue for an application of the second coming. I’m submitting that it is primarily about neither, but rather about the two paths we have been seeing continually in each of the eight final prophecies of Jesus concerning Jerusalem. Remember, the choice was nonviolence or nonexistence. It was a choice between two paths: 1) nonviolent, enemy embracing, enemy forgiving, enemy love; or eye-for-an-eye retaliation and retributive, violent resistance against the Romans. Luke’s use of these words of Jesus is unmistakable. To come down off the rooftop to “take back” one’s belongings that are being threatened is to try to resist Roman occupation through violent insurrection. The word Jesus uses here for those who come down to “take them back” is the Greek word “airo.” It is the same word used early on by Jesus in His Sermon on the Plain. “But I say to you that listen, Love your enemies, do good to those who hate you, bless those who curse you, pray for those who abuse you. If anyone strikes you on the cheek, offer the other also; and from anyone who takes away [Airo] your coat do not withhold even your shirt. Give to everyone who begs from you; and if anyone takes away your goods [Airo], do not ask for them again. Do to others as you would have them do to you.” Jesus was warning of a time when Rome would come and Airo the possessions of the inhabitants of Jerusalem, and even then, Jesus was saying the Kingdom response’s would be to NOT “Airo” [take] your possessions back through violent insurrection but to turn the other cheek, love, and turn those possessions into a gift. I’m reminded of Victor Hugo’s priest, who instead of “taking back” [Airo] the candlesticks Jean Valjean had stolen, simply gave them to him as a gift, thus bringing radical transformation to the heart of a thief. To come down to “take back” one’s goods was to “turn back” to try and fight against Rome’s soldiers through violent retaliation in an endeavor to “save” one’s life, to try and make one’s “life secure” through violent means against the threat of violence from Rome. This is the exact opposite of what Jesus has been saying ever since Luke 6. To be willing to let go of Jewish pride, and of a vision of the Kingdom rooted in the destruction of one’s enemies; to seek the eternal welfare of the Romans over and above making one’s own life secure; to abandon the tribal nationalism of Judaism in favor of losing one’s life, even for the coming of the nonviolent, enemy-embracing Kingdom of the “Son of Man”—THIS is what it means to choose between “taking goods back” or “turning back” to violently protect possessions and one’s life, and learning the way of nonviolent noncooperation. Jesus equates the path of violent retaliation against a Roman attack as akin to when Lot’s wife turned back to try and save her possessions from destruction.

Jesus then drives the point home:

I tell you, on that night there will be two in one bed; one will be taken and the other left. There will be two women grinding meal together; one will be taken and the other left.

From the beginning, Jesus has been contrasting two paths: the narrow path of nonviolent noncooperation, which could create a whole new world; or the wide path of violent retaliation, which leaves the whole world blindly escalating toward annihilation. Here Jesus personifies each option by two in a bed and two grinding meal. The one who chooses the path of violence will be “taken” away,” while the one who chooses nonviolence will be “left.” The one who seeks to “make their life secure” will be “taken,” they “will lose it.” While those who choose the path of nonviolent noncooperation, those who are willing to “lose their life” will be “left,” they will “keep it.”

Then they asked him, “Where, Lord?” He said to them, “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.”

The question is asked “Where? Where will they be taken, Lord?” And Jesus’ answer is most likely the one phrase in the entire passage that would have created the greatest paradigm shift in the entire conversation. “Where the corpse is, there the vultures will gather.” Here, Jesus is referencing Ezekiel’s prophecy in Ezekiel 39 and combining it with Isaiah’s prophecy in Isaiah 25. Space does not permit me to quote both of these passages at length, but I would like you to go back and read each of these for yourself. Ezekiel 39 is the prophecy that Israel will be restored, while Israel’s enemies are destroyed. In verses 17-19, Ezekiel prophesizes, “As for you, mortal, thus says the Lord GOD: Speak to the birds of every kind and to all the wild animals: Assemble and come, gather from all around to the sacrificial feast that I am preparing for you, a great sacrificial feast on the mountains of Israel, and you shall eat flesh and drink blood. You shall eat the flesh of the MIGHTY, and drink the blood of THE PRINCES OF THE EARTH—of rams, of lambs, and of goats, of bulls, all of them fatlings of Bashan. You shall eat fat until you are filled, and drink blood until you are drunk, at the sacrificial feast that I am preparing for you. And you shall be filled at my table with WARHORSES and BATTLE CHARIOTEERS, with WARRIORS and all kinds of SOLDIERS, says the Lord GOD.” What Jesus is doing here is amazing. He is taking Ezekiel’s prophecy concerning the fate of Israel’s enemies, turning it on its head (Jeremiah 18.5-10), and using Ezekiel’s imagery to prophesize about what would actually happen to Israel herself at the hands of her enemies because of her failure to forsake violence and embrace the nonviolence of Jesus as their Messianic hope. Just stop and think about that. Isaiah prophesized in Isaiah 25, “On this mountain the LORD of hosts will make for ALL PEOPLES a feast of rich food, a feast of well-aged wines, of rich food filled with marrow, of well-aged wines strained clear. And he will destroy on this mountain the shroud that is cast over ALL PEOPLES, the sheet that is spread over ALL NATIONS; he will swallow up death forever. Then the Lord GOD will wipe away the tears from all faces, and the disgrace of his people he will take away from all the earth, for the LORD has spoken. It will be said on that day, Lo, this is our God; we have waited for him, so that he might save us. This is the LORD for whom we have waited; let us be glad and rejoice in his salvation. For the hand of the LORD will rest on this mountain.” Isaiah prophesized of the restoration of Israel, which would include all peoples of every nation, kindred, and tongue. Yet those of Jesus’ day would rather embrace the eschatology of The Rule of the Messiah, which spoke of Israel’s enemies being annihilated by the Messiah, leaving only the Jewish nation itself. Jesus is combining both of these “banquet” prophesies (Ezekiel’s and Isaiah’s) alongside of the “banquet” prophecy of The Rule of the Messiah, and then gives the final blow, “there the vultures will gather.” The word here for “vulture” could be translated as “eagle” equally as well as “vulture.” Rome’s national symbol was the eagle. Surely the eagles of Rome would soon be circling Jerusalem if they continued to refuse the path of nonviolence.

Luke’s continuing context confirms our interpretation of Jesus’ words. Luke follows all of this up with Luke 18, where Jesus gives the parable of the unjust judge, who refuses to be moved, for those who might feel that Jesus’ nonviolence doesn’t seem to be working, saying that they should not give up, and they should keep praying and keep loving. Then Luke has Jesus once again contrasting the two paths (narrow/life vs. wide/death) of violence and nonviolence: the two in bed and the two grinding grain, with the two who went to the temple to pray. What is deeply profound is that Jesus places the Pharisees, who consider themselves more favored by God than anyone else, in the category of the ones who are “taken,” while the Jewish tax-collector, who sought the path of “mercy,” is in the category of those who would be “left.”

Much to ponder for sure.

HeartGroup Application

1.This week I want you to take the time to take each of the eight prophecies (one a day) and dedicate a portion of your day to prayerfully contemplating what it meant for Jesus’ audience, and what each prophecy could mean for us today.

2.Keep notes of any insights you receive throughout the week.

3.Share those insights with your HeartGoup this upcoming week.

In Luke 17.6, Luke records the words of Jesus, “The Lord replied, ‘If you had faith the size of a mustard seed, you could say to this mulberry tree, “Be uprooted and planted in the sea,” and it would obey you.’” Mulberry trees in this region were over twenty feet tall, but something as small as a mustard seed could uproot it, according to Jesus. What was this seemly insignificant, small means of accomplishing such a significant task? Jesus was clear. Faith in Jesus’s teaching on enemy love, enemy forgiveness, nonviolent, enemy embracing, noncooperation, to believe in nonviolent enemy love as the means whereby we can change the world, is to practice a faith with mustard seed qualities. Jesus was clear, “For as the lightning flashes and lights up the sky from one side to the other, so will the Son of Man be in his day.” Today our world is enveloped in the darkness of violence. It would be good to remember that the darkest part of the night is just before the dawn. Christ’s nonviolent Kingdom will light up the dark night sky from the east to the west, showing us a better way, the way that leads to life. I want to close this series with the words of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., “Evil may so shape events that Caesar will occupy a palace and Christ a cross, but that same Christ arose and split history into A.D. and B.C., so that even the life of Caesar must be dated by his name. Yes, ‘the arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.’ There is something in the universe which justifies William Cullen Bryant in saying, ‘Truth crushed to earth will rise again.’” (The Gospel Messenger; 1958)

This is the same hope given to us in Jesus’ sermon on the plain and repeated throughout the final eight prophecies of Jesus concerning Jerusalem in the Gospel of Luke. The Kingdom has come! It is among us! Christ’s way of nonviolent noncooperation combined with Truth and enemy love, places the means of significant world change, of healing, restoration, and reconciliation in the hands of each of us. May the world of enemy inclusion, forgiveness, and love continue to grow through us today. We are not irrevocably fated for nonexistence. We can choose the path of nonviolence and love.

Till the only world that remains, is a world where enemy-embracing, enemy-forgiving, enemy-loving, nonviolent love reigns.

I love you guys.

I’ll see you next week.