Luke 21-22

Good morning! After characteristically lifting up an example from someone on the margins (the widow offering her two coins), the rest of Luke 21-22 focuses on the final words and actions of Jesus as he is arrested. We hear him describe future events and how certain (yet unscheduled) is the coming of the Son of Man. In the Lord’s Supper and what follows, Luke emphasizes Jesus’ awareness of everything that would take place, making all the more surprising his acceptance of imperfect people at the communion table and his healing of attacking foes.

Jesus’ foretelling of the temple’s destruction is no doubt informed by the recent experience of the temple’s actual destruction in Luke’s generation. What seems most significant in this passage is Jesus’ instruction not to believe anyone who says they know the time of the end, or that they are the messiah. During Jesus’ time and in every age afterward (including our own), people have suggested they somehow know the schedule of eternity or are the ones to bring it about. In every case, they are wrong and contrary to Jesus’ own instructions.

Jesus also describes the persecution that awaits his followers. This gives literary evidence for the ways that in the decades after the crucifixion and resurrection, great divisions arose in synagogues and families over whether Jesus was the messiah or not. Christian followers were frequently put on trial by Jewish leaders or Roman authorities determined to crack down on what became more and more like civil war. Awareness of these trials may be why Luke’s Jesus tells the disciples not to plan their defense in advance but to trust what comes to mind in the moment. When we come back to this theme in Acts, the same author then describes how the Holy Spirit gives Peter, Paul and the other disciples words to defend themselves when they are put on trial, marking a fulfillment of Jesus’ instructions.

A final word about the end times, at least for now. Jesus is quoted in all the synoptic gospels to have said in some form or another that “people living now will still be alive when the Messiah comes” (or returns). This gave understandable hope and reassurance to those who longed for visible validation of the struggles they were in. However, if we’re not given to accept that some have actually lived for thousands of years (as Indiana Jones and other science fiction interpretations have it), let’s admit that this was more wishful thinking on the part of the gospel writers and not something that we should take as true on face value. If we consider the kingdom of God as something hidden and constantly emerging in daily life, we might also describe it as coming on the earth any time anyone acts like Jesus. In that case, Jesus’ prediction is true in a more-than-literal sense because the kingdom of God began to be realized almost immediately after his resurrection.

The Lord’s Supper as instituted in Luke 22 is another reason why Luke is among my favorite gospels. Jesus begins what the church has come to call “holy communion” as a meal of remembrance (“Do this in remembrance of me”), and a meal that declares the ever-presence of Jesus in such symbols. In this supper, Jesus also feeds his betrayer and every person who will desert him. Such powerful forgiveness even before the fact is not just something awe-some in Jesus, but a sentiment of compassionate service to be emulated. Here, after all, is where Luke puts the conversation about the greatest and the least—at perhaps the most profound point of his teaching ministry, among Jesus’ final words to the disciples. Rather than vying for top dog, he calls them to outdo one another in service to others.

The rest of the chapter shows Jesus’ enactment of this principle when it describes Jesus’ prayer, followed by his betrayal, arrest and trial. The detail of an angel that ministers to him in Gethsemane, and his sweat like drops of blood, are missing from other gospels and other ancient texts. In fact, it seems rather out of place in this gospel because Luke doesn’t describe Jesus as agitated or fearful at all. Instead, he is matter-of-fact about what’s to come and determined to proceed calmly through it. Jesus does not respond with surprise or accusation at Judas’ betrayal. The man of peaceful composure actually heals the severed ear of one of the men in the arresting posse! Luke emphasizes Jesus’ knowing acceptance of what’s to come, and his power to endure it without losing his composure or sense of mission. Happy reading!

Read Luke 21-22.

Please join discussion of this passage at the Daily Bible Facebook group, or comment below. The passage for tomorrow is Luke 23-24. Thanks for reading!

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