Thursday, July 08, 2010

Matthew's Apocalypse

Thursday, July 8, 2010 -- Week of Proper 9, Year Two

Today's Readings for the Daily Office
(Book of Common Prayer, p. 975)
Psalms 18:1-20 (morning)       18:21-50 (evening)
Deuteronomy 3:18-28
Romans 9:19-33
Matthew 24:1-14

When we consider that Jesus probably exercised his ministry around 30 CE and that the Gospel of Matthew was written after 70 CE, it is easy to see how much scholarly debate ensues around the text.  Which sayings of Jesus have been preserved accurately?  What has been remembered in a general way?  What words important to the early church have been credited to Jesus in order to give important guidance in latter days?  These questions have fueled centuries of thought and debate.

The Jerusalem Temple was the center of Jewish life.  The first Temple of Solomon was not much larger than St. Paul's Church.  When the second Temple was built in the 6th century BCE, some of the elders wept because it paled in comparison with the original.  The Temple of Jesus' day was a relatively new building, and it was one of the glories of the Greco-Roman world.  Herod the Great built the new Temple, beginning around 20 CE.  The stones were massive, and scholars have speculated creatively on the complicated technology and labor that would have been necessary to quarry and to move the enormous stone bricks.  It was enormous and impressive.  It was also a significant military fort.

In 66 CE Jewish Zealots led an armed rebellion against the Empire.  After some initial success, the insurrection was defeated by Roman legions under the command of Titus.  The Temple was breached and burned in a massive fire. 

Matthew's congregation lived in the post-rebellion days.  They lived with many challenges and fears.  The Jewish sect called Christians, who proclaimed Jesus as the Jewish Messiah, had been expelled from the synagogues and officially rejected by their Jewish neighbors.  Their loyalty to Jesus as Lord made them appear suspicious and potentially traitorous to Roman civic authorities who insisted that all acknowledge Caesar as Lord. 

The section that we are reading in Matthew is sometimes called Matthew's apocalypse.  Many scholars see in this section a pastoral response composed by Matthew to encourage his congregation during difficult days.  Apocalypse has been a traditional form of encouragement writing, offering a vision of a more hopeful future during a time of crisis. 

The readers of this Gospel would have heard from the voice of Jesus a description of their own circumstances and a word of hope and encouragement.  Pointing to the Temple Jesus says, "Truly I tell you, not one stone will be left here upon another; all will be thrown down.  ...For many will come in my name, saying, 'I am the Messiah!' and they will lead many astray.  And you will hear of wars and rumors of wars...  For nation will rise and against nation, ...and there will be famines and earthquakes in various places...  Then they will hand you over to be tortured and will put you to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of my name.  Then many will fall away, and they will betray one another and hate one another.  And many false prophets will arise and lead many astray.  And because of the increase of lawlessness, the love of many will grow cold."  These were things that were happening to the church that Matthew writes to.  They are a congregation under great stress and anxiety.

"See that you are not alarmed; for this must take place, but the end is not yet...:  all this is but the beginning of the birth pangs.... The one who endures to the end will be saved.  And this good news of the kingdom will be proclaimed throughout the world, as a testimony to all the nations; and then the end will come."

What looks like a destructive and threatening ending is only the signs of a new birth, a new beginning.  Take heart.  Jesus is above all things.  Jesus is also the end of all things.  Be of good courage.  Endure.  Be of good heart.  Quicken the love that was yours from the beginning. 

These passages can remind us in times of threat and chaos that Jesus is with us and will carry us through whatever threats may haunt our generation.  Matthew's words can bring comfort not only for his own day, but for ours as well.

Lowell

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About Morning Reflections
Morning Reflections is a brief thought about the scripture readings from the Daily Office of Morning and Evening Prayer according to the practice found in the Book of Common Prayer of the Episcopal Church.


Morning Prayer begins on p. 80 of the Book of Common Prayer.
Evening Prayer begins on p. 117
An online resource for praying the Daily Office is found at www.missionstclare.com
Another form of the office from Phyllis Tickle's "Divine Hours" is available on our partner web site www.ExploreFaith.org at this location -- http://explorefaith.org/prayer/fixed/index.html

The Mission of St. Paul's Episcopal Church
is to explore and celebrate
God's infinite grace, acceptance, and love.

Visit our web site at www.stpaulsfay.org

Our Rule of Life
We aspire to...
worship weekly
pray daily
learn constantly
serve joyfully
live generously.

Lowell Grisham, Rector
St. Paul's Episcopal Church
Fayetteville, Arkansas

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