The gospel at this evening’s mass struck me as timely. It’s an interesting passage from Luke’s gospel for various somewhat geeky reasons. It is appealed to by those who want to date the gospel later than 70AD, describing as it does in some detail what happened to Jerusalem in that year. It also sits comfortably with the idea that Luke was written for a community grappling with the delay of the eschaton. Had they been forgotten? Had God failed to honour his promises? Was their hope in Jesus misplaced?
Throughout Luke the theme of not losing heart recurs; the reader is encouraged to keep on hoping. In this passage, the very collapse of the world as the gospel’s cast knew it is interpreted as a sign of the coming Day. “Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.”
The world at the moment is, it is fair to say, in a bit of a mess. The growth in racism and the politics of the radical right on a global scale makes contemporary life a frightening affair. Texts like today’s gospel are appealed to by the religious right who recently helped elect Donald Trump to underwrite a practical nihilism – who cares if the environment disintegrates? That, after all, might just hasten the rapture. Perhaps the “days of vengeance” are to be seen in contemporary Middle Eastern politics. Even if we reject the religious right’s reading as the nonsense it palpably is, isn’t there a danger of the gospel, and other similar passages in Luke, of us being encouraged to turn our backs on the world, hoping for pie in the sky when we die?
Well, there certainly is that danger, but succumbing to it is not compulsory. The thing about fear of the kind that we feel at today’s geopolitics is that it can be paralysing. Things are so bad, it is tempting to conclude, that we may as well just give up. The realisation that history is directed towards an end other than destruction, namely the Kingdom of God, which what Luke wants to instil in his readers, far from dragging us away from the world can give us the courage to remain engaged with it. We should not lose heart, because, after all, Donald Trump does not have the last word.