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Weekly Bible Notes and Worship Resources for Ordinary 33

Second Sunday before Advent

Year C, Colour = Green


Introduction

The marble relief above is taken from a photo I took in Rome of the Arch of Titus. The arch was erected by the Emperor Domitian following the death of his brother Titus and this picture celebrates his victory following the siege of Jerusalem in AD70. See the Golden Candlabra or Menorah lifted high, with other siezed sacred objects such as the Table of Shewbread and the golden trumpets. The fall of Jerusalem was catastrophic, the historian Jospehus tells us that so many were killed their blood flowed through the streets and extinguished the fires, we get the picture. Now remember that the Gospel of Luke which we read today was written a decade or so after these events. The Gospel was written for a community of Christians who had lived through these terrible events which had led to this conquest.

It is against that background that we read the Gospel of Luke and try to understand how he told the people of the words of Jesus, words which should have encouraged them in this time of trial. It was written for a persecuted Christian minority under the subjugation of Rome. However they should not lose hope but trust in Jesus, and see how his life prepared them for the situation in which they found themselves. These words are not meant to help us interpret our future, they were written to help the reader at the time understand what had already taken place. Indeed Jesus warns his disciples not to use his words to guess or engage in predictions about when he will come again saying that, “no one knows the day or hour.” He tells us that we shouuld not be alarmed about chaos, we should be ready. Trials in life are an opportunity to know his presence and he promises to equip us to speak and respond when such occasions arise.

Opening Verse of Scripture

Psalm 98

Sing to the LORD a new song, for he has done marvellous things; his right hand and his holy arm have worked salvation for him. The LORD has made his salvation known and revealed his righteousness to the nations.

Collect Prayer for the Day - Before we read we pray

Heavenly Father, whose blessed Son was revealed to destroy the works of the devil and to make us the children of God and heirs of eternal life: grant that we, having this hope, may purify ourselves even as he is pure; that when he shall appear in power and great glory we may be made like him in his eternal and glorious kingdom; where he is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever. CW

First Bible Reading - Malachi 4:1-2a

See, the day is coming, burning like an oven, when all the arrogant and all evildoers will be stubble; the day that comes shall burn them up, says the LORD of hosts, so that it will leave them neither root nor branch. But for you who revere my name the sun of righteousness shall rise, with healing in its wings. NRSV

Second Reading - 2 Thessalonians 3:6-13

We command you, beloved, in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, to keep away from believers who are living in idleness and not according to the tradition that they received from us. For you yourselves know how you ought to imitate us; we were not idle when we were with you, and we did not eat anyone’s bread without paying for it; but with toil and labour we worked night and day, so that we might not burden any of you. This was not because we do not have that right, but in order to give you an example to imitate. For even when we were with you, we gave you this command: Anyone unwilling to work should not eat. For we hear that some of you are living in idleness, mere busybodies, not doing any work. Now such persons we command and exhort in the Lord Jesus Christ to do their work quietly and to earn their own living. Brothers and sisters, do not be weary in doing what is right. NRSV

Gospel Reading - Luke 21:5

When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, Jesus said, ‘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.’

They asked him, ‘Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?’ And Jesus 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.

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.’ Then he said to them, ‘Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.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. This will give you an opportunity to testify. So make up your minds not to prepare your defence in advance; for I will give you words and a wisdom that none of your opponents will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be betrayed even by parents and brothers, by relatives and friends; and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your souls.’ NRSV

Post Communion Prayer

Gracious Lord, in this holy sacrament you give substance to our hope: bring us at the last to that fullness of life for which we long; through Jesus Christ our Saviour. CW
 

Commentary


Arch of Titus relief copy It’s a strange place Rome, as you walk around you are walking with history all around you, like being in a living museum. Typical of Italian historical monuments they are often marked with graffiti, exposed to the elements and seemingly uncared for. I always wonder what Italy would like if the National Trust and English Heritage got their hands on some of these wonderful places. As you wander through the Forum and past columns and monuments you come to a splendid arch, The Arch of Titus. It is was built in AD82 by the Emperor Domitian following the death of his older brother Titus. It was a triumphal arch, apparently used as the model for the Arc de Triomphe in Paris, to celebrate the achievements in war accomplished by Titus, including the Siege of Jerusalem in AD70. See the Golden Candlabra or Menorah lifted high, with other siezed sacred objects such as the Table of Shewbread and the golden trumpets.

The first Jewish-Roman war or The Great Revolt had started in AD66. The occupation by Rome brought heavy taxation and initial rebellion was punished by Rome with the killing of 6,000 Jews in Jerusalem. The Jewish rebels struck back and a full scale war erupted which continued for the next four years. The fortress of Jerusalem remained until Titus brought about its fall in AD70 and the last bastion of Masada fell three years later.

The fall of Jerusalem was catastrophic, the historian Jospehus tells us that so many were killed their blood flowed through the streets and extinguished the fires, we get the picture. Josephus claims that 1,100,000 people were killed during the siege, of which a majority were Jewish, and that 97,000 were captured and enslaved.

"The slaughter within was even more dreadful than the spectacle from without. Men and women, old and young, insurgents and priests, those who fought and those who entreated mercy, were hewn down in indiscriminate carnage. The number of the slain exceeded that of the slayers. The legionaries had to clamber over heaps of dead to carry on the work of extermination”

It is important to remember these events because they help us to understand the apocalyptic words in the Gospels. The Gospel of Luke which we read today was written a decade or so after these most horrific events. The Gospel was written for a community of Christians who had lived through these terrible events which had led to this conquest.

It is against that background that we read the Gospel of Luke and try to understand how he told the people of the words of Jesus, words which should have encouraged them in this time of trial. It was written for a persecuted Christian minority under the subjugation of Rome. They should not lose hope, trust in Jesus, and see how his life prepared them for the situation in which they found themselves.

Sometimes Christians use these words of Jesus to refer to events at the end of time,
"Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven.”
This is inspite of the fact that Luke makes it clear that Jesus said these words in direct response to a question from the disciples as to when the temple would fall ! These words are not meant to help us interpret our future, they were written to help the disciples prepare for the future catastrophe they would see. They were written down by Luke after the event itself to help his readers understand what had already taken place. Indeed Jesus warns his disciples not to use his words to guess or engage in predictions about when he will come again saying that, “no one knows the day or hour.” He tells us that we should not be alarmed about chaos, we should be ready. Trials in life are an opportunity to know his presence and he promises to equip us to speak and respond when such occasions arise. Jesus is telling his followers that things are going to be bad, but they must endure. There is assurance from Jesus that just as surely as evil will come, so will he be present at the side of his followers to help them to endure.

Putting these words of Jesus into their historical context explains their meaning, and that reveals important truths which stand the passage of time. These words were true for those who would be caught up in the apocalypse of Jerusalem, but of course they are true for each one of us. For example, Jesus doesn’t pretend that being a follower will in anyway provide protection from the terrible suffering and persecution that will come, he is brutally honest and truthful. Nevertheless Jesus shows complete confidence in the future. Jesus paints a picture for his disciples of chaos, all around them, life and nature in upheaval, they will not be in control, they will be subject to exactly the same vagaries of life as everybody else, and yet they are to remain calm because this is expected and God is in control.

Let’s go back to the Arch of Titus, depicting those wonderful achievements of the Roman military commander who later became Emperor. Tests have shown that it was once even more magnificent with gold and sculptures. However it is now a ruin, as is most of what remains of once great Rome. As Jesus told his disciples, human kingdoms would rise and fall, all passes away, but by enduring and holding the faith Christian believer was safe in God’s hands. Charles Royden

Meditation


A Psalm for our meditation this week. I chose it because of that wonderful line, ‘Do not put your faith in princes.’ We could substitute princes with lots of other words, politicians, bankers, celebrities, doctors etc. The message is clear, trust in God, anything less and you will be disappointed

Psalm 146
Praise the Lord. Praise the Lord, my soul. I will praise the Lord all my life; I will sing praise to my God as long as I live. Do not put your trust in princes, in human beings, who cannot save. When their spirit departs, they return to the ground; on that very day their plans come to nothing. Blessed are those whose help is the God of Jacob, whose hope is in the Lord their God. He is the Maker of heaven and earth, the sea, and everything in them - he remains faithful forever. He upholds the cause of the oppressed and gives food to the hungry. The Lord sets prisoners free, the Lord gives sight to the blind, the Lord lifts up those who are bowed down, the Lord loves the righteous. The Lord watches over the foreigner and sustains the fatherless and the widow, but he frustrates the ways of the wicked. The Lord reigns forever, your God, O Zion, for all generations. Praise the Lord.

 

Hymns

Come and see the shining hope
May the love of Christ enfold us
Shout for joy! The Lord has let us feast
Lo, he comes with clouds descending

 

Prayers for Sunday and the week ahead

representation of prayer as seed growing

"Prayer is a plant, the seed of which is sown in the heart of every Christian.
If it is well cultivated and nourished it will produce fruit, but if it is neglected, it will wither and die."

Lord, you offer freedom to all people. We pray for all who are in prison. Break the bonds of fear and isolation that exist. Support with your love prisoners, their families and friends, prison staff, chaplains and all who care. heal those who have been wounded by the activities of others, especially the victims of crime. help us to forgive one another, to act justly, love mercy and walk humble together with Christ in his strength and in his Spirit, now and every day. Prisons Week Prayer

Creator God, ever present, ever open to our needs, our hopes and our fears. Enable us to respond to your presence- in each other, in the dark places of our lives, in all situations; that we may respond to your love and transforming power in our lives, as you restore us to wholeness; and in so doing may we catch a vision of the gate of heaven. The Chaplain General. HM Prisons

Gracious God, in whom we live and move and have our being, open our eyes that we may see your fatherly presence ever about us. Teach us to be anxious for nothing and, having accomplished your holy will and purpose, to leave the outcome of all things in your most wise and loving hands; and this we ask through Jesus Christ our Lord. Amen.

Almighty Father, whose will is to restore all things in your beloved Son, the King of all: govern the hearts and minds of those in authority, and bring the families of the nations, divided and torn apart by the ravages of sin, to be subject to his just and gentle rule; who is alive and reigns with you, in the unity of the Holy Spirit, one God, now and for ever.

Set our hearts on fire with love for you, O Christ, that in its flame we may love the Lord our God with all our heart, mind, soul and strength and in this holy fire we may love our neighbours as ourselves; that in the keeping of these holy commandments we may glorify your name, now and for ever. Amen. Orthodox prayer

 

Meditation

Robert Louis Stevenson was born in Edinburgh in 1850. He is known for having written treasure Island? Kidnapped?and The Strange Case of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde? he had 12 points which he called his 'Pattern for living'here are some of them

  1. Don't borrow trouble. Imaginary things are harder to bear than the actual ones?
  2. Since hate poisons the soul, do not cherish enmities or grudges. Avoid people who make you unhappy?
  3. Have many interests. If you can't travel, read about new places?
  4. Don't hold post-mortems. Don't spend your life brooding over sorrows and mistakes. Don't be one who never gets over things?
  5. Do what you can for those less fortunate than yourself ?
  6. Keep busy at something. A very busy person never has time to be unhappy?

 

Predictions

Internet search engines around the world have been full of enquiries about Nostradamus following the dramatic events in New York. The French physician and astrologer Nostradamus (1503-1566) made obscure predictions which people have ever since forced to fit to the events of their times. These predictions can often ring somewhat true in that the images employed are so general they can be found in almost every event which takes place. Of course they are never a proper fit because the wordings are far too general. Not that this stops anyone from believing in them; our society's need for mysticism runs far too deep to ever allow for that. Once the crafty and the cunning get loose, they invent fanciful translations from the original French, bend over backwards to assert one named term is really another, join together bits of different texts and even fabricate part or all of the prediction. Have no time for this nonsense. Frightened people have sought to find meaning in events and as usual people who believe in nothing will eventually believe in anything.

However we Christians can be just as bad! Our reading from Luke 21 (found also in Mark 13 and Matthew 24) today is a prime example. Numerous details are disputed and hard to understand. When some read of nation rising against nation, and kingdom against kingdom., of earthquakes, famines and pestilences and fearful events and great signs from heaven when they think that this is teaching about the end of the world. But the passage is about the temple and when it will fall down! These words of Jesus follow the account of the widow who displayed true devotion to God's temple by giving two small coins. Such devotion should have been replicated by the temple leadership.

Jesus disciples stood with him on Jerusalem's holiest ground and stared at the stunningly beautiful temple, Herod's masterpiece of appeasement of the Jews. It was a sight to stir the soul and the site still stirs wonder as the foundation stones remind today's pilgrims of the splendour that once was there.

But Jesus broke into his disciples?reverie of pious amazement with a real shocker, a blunt, prophetic pronouncement: all the magnificence before their eyes would one day be rubble, he declared. In less than 40 years, the temple would be a smoking ruins. Jesus turned away from marble stones and golden adornments (Josephus describes opulent vestments for a thousand priests) and spoke of ominous yet hopeful things soon to come, things which would test the soul's endurance and at the same time help the disciples "gain [their] souls."

The temple tour had turned serious. What began with architectural admiration became a prophetic glimpse of what discipleship would cost those who would bear his name. It would bring public persecution and betrayal by those closest in the circle of family and friends. Six centuries earlier, Jeremiah had stood in the first temple Solomon built on this same site and declared its doom. Now the long-promised Messiah-prophet had come and taken his place in a temple rebuilt for the third time. His very presence was the visitation of God. To reject the divine reign he brought would be to bring down the judgment of God. To endure under his gracious reign would be "to gain your souls."

So the temple would be destroyed and Judaism itself was about to be overturned by Jesus he would be the source of salvation not Jewishness. Our passage begins with that prediction of destruction and with it the Old Covenant. The temple renowned for its beauty in the ancient world will be destroyed. The point for Christians was that they should not be panicked by such events. The same is true for us today, our God is in control and we should not listen to doomsday fantasies from Nostradamus or anybody else. Charles Royden

Notes

The Arch of Titus is a 1st-century honorific arch located on the Via Sacra, Rome, just to the south-east of the Roman Forum. It was constructed in c. 82 AD by the Roman Emperor Domitian shortly after the death of his older brother Titus to commemorate Titus' victories, including the Siege of Jerusalem in 70 AD. The Arch of Titus has provided the general model for many of the triumphal arches erected since the 16th century—perhaps most famously it is the inspiration for the 1806 Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France, completed in 1836. The south panel depicts the spoils taken from the Temple in Jerusalem. The Golden Candelabra or Menorah is the main focus and is carved in deep relief. Other sacred objects being carried in the triumphal procession are the Gold Trumpets and the Table of Shew bread. These spoils were likely originally colored gold, with the background in blue.