We want to be prepared for disaster. We stockpile food and clean water, learn survival skills, build bunkers. Well, I don’t, but some people do. Disaster-preparedness is seen as a positive good in our society, and maybe it is, but it’s worth asking what it costs us. Jesus is very confusing about preparedness in this chapter. On the one hand, we are to be like the poor widow, giving everything away, and when we are dragged before the authorities because we are followers of the way that Jesus is trying to show us, we aren’t supposed to prepare our defense in advance. On the other hand, we are to be on our guard and alert, not dissipated by drunkenness or the worries of this life. Is he saying that we should be attentive, but unprepared?
This passage from Luke parallels similar passages in Matthew and Mark, passages that are known as the “little apocalypse.” The Revelation to St. John is the “big apocalypse” of Christian scripture, but there are Jewish apocalypses, too, such as the Book of Daniel. To quote Marcus Borg and John Dominic Crossan in The Last Week, their book on the passion and resurrection, an apocalypse is “a kind of Jewish and Christian literature that reveals or unveils the future in language loaded with images and symbols.” The word apocalypse literally means “unveiling.” And Jesus’ little apocalypse truly does unveil the future. Within a hundred years of his saying these words, the people rose up in insurrection, the temple was destroyed, Jerusalem itself was destroyed, and the tenth legion camped in its ashes.
The things he predicted came true, and it is entirely possible that some of the apocalypses that are being predicted now will come true. But in this passage Jesus doesn’t advocate circling the wagons and stockpiling provisions. For him, the answer to apocalypse is open-handedness, awareness, and deep trust. The problem, as always, is control. Fear makes us want to control our circumstances, to pretend that we can be protected. But, as always, Jesus isn’t interested in control. He is only interested in love. Love must be our response to apocalypse. It is love that leads us to try to avert apocalypse, and love is the posture that we must adopt when apocalypse comes. We tend to think that our temples, our lifestyles and traditions, are all important, that we cannot survive without them. Yet as soon as they are gone, we find new traditions and lifestyles. It is all right to grieve the past, and to be concerned about the future, as long as we manage to practice love in the present.