Lectionary Year B
December 1, 2002
Step IV: Cross-Section
A. Primitive Christianity
(JFC) Matthew 24:27-39 and 42 and 25:13-15 parallel our text at hand and Luke
21:25-33 seems to be an attempt to approach similar sayings. Luke 21:31 adds to the cryptic, "it/he is near, at the very gates", "you know that the Kingdom of God is near." Revelation 6:13 pictures the sixth seal's opening with stars falling and the fig tree's dropping its winter leaves when a gale shakes it. James 5:7-9 pictures the Judge standing at the doors preparing to judge any grumblers. And, Revelation 3:20 describes the One "standing at the door, knocking . . ." Then, in Acts 20:31, Paul tells the Ephesian Elders to stay alert, as he did when he was on alert for three years. Also, Paul begins to close his first Epistle to the Corinthians by admonishing them to stay alert . . , as in I Thessalonians 5:6. I Peter 5:8 conveys the same imperative to the first century Christians.
B. Old Testament and Judaism
(JFC) Isaiah 13:10 and Joel 2:10b tell of the heavenly bodies failing and Isaiah 34:4b
tells of a fig tree's fruit withering. Daniel 7:13f sees a vision of "one like a human being coming with the clouds of heaven . . ." with an everlasting dominion. And then, Isaiah 14 proclaims God's compassion and a divine re-gathering of all peoples together back in their homeland after the exile. In Deuteronomy 30:3f, Moses promises that God will gather those exiled throughout the earth. Other Old Testament texts envision God's in-gathering/re-gathering, such as Deuteronomy 30:4, Isaiah 27:12, Isaiah 11:11, 16, 27:12, Ezekiel 39:27, Zechariah 2:6-11, Psalms 116:7 and 147:2, as well as Tobit 13:13, Baruch 5:5-9, II Maccabees 2:7 and others, also echo this "hope and anticipation" as Mann's ABC calls it. Isaiah also promises in 51:6 God's salvation even when the earth and the heavens end. From the earliest centuries of the Common Era, the Apocalypse of Adam anticipates a time of destruction when "the luminaries will be darkened so that the aeons may not see by them in those says." The Sibylline Oracles (2.202) also anticipate end time(s) marked when "all the stars will fall together from heaven on the sea, . ." These images remain useful to express anticipated anguish well into the centuries following the earliest believers'. "The idea that the Day is known only to God is typically Jewish; cf. Zech. xiv.7, Psa. Sol. xvii.23," according to Taylor.
C. Hellenistic World
(JFC) These philosophers might get into the picturesque vocabulary describing Jesus'
Coming, e.g., "'the sun darkened, and the moon will not give its light; the stars will fall from the sky, and the heavenly bodies will be shaken.' At that time men will see the Son of Man coming in clouds with great power and glory." The "coming" (evrco,menon) in verse 26 might remind them of the arrival of a ruler or of anyone held in high esteem, like the Son of Man is pictured doing here. They would certainly approve of "learning this lesson," even and especially (?) "from the fig tree". And, the "knowing" resulting from natural phenomena could get their attention and the image of their current generation surviving them might appeal to them as well. Yet, the later "no one knows" might well challenge their intellectual prowess if not offend it. The parable of the manor owner's leaving the servants in charge of the property could possibly seem out-of-the-ordinary to them and the repeated command to "Watch" might seem a bit over-emphasized if not actually harsh instruction to them. They probably could have negative reactions to being told too many times to do the same thing. Bob Shelton used to caution us against preaching too much "shoulds", too many "oughts" and he told us to avoid "musty sermons"! Would the Hellenists agree? Probably so.
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