Luke 21:5-6 (CEV)
5 Some people were talking about the beautiful stones used to build the temple and about the gifts that had been placed in it. Jesus said, 6 “Do you see these stones? The time is coming when not one of them will be left in place. They will all be knocked down.”
This is the beginning of one of the weirdest parts of the book of Luke – at least in my opinion. Over the next couple of weeks, the passages that we have to look at are going to talk about “future stuff”. Some of the things Jesus is going to say are going to sound cryptic and confusing and a bit like a movie trailer for an action flick.
But these passages are part of Jesus’ exit speech to the crowds.
He knows what’s coming next.
He knows he’s going to be captured and tried and killed.
And he looks around, and – like anyone who has found out that they will die soon – he has a few final words to say to those who have been listening to him.
And these are the first:
“These stones – the stones of the temple – the stones that create this space of religious authority and structure and power – these stones are going to be knocked down.”
These were pretty powerful words back then, and they’d be pretty powerful words today if anybody were to say them about the Temple Mount in Jerusalem today, or about the building of the headquarters of any other major religion around the world.
These are political words.
Words that would have been heard by those in the religious establishment as extremely threatening.
Words that could easily have gotten Jesus into a lot of trouble.
To the priests and Levites and Teacher’s of the Law and Pharisees in the audience, this was an utterly audacious claim – especially because it comes on the heels of his declaration last week that he came, not in a priestly tradition, but in a prophetic tradition.
So why would Jesus say this?
There is this sense that N.T. Wright picks up on in ‘Luke for Everyone’ that Jesus is effectively letting his audience know that the temple system has had it’s chance.
For hundreds of years the prophetic writers called the Jewish people back to a way of worshiping that was more than simply laws and rules and showing up and going through the motions. For hundreds of years they had called the Jewish people back to Sabbath practices that encouraged justice, a sacrificial system that encouraged humility, feasts and holy days that reminded the people of both who they were as well as whose they were.
But they had chosen not to listen.
The changes were never made.
It’s like Rabbi Abraham Herschel says:
When faith is completely replaced by creed, worship by discipline, love by habit; when the crisis of today is ignored because of the splendor of the past; when faith becomes an heirloom rather than a living fountain; when religion speaks only in the name of authority rather than with the voice of compassion–its message becomes meaningless. ~ Abraham Joshua Heschel, God in Search of Man: A Philosophy of Judaism
Like so many people in so many religious traditions around the world and throughout history, they had gotten caught up in the routines and the rituals and forgotten about the real reason any of it was given to them in the first place – to teach them to act justly, to love mercy, and to walk humbly with God.
And so – Jesus says – the walls will come down.
The system will topple.
It has to, you see, because it is standing between people and the Kingdom.
It has to, you see, because it is standing between people and the way they were made to live and move and be.
It has to, you see, because it is standing between people and the God who loves them.
And when walls stand between people and the God who loves them, the only option is for them to be knocked down.
- Try to think of Jesus’ words in a modern context. Choose a political or religious building that is extremely important to you or your community. Imagine what would happen if someone told you that this building was going to be blown up.
- What would you do?
- How would you and your community respond?
- Why is Jesus so upset about the temple system?
- The temple in Jerusalem was destroyed in A.D. 70 – about four decades after Jesus made this statement – so most would agree that this prophecy has already come true. But how can these words shape how we choose to follow Jesus today?
- How do they challenge the way we live into our own faith practices?