Jerusalem, Washington and Babylon

Posted: November 27, 2008 in Uncategorized
Tags: , , ,

The scripture for the Eucharist for Thursday:

Luke 21:20-28

20 ‘When you see Jerusalem surrounded by armies, then know that its desolation has come near.* 21Then those in Judea must flee to the mountains, and those inside the city must leave it, and those out in the country must not enter it; 22for these are days of vengeance, as a fulfilment of all that is written. 23Woe to those who are pregnant and to those who are nursing infants in those days! For there will be great distress on the earth and wrath against this people; 24they will fall by the edge of the sword and be taken away as captives among all nations; and Jerusalem will be trampled on by the Gentiles, until the times of the Gentiles are fulfilled.

25 ‘There will be signs in the sun, the moon, and the stars, and on the earth distress among nations confused by the roaring of the sea and the waves. 26People will faint from fear and foreboding of what is coming upon the world, for the powers of the heavens will be shaken. 27Then they will see “the Son of Man coming in a cloud” with power and great glory. 28Now when these things begin to take place, stand up and raise your heads, because your redemption is drawing near.’

This passage is not about a “rapture.” I agree with N.T. Wright’s reading of this text.  Paraphrased briefly by the Girardian Lectionary:

…[This] is a crucial passage for Wright’s entire presentation of the Historical Jesus, since he paints Jesus as a first-century Jewish apocalyptic prophet. But he differs from Schweizer in thinking Jesus expected the “end of the world” or an imminent “Second Coming.” Rather, Jesus correctly prophesied that continued reliance on military rebellion would result in the destruction of the Temple and end of Jewish life as they knew it…

…[T]his kind of prophetic language was about real-time events of ‘earth shattering’ implications. The ‘Son of Man’ language from Daniel is enthronement language about being vindicated, not some cosmic event of an end-time coming. The Book of Daniel is about Israel’s vindication of the successful Maccabean revolt against Aristarchus Epiphanies IV, told in the language of Israel’s coming vindication against Babylon.

In our passage from Luke 21, what has been interpreted as talking about Jesus’ Second Coming is interpreted by Wright as enthronement imagery because Jesus’ prophecy about Jerusalem, which begins this passage, has been vindicated in 70 AD.

Jesus warned his contemporaries to abandon their budding violent nationalistic agenda against Rome and trust his agenda of nonviolent, self-sacrificing love for enemies.  This passage serves as his warning…God’s visitation was at hand for Jerusalem, and if they insisted on putting into practice the myth of redemptive violence–the true religion of Babylon–then they would reap their own destruction. When you tangle with the supremely violent, you’d best not let them set the terms of the conflict in their favor via violence.

Note that in Afghanistan, the U.S. does its best to ignore Jesus’ truism. From Reuters:

Afghanistan has suffered its worst violence this year since U.S.-led and Afghan forces overthrew the Taliban in 2001, with at least 4,000 people killed, around a third of them civilians.

AFP, emphasis mine:

Despite the efforts of nearly 70,000 international soldiers, attacks from insurgents are at a record high this year and the growing violence has given new impetus to efforts to find other ways out of the insurgency, including peace talks…

The NATO chief said peace talks with the insurgents was an Afghan issue.

“I would, of course, applaud reconciliation,” he said, adding that military warfare would not end the insurgency in Afghanistan.

And yet, the now-and-future U.S. Secretary of Defense wants to send 20,000 more troops to Afghanistan to end the insurgency. That’s about two-thirds of the number of troops the U.S. has in Afghanistan right now.  “Military warfare will not end the insurgency,” say Karzai and NATO; “It’s clear there is a need for more [troops] to try to deal with this increased security problem,” says Gates.

That makes no sense.

The simple fact is that America has become so infected with militarism that “American solutions” and “military solutions” mean the same thing. In the grand scheme of things, the U.S. doesn’t “do” diplomacy:

Let’s put the size of the State Department Foreign Service in perspective. The U.S. active-duty military is 119 times larger than the Foreign Service. The total uniformed military (active and reserve) is 217 times larger. A typical U.S. Army division is larger than the entire Foreign Service. The military has more uniformed personnel in Mississippi than the State Department has diplomats worldwide. The military has more full colonels/Navy captains than the State Department has diplomats. The military has more band members than the State Department has diplomats. The Defense Department has almost as many lawyers as the State Department has diplomats.

The United States accounts for about half of worldwide military spending. We maintain hundreds of bases around the globe. We spend almost six times as much as the next nation on ‘defense.’ We lead the world in arms sales. The United States in the 20th century fell for the Old Lie: that violence can bring safety, that violence saves. We do not trust Christ for his nonviolent, self-sacrificing agenda of love for our enemies.  If our dollars tell us anything about our civil religion, it’s that our civil religion isn’t Christian; it’s Babylonian.

We might consider the other Eucharistic reading for today:

‘Fallen, fallen is Babylon the great!
It has become a dwelling-place of demons…

…for your merchants were the magnates of the earth,
and all nations were deceived by your sorcery.

…And in you* was found the blood of prophets and of saints,
and of all who have been slaughtered on earth.’

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