Apocalyptic Passivity, Part 2

Apocalyptic Passivity, Part 2 November 8, 2023

Apocalyptic Passivity

This apocalyptic theme  reflects more the concerns of the Jesus community after Jesus’ death than it does the teachings of Jesus before his unjust execution. In the rest of the gospels, the writers announce the good news or gospel that the time has come, the “kingdom” is here, and all are invited to join in Jesus’ vision for a just, inclusive, compassionate community. This invitation was deeply attractive to the marginalized and those pushed to the edges and undersides of Jesus’ society, but the calls to justice in Jesus’ typical “kingdom” teachings and parables were not as attractive to those benefiting from the unjust status quo. To these people, Jesus was seen as a threat that must be silenced. 

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(Read this series from its beginning here.)

Here at the end of Matthew it’s as if we’ve witnessed a subject change. We are no longer talking about the good news of a concrete salvation that has arrived in the here and now. Now we are discussing being prepared for its arrival at some point in the future. The community is wrestling with how to follow Jesus after Jesus’ death. On top of that, the Jewish members of this community are also wrestling what life looks like after the fall of Jerusalem and the Temple: the temple is no more and Jerusalem has been leveled to the ground. Everything has changed, and in the shadow of such deep trauma and loss, it makes a lot less sense to say God’s just future has arrived than to look to the future and focus on being prepared for when God’s just future will arrive. 

This is the context of our parable in this week. It is a lot more apocalyptic or future-looking than the typical here-and-now focus that Matthew’s Jesus has used in preceding portions of this gospel. These two different versions of Jesus in certain parts of the gospels are at the foundation of the debate among Jesus scholars as to whether Jesus was an apocalyptic preacher of a soon-to-come new world or teaching that God’s kingdom was already here and inviting folks to be participate in it here and now. (For detail, see Robert Miller’s The Apocalyptic Jesus: A Debate.) 

I have my own leanings and opinions on this subject. First, I think you can be a genuine Jesus follower regardless of which camp you subscribe to. I also think it’s more difficult and requires more intention and care if you choose to view Jesus as an apocalyptic preacher. You have to be careful not to view his economic teachings (such as selling one’s possessions and wealth redistribution to the poor) as coming from Jesus’ thinking that the world was about to end and there was no need to prepare for the future. You must be careful to see that these teachings are rooted in economic justice and reflect a Jesus who thought the best way to prepare for the future was not in hoarding resources but in investing in community and a commitment to care for one another. We can face whatever the future brings, together, knowing we have each other’s back. 

An apocalyptic Jesus offers an excuse to ignore many of Jesus’ teaching on the basis that Jesus supposedly thought the world was about to end. His teaching are not sustainable, in this reasoning, on a long-term ongoing basis. I disagree with that idea. I believe Jesus’ teachings are sustainable and place before us all a path for a safer tomorrow.

(Read Part 3)

About Herb Montgomery
Herb Montgomery, director of Renewed Heart Ministries, is an author and adult religious re-educator helping Christians explore the intersection of their faith with love, compassion, action, and societal justice. You can read more about the author here.

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