Jesus has just told the disciples that the Great Temple in Jerusalem will be torn down. And they want to know: what will be the sign that that’s about to happen? How will we know when you’re coming back and it’s the end of the age? Which means, the end of this chapter of the world, and the beginning of God’s time.
The disciples are jumbling some things together. For the people of Judea, the Great Temple was the most important place to worship God. So even though it had already been destroyed and rebuilt once before, the disciples think that the Temple being destroyed must also be the end of everything.
It turns out that the Temple WAS destroyed, about 30 years later; but that was not the end of this age of the world. Lots of things have changed in 2000 years but we’re still living in human time and waiting for God’s time.
It’s easy for us to look at the big dramatic or scary things happening in the world right now – whenever “right now” happens to be – and think, This is IT. Things can’t possibly go on from here. Everything has to either COMPLETELY change – or end.
And so far, over all the centuries people have been thinking that, we’ve been wrong.
And that’s part of what Jesus is saying here. People are anxious, and don’t know how to understand what’s happening in the world. And there are always going to be people who try to take advantage of other people’s fear and confusion. Who’ll say things like, I know what’s going on! Or, I have the solution!
There’s a sentence in here that isn’t in the assigned text for this Sunday but I included it because I like it: “Where the carcass is, there the vultures will gather.”
Did you know that Jesus said that? Does anyone have that embroidered on a pillow at home? Maybe a tattoo? …
What’s a carcass?
What’s a vulture? …
“Where the carcass is, there the vultures will gather” is a true statement. It’s also a metaphor – that means something besides what it says.
So what’s the carcass and who are the vultures?
I think the carcass is anything that’s dead or dying in the world as it is. Old ways of being. Things that don’t work anymore.
And the vultures are the people who think they can get something out of that death, to their advantage.
I can give you an example. I know a lot of young people, including some in this congregation, who are helping us old people understand that gender is a little more complicated than everybody told us when we were kids.
When I was a kid, your body parts meant you were a boy or a girl, and if you were a boy you got blue shirts with trucks on them, and if you were a girl you got pink with frills, and if any of that didn’t feel right for you, good luck.
Now we are realizing that there could be a lot more freedom for people to express who they are on the inside. That it’s really not important to have people divided up into Truck people and Pink people. Some old ideas about gender and about what it means to be a person are dying.
Who are the vultures here, the people trying to take advantage of people who feel confused by all this? I think the vultures are the politicians and media personalities who want to make people feel afraid about those changes. Who say things like “I know what’s going on! I have the solution!” Because they think that people’s fear will give them power.
A question Jesus has for us in today’s Gospel is: How do we know what voices to trust? When the world seems strange or scary, when it seems like the times are changing so fast, when we feel confused or uncertain or afraid: How do we tell the vultures from the prophets? How do we avoid running after or listening to voices that are just seizing this moment for their own purposes?
There are a lot of ways to approach that question. But the answer Jesus gives right here in today’s Gospel is: Trust me, and wait for me. You’ll know me when you see me. You’ll recognize my voice when you hear it. Things may get weird; things may get scary. Don’t be easily shaken or swayed. Wait and trust.