Perseverance and Holiness

From time to time someone predicts that the world is going to end on such-and-such a date. These predictions are typically greeted with a mixture of fear, ridicule and bemusement. In New Testament times many people seemed to have been concerned, if not with the end of the world, then at least with the dramatic arrival of Gods kingdom and the totally new situation that might accompany it.

Todays Old Testament readings can help us get a sense of these expectations. Psalm 98, originally composed for the liturgical celebration of the kingship of God at the Temple in Jerusalem, came to be understood as prophesying the dramatic future intervention of God in human history and the establishing of a kingdom of justice for all. Likewise, in Malachi 3 the early biblical motif of the day of the Lord is pictured in dramatic imagery (blazing like an oven) and as bringing about the future destruction of evildoers and the proud. Even more detailed and graphic scenarios of the coming reign of God can be found in Jewish apocalyptic writings and in the Synoptic Gospels.

Todays selection from Jesus apocalyptic discourse in Luke 21 presupposes such beliefs and images. In this situation Jesus responds as the prophet of God, a theme developed throughout this Gospel. As Gods prophet, Jesus warns against false prophets who pretend to know the details of Gods plan, gives hints of the events or signs that will accompany the coming of Gods kingdom in its fullness and warns about coming persecutions and even divisions within families.


Todays selection from Luke 21 ends with a sentence that is unique to Lukes version of the apocalyptic discourse, By your perseverance you will secure your lives. The word translated as perseverance is sometimes rendered as patience or endurance. These are not popular virtues in 21st-century America. We want fast food, fast cars and fast computers. We have short attention spans; and we communicate in sound bites, e-mails and instant messages. The kind of perseverance recommended in todays Gospel text, however, is not apathy or laziness or timidity. In the biblical concept of perseverance there is an element of active resistance in the face of opposition. It is inspired by confidence and hope in God. Hope and perseverance are two sides of the same coin. Hope without perseverance is anxiety and ends in madness. Perseverance without hope leads to resignation, fatalism and indifference.

As Christians we hope for the full coming of Gods kingdom, the resurrection of the dead, the last judgment and just rewards and punishments. We expect that these events all will come about in Gods own time and way. In the meantime we try to conduct our lives as people of faith, hope and love, fully aware of the fragility of human existence and of the world around us. In the midst of fast-paced change, we need the biblical kind of patience and perseverance to live one day at a time, seizing the moment and living it to its fullness, all the while moving forward in hope to eternal life in Gods kingdom.

In 2 Thessalonians Paul seems to have been addressing a young Christian community that needed to hear the biblical message of perseverance and patience. Some Christians at Thessalonica in Greece were convinced that Gods kingdom was coming very soon. Perhaps they were led astray by the kind of false prophets warned about in Luke 21 or even by misunderstanding Pauls own statements about the kingdom of God. Their beliefs about the imminence of Gods kingdom apparently had led them to neglect their community responsibilities and to stop working so as to support themselves and their families.

In this context Paul appeals to his own example. Even though as an apostle Paul had the right to financial support from the local Christian community, he refused to accept it. Rather, he insisted on supporting himself as a tent-maker or leather-worker of some sort. He did so to prove the authenticity of his ministry. Paul regarded himself as an apostle sent by the risen Christ to proclaim the good news to those who had never heard it before. By his example Paul wanted to show that his motives were pure and that he was not acting out of a desire for money or personal comforts. Indeed, Paul seems to have used his manual labor as an occasion for spreading the Gospel. In the days before radios, people doing manual labor often relieved their boredom and entertained themselves by giving speeches to one another. Paul found in his manual labor not only the opportunity to support his ministry but also an opportunity to preach his beliefs in word and deed to his fellow workers. By his perseverance Paul found a way to preach the good news about Jesus and to give glory to God.

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