Many scholars contend the triggering device for apocalyptic literature is persecution. This secretive, symbolic genre of writing which we find in the Book of Revelation is meant to help the faithful “hang in there” when everything around them is falling apart But according to certain Scripture scholars, like my old prof John Dominic Crossan, some of the means taken in this particular apocalyptic writing to help people remain steadfast in their faith run counter to the teachings of Jesus which we find in all the earlier writings of the Christian Scriptures.
One of the key words in today’s passage from Revelation is “until,” as in “Do not damage the land or the sea or the trees until. ...” There’s a lot of damage in this book; damage which a vengeful God wreaks on those who have somehow harmed God’s people. In order to set things straight, God turns the tables on anyone or anything that could be identified as an enemy.
In his recent book, God and Empire, Crossan points out that neither the historical Jesus nor any other Christian author depicts God or the end of the world in such a God-engineered, violent fashion. Other apocalyptic sections of the Christian Scriptures describe lots of turmoil preceding Jesus’ Second Coming (like Mark’s chapter 13, which will be our gospel in two weeks). But neither Jesus nor God - unlike the Book of Revelation - causes that destruction. It’s human-made. The other texts simply say Jesus’ Parousia will take place after that slaughter. Neither he nor his followers will have a hand in bringing it about.
Jesus’ authentic teachings are the basis for today’s other two readings. The gospel especially springs from the historical Jesus’ passion, as Crossan points out, “to turn the world upside-down.”
Matthew begins his well-known Sermon on the Mount with a reflection on the implications of living the faith of Jesus. Those who follow behind this Galilean carpenter eventually discover the contrast between themselves and the civilization in which they live. They strive to become the very people their society despises and rejects. They’ve actually discovered a value in being poor, mourning, meek, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, merciful, clean of heart, peacemakers, and persecuted.
The term “saint,” which we employ in today’s feast, comes from the word “holy.” In its original biblical meaning, holy conveyed the idea of being “other.” Those who are holy are other from the people around them. They don’t necessarily look or sound different; they possess a different value system. They look at situations, themselves, and others from another perspective.
The author of I John zeroes in on the same concept. Like all biblical authors, this writer presumes God is holy - different from any of God’s creatures. That’s why he reminds his readers that they’re God’s children. “The reason the world does not know us,” he insists, “is that it did not know him.” Shouldn’t surprise us that the majority rejects our view of the world; the same majority also rejects God’s view.
Today of all days, we should reflect on what makes us saints; what makes us other. Crossan mentions that C. S. Lewis’ Narnia books (as well as Jenkis and Lahayes’ Left Behind series) are based on the picture of God and vengeful Christians which we find depicted in Revelation. Each includes earth-transforming, God-driven victorious battles against evil forces; events in which real saints wouldn’t be found dead.
Perhaps we can start down our path to holiness by ridding ourselves of such violent Catholic school mascots as Knights, Crusaders, and Hawks. Such a Christian elimination really would be other.