Sunday, November 15, 2015

a warning and a blessing

Almighty, eternal, and merciful God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit: we pray that as we meditate upon your Word you will lead us deeper into all truth that we may better know and do your will and grow in holiness day by day. Amen.

We may wonder today why when Jesus' disciples ask him when the destruction of the temple which he has just foretold will take place, he answers them by speaking on a different topic altogether – things to do with the end of days, his second coming, and the false teachers which may appear before those events take place. Why does he do so?

Perhaps it because there is a link between his own death and downfall of the temple; with his death and resurrection the temple becomes superfluous in God's economy of salvation. Also, we may remember his words elsewhere in scripture where he says 'destroy this temple and I will raise it up again in three days' – and those listening thought he meant the temple made of stone, whereas in fact he spoke of the temple of his own body. Perhaps it is that when his disciples begin to question him about future events he takes the opportunity of their interest to speak about future events of greater important than when a building may be destroyed – their salvation and the salvation of generations to come. Time for him was all too short, as he was well aware; he is Jerusalem only days before his passion begins - and the fact that he uses what was effectively his last opportunity for teaching on this topic can only act to emphasise importance of what he teaches here.

It is a lengthy passage, consisting of most of the 13th Chapter of St Mark's Gospel, which makes it more than we can possibly consider in detail today. So let us perhaps look at just one point, the one that Christ begins with, one intended to help us avoid one of the great temptations of this world – false teachers who claim to teach not just with authority, but with Christ's own authority: ‘Beware that no one leads you astray. Many will come in my name and say, “I am he!”  and they will lead many astray'

What does our Lord mean precisely by this? Scholars are uncertain. He might mean that after he is gone others will come claiming to be the Christ come again, and lead people off the one true path; he might mean that false teachers will arise, claiming to speak with the authority of Jesus, or the authority of the Church and that their false teachings will put at risk the salvation of those who listen to them; perhaps it is something else. In our own era it would be tempting to think his warning points to those in the secular world who, despite their avowed or practical atheism, drape their philosophy with an almost divine authority and use it to pronounce judgement on the teachings of the Church and where it does not agree with theirs call it evil; and, bizarrely, even at times declare the teachings of Christ 'unchristian!'

Whatever the precise meaning, our Lord's words certainly serve as both a warning and as a blessing. A warning, because they tell us to be on our guard against such teaching – teaching that will not build us up but instead will serve to tear us down because it is false. We may distinguish false teaching from true by applying the simple test of considering whether it is in agreement with what it says in the Sacred Scriptures or that which has been taught by the Church from the beginning. If it does not, then we may usefully keep in mind the words of St Paul on the subject, as written in his letter to the Galatians: 'even if we or an angel from heaven should proclaim to you a gospel contrary to what we proclaimed to you, let that one be accursed! As we have said before, so now I repeat, if anyone proclaims to you a gospel contrary to what you received, let that one be accursed!

And it is also a blessing, not only because all the words of our Saviour are a blessing, but because all warnings which are spoken truly are a blessing, as they serve to keep us from harm if we heed them; and as we know that Christ is The Truth, then we know his warnings are true; and we are truly blessed to receive them. I pray that you all will indeed heed them with great joy; and thereby be kept safe from all the false teachings and teachers of the world that would seek to deny you the eternal life that Christ suffered and died to place within your reach.

To the Almighty and Eternal God, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit, to him be all honour and glory, now and unto the ages of ages: Amen. 

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