A Penitent Blogger

Mindful of my imperfections, seeking to know Truth more deeply and to live Love more fully.

Quid sum miser tunc dicturus? Quem patronum rogaturus? Cum vix iustus sit securus?
Recordare, Iesu pie, Quod sum causa tuae viae: Ne me perdas illa die...

Friday, November 16, 2007

Flipping a bird

The ending of today’s Gospel (Luke 17:26-37) is enigmatic, to say the least, as our Lord speaks of the end of the world:

“There will be two women grinding meal together;
one will be taken, the other left.”

They said to him in reply, “Where, Lord?”

He said to them,
“Where the body is,
there also the vultures will gather.”

One of the challenges for interpreting this passage is a textual one: not all of the Greek manuscripts agree on the kind of bird that is mentioned here – either vultures (as given in the Lectionary here) or eagles (as given in most other translations).

Whether the gathering birds are eagles or vultures, however, this passage speaks to the fate of those who are “left” – who are not gathered to Christ.

It is important to understand this as being more than just the scenario known as “the rapture”. Being physically gathered to Christ in the future is one thing, but our focus needs to be on being spiritually gathered to him NOW, for we will not be gathered then if by his grace we are not clinging to him now.

The use of the word “eagles” in this context of this verse sounds strange to anyone who knows anything about birds. Eagles are hunters, not scavengers: they do not gather around dead bodies – vultures do.

However, eagles were the prominent feature of the standard carried by Roman armies, a symbol of imperial power painfully familiar to Christ’s listeners. “Where the body is, there the eagles will be gathered together” thus would be a warning that those who are not gathered to Christ will become prey for the cruelty of human power. Indeed, within decades of this prophecy, Roman eagles would come through the Jewish homeland in power, kill and scatter its people, and destroy Jerusalem itself.

On the other hand, if the word is flipped to “vultures”, the fate of those who are not gathered to Christ is also unpleasant: our Lord’s words thus become a warning that those who are not gathered to him will become prey to the cruelty of natural death – “Where the body is, there the vultures will gather.” It is a horrific image indeed, as the dying people see the dark birds gathering and know that these beasts will soon be biting and gnawing on their warm flesh. Such is death without hope in Christ.

If we are gathered to Christ by his grace, we need not fear the gathering eagles and vultures of this world, for nothing that they may do to us can keep us from eternal happiness with the Lord.

May we open ourselves more and more to the grace of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ and cling to him, in word and deed and faith and love.