2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
Notes on the Readings
Comments on Haggai 1:15b-2.9
Haggai exhorts the people of the postexilic period to rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem. He charges the people not only with not building the Temple, but with living in lavish: “Is it a time for you yourselves to live in your paneled houses, while this house lies in ruins?” (Haggai 1:4).
The Temple in Jerusalem in the time of the prophet can be interpreted today as all the natural world that God gave us in stewardship. We take care of our own material wellbeing, in our “paneled houses”, but pollute, over exploit our resources and degrade our land and its rich biodiversity, which is God’s gift to us. How can we let God’s Creation remain in ruins?
Comments on 2 Thessalonians 2:1-5, 13-17
In this letter, Paul addresses the concerns of the Thessalonians that the “day of the Lord”, or Christ’s second coming, had already arrived. Paul teaches that it will not occur until “the rebellion comes” and the “lawless one is revealed” (2:3). Scholars believe this to be the most significant “new content” of this letter. Paul goes on to say that the lawless one “opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God” (2:4). Additionally, this lawless one may already be present: the “mystery of lawlessness” concerning him is already at work (2:7). The meaning of this passage has escaped scholars old and modern, but the unique element in this passage is the reference to a restraining force or person.
How may we interpret this passage environmentally? It seems appropriate to say that the “mystery of lawlessness” is already at work due to the predicament we are facing. We can interpret the restraining force or person as our faith and hope in Jesus Christ.
Comments on Luke 20:27-38
The passage tells the story of the questioning of Jesus by the Sadducees, who did not believe in the resurrection. They ask Jesus a trick-question regarding a woman who marries seven times in life different brothers that die in succession, since, by the law of Moses, a man should marry his deceased brother’s widow. “In the resurrection, therefore, whose wife will the woman be? For the seven had married her” (20:33). Jesus goes on to explain that “those who are considered worthy of a place in that age and in the resurrection of the dead neither marry nor are given in marriage. Indeed, they cannot die anymore…” (20:34-36).
The Sadducees were a part of the wealthy Judean elite that included some high priests whose interpretations of the Torah differed from those of the Pharisees. They rejected ideas of resurrection and afterlife not found in the Torah (the Law, traditionally the books of Moses). Jesus refutes the Sadducees exactly by citing scripture traditionally believed to having been written by Moses:” And the fact that the dead are raised Moses himself showed, in the story about the bush, where he speaks of the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob” (20:37). Therefore, Jesus explains that bodily resurrection does not replicate the condition of human mortal life and concludes: “Now, he is God not of the dead, but of the living, for to him all of them are alive” (20:38).
In this passage Jesus confirms the hope of the resurrection, by affirming that, to God, it is life, not death. Furthermore, we can interpret, that it is this kind of life that we should be seeking on earth. A life that surpasses its mere material existence, that is rich in spiritual meaning, where overconsumption and waste are replaced by temperance and solidarity, in which suffering and injustice are no more.
Reaching the point of no return.
- “Let no one deceive you in any way; for that day will not come unless the rebellion comes first and the lawless one is revealed, the one destined for destruction. He opposes and exalts himself above every so-called god or object of worship, so that he takes his seat in the temple of God, declaring himself to be God” (2Thess 2:3-4)
- “For the mystery of lawlessness is already at work, but only until the one who now restrains it is removed” (2Thess 2:7)
- “Now, he is God not of the dead, but of the living, for to him all of them are alive” (Luke 20:38).
The thread that weaves together these passages can be interpreted in the light of our present joint and interconnected environmental, social and economic predicament. We are at a time of crossroads like never before in human history. Climate change and the general degradation of the natural systems which maintain life on Earth may lead us to self-destruction, but not before great human suffering, especially by the poor and most vulnerable people, from climate change-induced disasters, widespread pollution, ecosystem degradation and biodiversity loss and, ultimately, lack of food and potable water. This sounds very much like the end of times, just before the second coming of Christ. Paul says it will not occur until “the rebellion comes” and the “lawless one is revealed”. It seems appropriate to say that the “mystery of lawlessness” is already at work. We can interpret the restraining force or person as our faith and hope in Jesus Christ.
God gives us hope through faith in the truth. The truth is also a very important scientific and ethical component of the environmental movement. For many years, a disinformation campaign regarding the science of climate change was orchestrated by the major oil producers in order to halt the adoption of more strict national legislation in the USA and of internationally set carbon goals, a wicked deception indeed (2Thess 2:10). Those who would have to give up profit and power continued the spreading of downright lies regarding the validity of the U.N. claims about the extent and severity of our impact on the environment. For, if this were admitted being true, it would uncover the underlying causes of our planet’s predicament: an economic paradigm that has no limits to production and consumption, that leads to the accumulation of wealth by a few, and a lifestyle based on waste. Those few, being allowed to wield tremendous power over others (“declaring himself to be God”), continue the exploitation of all life.
Life being the key. God wishes us to live! And live abundantly! spiritually, psychologically, materially, in relationship to others and the natural world. A life of the resurrection on Earth, in which the material and the spiritual are joined in abundant life. As we contemplate the beauty of our perfect divinely made planet and the predicament we have created for ourselves, the realization that we must amend our ways clearly dawns on us. It is no longer a choice of a few to live sustainably, it is an imperative for our survival. As Christians, our hope lies in the renewal that comes from within, from our faith in our Lord Jesus Christ and the coming of the kingdom of God.
Dr Elisabeth Sherrill
Elisabeth Ivete Sherrill is an ecological economist (B.Sc. University of Southampton, England, 1978) and an environmental professional for over 40 years. She is the daughter of an American missionary. Bishop of the Episcopal Church was born and raised in Brazil, and lives in Rio de Janeiro. She holds a M.Sc. and D.Sc. from the Federal University of Rio de Janeiro in Environmental Planning. Her graduate research has focused on “Biodiversity conservation and the sustainable development of the Brazilian Amazon region” (M.Sc., 1994) and on “Land use patterns, deforestation in the Brazilian Amazon and global ecological effects: A dynamic model of regional ecological economics” (D. Sc,1999). Her doctoral research was undertaken at the University of Maryland’s International Institute for Ecological Economics (MD, USA). She has this year completed “Education for Ministry” _ a four year online theology course for lay people of the University of the South’s School of Theology at Sewanee, Tennessee.