Coded Hope

We have entered the season of wacky Bible readings.  A few weeks ago we read Luke 21:25-39 in church.  Jesus talks about signs in the sun and moon, a figure on the clouds called the Son of Man, then breaks out into a parable about fig trees.  To wrap up, he tells us not to get drunk.  This kind of Bible passage is hard to understand.  It is hard to understand because Jesus is speaking in coded language, and we don't follow this code very easily.  Coded language is meant to communicate.  Think of the quarterback calling at the line of scrimmage.  The other team does not know what he means, but his own teammates do.  Jesus speaks in coded language that draws on the rich pool of language in the Old Testament.

When Jesus mentions 'the Son of Man,' all of his listeners would immediately know he was referring to a particular passage in the Book of Daniel.  None of his Jewish listeners would have missed this reference.  It is much like asking church folks to fill in these blanks:

  • Daniel and the Lions______________________.
  • Jonah and the __________________________.

If you actually ask a Christian congregation to fill in these blanks they can: Den and Whale.  (Though one time I had a kid fill in the second blank with the word broom tree.  This is technically correct, but I'm pretty sure he was being a smart mouth.)

Jesus' listeners understood the reference immediately.  They did not have to go look anything up in the play book.  And more importantly, they knew 'the Son of Man' is a code for a reason to hope.  God is interrupting the normal and violent patterns of this world to bring his kingdom.

Every one around Jesus understood Jesus reference to fig trees.  They were as common and familiar to his crowd as blackberries and backyard tomatoes are to us.  Everyone knew that the fig leaves unfurling meant that summer was pretty near.  Summer brought sweet fruit.  The leaves were sign of something better on the way.

Sometimes we want to turn Jesus' coded language into bizarre predictions about the future.  Sometimes we just dismiss them altogether.  Both are a selfish mistake.  Rather than trying to make Jesus' language fit our expectations, we should open our ears and hearts to the hope he shares for the future.