“Word for Today” – Luke 21 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com

September 15, 2009 at 4:45 am 2 comments

Rodney Dangerfield 1He was one of the most memorable comedians of all time.  Rodney Dangerfield, with his staccato speech, unassuming demeanor, and self-deprecating humor became an almost overnight sensation after appearing on the Ed Sullivan Show and delivering one of his famous “I don’t get no respect” jokes.  “I don’t get no respect,” lamented Dangerfield.  “I played hide-and-seek, and they wouldn’t even look for me.”  Even Ed Sullivan, the usually stoic and serene host, couldn’t help but laugh.

“I don’t get no respect.”  This was Rodney Dangerfield’s signature line.  As famous as this line may have been, however, it is perhaps the single most despised line by English teachers everywhere.  Why?  Because it commits a cardinal grammatical sin – the sin of the double negative.

A double negative occurs when two forms of negation are used in the same clause.  And two negations, in English at least, technically cancel out each other and turn the statement into a positive.  Thus, Dangerfield’s famed “I don’t get no respect” technically means that he gets respect.  Of course, no one interprets it this way, for apart from the more strident rules of proper grammar, double negatives are common and even acceptable in slang speech to emphasize a negation.

Perhaps Jesus went to the Rodney Dangerfield school of grammar.  In our reading for today from Luke 21, he gives his disciples a glimpse into a future that is of surely apocalyptic proportions:

Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be great earthquakes, famines and pestilences in various places, and fearful events and great signs from heaven. There will be signs in the sun, moon and stars. On the earth, nations will be in anguish and perplexity at the roaring and tossing of the sea. Men will faint from terror, apprehensive of what is coming on the world, for the heavenly bodies will be shaken. At that time they will see the Son of Man coming in a cloud with power and great glory. (verses 10-11, 25-27)

Wars, earthquakes, pestilences, and the sun and moon display strange signs – sounds like the end of the world to me.  But then, Jesus offers a mystifying conclusion to his apocalyptic prediction:  “I tell you the truth, this generation will certainly not pass away until all these things have happened” (verse 32).  This generation will not pass away until all these things have happened?  But “this generation” to whom Jesus is talking lived in AD 30.  They have most definitely all passed away and the end of the world has yet to come!

To make matters worse, Jesus emphasizes his point concerning his generation with a double negative in Greek.  A more wooden translation of Jesus’ words here would read, “This generation won’t not pass away.”  In English, this is poor grammar.  In Greek, however, two negatives serve to highlight the fierceness with which Jesus states his case:  “No way, no how will this generation pass away until all these signs will come to pass.”

Scholars have been sharply divided over the meaning of Jesus’ words here.  Some have said that Jesus’ prophecy refers not to the end of the world, but to the destruction of the Jerusalem temple in AD 70.  Others have pointed out that the word for “generation” in Greek is genea, which can mean not only “generation,” but “race,” as in the Jewish race, or even the human race, both of which still exist and would thus appropriately fulfill Jesus’ prophecy.  Still others, like the late Albert Schweitzer and John Dominic Crossan, see Jesus as a failed Messiah who simply couldn’t muster the support to realize his own eschatological vision.  This, of course, is a patently false and heretical view of Jesus’ words and ought to be rejected.

The third option notwithstanding, Jesus’ words concerning his generation will perhaps always remain shrouded in a bit of enigma.  His words, because they are spoken by the Son of God, are certainly not false, but we are left to grapple with exactly how they are true.   Thankfully, Jesus leaves us another double negative which is much easier to interpret:  “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words will never pass away” (verse 33).  Here too, Jesus uses a double negative to emphasize the sureity of his statement:  “Heaven and earth will pass away, but my words won’t never pass away!”  This I understand.  Even though we live in a world where there are wars, pestilences, famines, and the heavenly bodies shake and give way, God’s Word endures.  It endures beyond the troubles, trials, tragedies, and terrors of this world.  Although everything else may pass away, God’s Word won’t never pass away.

People will often tell me that they don’t study the Bible because they don’t understand it.  My usual response is, “That’s okay, neither do I.”  And I don’t understand it – at least not fully.  That is why I continue to study and search out its answers and teachings – because there is always something more to learn, there is always something new to understand, and because, as something that truly endures, I can be assured that it will outlast and outlive the temporary troubles of this world.    God’s Word won’t never pass away.  But blessedly, our troubles will.  This I believe.  And that ain’t no lie.

Entry filed under: Word for Today.

“Word for Today” – Luke 20 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com “Word for Today” – Luke 22 – www.concordialutheranchurch.com

2 Comments Add your own

  • 1. Cassie Schermbeck  |  September 15, 2009 at 11:03 am

    Pastor Zach,
    The sermon I heard you preach two weeks ago is the best sermon I’ve ever heard. I’m 33 years old and a churchworker so that’s quite a compliment. It’s the only/first time I’ve ever felt like applauding for God after a sermon and while listening, I was literally thanking God for giving you the gifts He has.

    • 2. zachkvet  |  September 15, 2009 at 9:29 pm

      Thanks, Cassie. I really appreciate that! You’re right – from a church worker that’s a DEFINITE compliment. I’ll chalk it up to the great material I have to work with. God knew what he was doing when he wrote that Book of his! It’s a real honor and privilege for me to share Scripture with people. It’s the most exciting thing I get to do. I hope things are going well at Bethel. Keep me posted on what’s going on up there. Melody says hi!


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

Trackback this post  |  Subscribe to the comments via RSS Feed

Follow Zach

Enter your email address to subscribe to Pastor Zach's blog and receive notifications of new posts by email.

Join 2,141 other subscribers

%d bloggers like this: