When some were speaking about the temple, how it was adorned with beautiful stones and gifts dedicated to God, he said, "As for these things that you see, the days will come when not one stone will be left upon another; all will be thrown down." They asked him, "Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign that this is about to take place?" And he said, "Beware that you are not led astray; for many will come in my name and say, 'I am he!' and, 'The time is near!' Do not go after them. "When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for these things must take place first, but the end will not follow immediately." Then he said to them, "Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and plagues; and there will be dreadful portents and great signs from heaven.
The Gospel of Thomas is an early-Christian collection of 114 sayings of Jesus. It is seen as apocryphal – that is, not canonical Scripture. Here is no. 18. “The disciples said to Jesus: ‘Tell us how our end shall be.’ Jesus said: ‘Have you then discovered the beginning, that you seek after the end? For where the beginning is, there shall the end be. Blessed are they who shall stand in the beginning, and they shall know the end and shall not taste death.’”
It serves at any rate to make us think about beginnings and endings. The beginning and the end are the same question, and it is a question that we can't think out fully, because it takes us beyond ourselves. The end is always unthinkable – for while you are still there to think about it, it’s not yet the end. Death is unthinkable. I don’t mean that it’s terrible, but only that it’s unthinkable. We can say we are thinking about ‘it’, but that’s not the real thing. That's why we tend to see others as mortal, but not ourselves really…. The beginning too is unthinkable. When Zen teachers ask you to show them your original face before you were born (or before your parents were born), they don't want or expect you to come up with a thought-out answer. They are trying to drive you to the end of thinking and beyond.
The destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem was not like the destruction of a church building. There are countless churches but there was only one Temple. To destroy that Temple was to destroy the identity of the Jewish people. So when Jesus said, “The day is coming when there shall not be left one stone upon another of all that you now admire; all will be torn down,” he was saying the unthinkable.
Also unthinkable is the new beginning that is Jesus himself. In him God is doing a new thing. Through him, that new thing is happening in us too. “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation” (2 Cor 5:17).
Next Sunday is the beginning of a new Liturgical year, so this is the final week of the old year: that's why we have such strange readings every day. The year is coming to an end. Anything coming to an end reminds us of our mortality. This is a week for meditating on the impermanence of all things. Because we do it with the Liturgy it is not a dreary or terrible subject; it is about life and death together – the inseparable mystery.
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