…When will this happen, and what will be the sign of your coming and of the end of the age?
Jesus answered: “Watch out that no one deceives you. For many will come in my name, claiming, ‘I am the Messiah,’ and will deceive many. You will hear of wars and rumours of wars, but see to it that you are not alarmed. Such things must happen, but the end is still to come. Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom. There will be famines and earthquakes in various places. All these are the beginning of birth pains.
“Then you will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of me. At that time many will turn away from the faith and will betray and hate each other, and many false prophets will appear and deceive many people. Because of the increase of wickedness, the love of most will grow cold, but the one who stands firm to the end will be saved. And this gospel of the kingdom will be preached in the whole world as a testimony to all nations, and then the end will come. (Matthew 24:3-14)
‘Birth pains’ are signs of impending birth and they reference the considerable anguish and labour which gives way to this new birth.
I was recently struck by the words of Antonio Gramsci, the Italian theoretician whose analysis ranged from linguistics to sociology to political theory. He made the following observation:
…the old is dying and the new is not yet ready to be born, in this interregnum there arises a great diversity of morbid symptoms.
Whilst his reflections were based on a specific period of Italian political history, they resonate deeply with so much we observe in our world today; there is much struggle and anguish to produce peace.
It is clear that the sour fruits of history- the abuse of power, political corruption, greed and fear amongst others, have produced enormous conflict in our world which is robbing us in so many ways of the joys of our shared humanity. There indeed arises in our time ‘a great diversity of morbid symptoms’; our world is sick and struggling in so many ways. In the prescient words of the apostle Matthew, the love of many does indeed seem to grow cold in the aftermath of divisive wickedness and evil of all kinds. We may well ask ourselves, as Gramsci did for his generation, if the new is ready to be born in our time?
Are we present in the sufferings of the world and is that suffering seeding something new in us or are we immutable and unchanging? Are we so sure of our rightness of formation that we refuse to go through the dying stages of the chrysalis, letting go of our fixed identities to enter the womb of growth and transformation in the hope of the emerging newness?
Jesus observed in Nicodemus, a learned teacher of the Jewish Law, a Pharisee, a profound need to enter the ‘womb of transformation’; even with his great learning and wisdom Nicodemus needed to be changed, transformed, re-birthed; to risk the travail of self-giving Love in order to enter into a new quality of Life.
The call to love even as we have been loved by God, is the call to hope in the promise of that love to birth a newness in the material substance of our lives. The fruits of this newness, this peace-in-the-material-substance, is what Gramsci and many others seek.