BY YOUR ENDURANCE YOU WILL GAIN YOUR LIVES
(Biblical reflection on the 33rd Ordinary Sunday [Year C] – November 13, 2016)
Gospel Reading: Luke 21:5-19
First Reading: Malachi 3:19-20; Psalms: Psalm 98:5-9; Second Reading: 2Thessalonians 3:7-12
And as some spoke of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, He said, “As for these things which you see, the days will come when there shall not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down.” And they asked Him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign when this is about to take place?” And He said, “Take heed that you are not led astray; for many will come in My name, saying, ‘I am He!’ and, ‘The time is at hand1’ Do not go after them. And when you hear of wars and tumults, do not be terrified, for this must first take place, but the end will not be at once.”
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 pestilences; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. But before all this they will lay their hands on you and persecute you, delivering you up to the synagogues and prisons, and you will be brought before kings and governors for My name’s sake. This will be a time for you to bear testimony. Settle it therefore in your minds, not to meditate beforehand how to answer; for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and kinsmen and friends, and some of you they will put death; you will be hated by all for My name’s sake. But not a hair of your head will perish. By your endurance you will gain your lives. (Luke 21:5-19 RSV)
In Jesus’ day the temple of Jerusalem was an imposing and beautiful structure. Herod had just rebuilt it, from the years 19 to 9 B.C. It was twice the size of the former temple and more ornate. At this time it was still being furnished and decorated. No wonder, then, that as Jesus was in the temple preaching there were many people on hand, admiring the structure and talking about its beauty and imposing size. As a people they were extremely proud of it.
So they must have been shocked when Jesus predicted the destruction of this new temple, a destruction so great that “there shall not be left here one stone upon another that will not be thrown down” (Luke 21:6). Immediately they wanted details. When? What signs would point to the end? We can compare ourselves to these people of Jesus’ time. Just as they were proud of their temple and its glory, so we are very proud of our achievements, our buildings, our technology.
The people ask Him when this destruction will happen and what sign will herald the event, but Jesus does not answer this until vv. 20-24. Instead, Jesus turns to warning His hearers against messianic pretenders who will come announcing that the time is at hand; but both they and their proclamations are false. Jesus counsels His hearers not to be terrified by war and tumult; they do not signal the end of time, but they are a mocking witness to the fact that the old age has to pass, and with much suffering and pain. Jesus goes on to widen the horizon of affliction to include universal strife in world war and natural disaster; famines and pestilences will take place, as well as unnamed terrors and enigmatic omens. In a comprehensive catalogue of disaster which borrows heavily from traditional prophetic apocalyptic literature, Jesus does not camouflage what appears to be nothing less than cosmic catastrophe against which human efforts at control must surely be hopelessly ineffective.
Before such universal calamities take place, the disciples will have to face particular difficulties in their own stories. The time discipleship will always be a time of trial, and Jesus uncovers a whole list of painful experiences which no disciple in the early Church will be able to ignore. They will be manhandled and persecuted; they will be accused of crimes against the state in the Gentile courts – all because they preach the Gospel. Jesus emphasizes that the time of persecution will be a time for testimony, and He assures the disciples that they need not prepare their speeches and gestures with the calculated care of the actor, for a greater power will take care of their words which will be so compelling that their accusers will be unable to gainsay them.
Since hate respects no ties, opposition to the disciples will know no bounds: even blood ties will not save them from betrayal by their own family and possible death. After all this talk of persecution, to assure the disciples that not a hair of their head will be harmed seems a somewhat misplaced sentiment; but it may be that Jesus is simply recalling His own paradox: that the disciples’ spiritual safety will never be in doubt because their enduring fidelity will gain them their lives – lives which will appear lost to the eyes of the world (Luke 21:19).
Prayer: Lord Jesus, teach me the passing nature of this world and its glory. Give me a hunger for the glory that is to come. You have assured me that I need not worry, because my life is completely in Your hands. Amen.
Jakarta, 11 November 2016
A Christian Pilgrim