NOT A HAIR OF YOUR HEAD WILL PERISH
(Biblical reflection on the 33rd Ordinary Sunday [Year C] – 17 November 2019)
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)
Today’s Gospel contains a special type of writing biblical scholars call “apocalyptic”, a writing heavy with symbolism intended to give hope to a persecuted people. Because many of the early Christians who heard or read Jesus’ words lived in fear of the Romans arresting and/or killing them for their faith, they needed the evangelist to reassure them that Jesus was with them no matter what happened That, in a nut shell, is the message of today’s Gospel.
The reading begins with Jesus and His apostles talking about the Temple in Jerusalem. There was only one Temple and it was God’s home, so the Jews used finest wood and marble from distant lands and made the sacred vessels out of the most precious metals. They even made the curtains in the Temple and the high priest’s vestments from the most expensive cloth and thread. Nothing was too good for God!
The walls of the Temple were yellow and white marble measuring approximately 177.5’ x 120’ x x 177.5’. Huge plates of gold that reflected the morning sun covered the facade of the Temple, almost blinding anyone who looked directly at the Temple during a sunrise. Gold plates also covered the lower part of each of the other three sides. No other building matched the Temple’s magnificent appearance.
Jesus’ words about the destruction of the Temple may refer to both a specific historical event and the end of the world. When the Roman army surrounded Jerusalem in 70 A.D., many Christians recalled the words Jesus spoke in today’s Gospel and concluded that everything Jesus said was about to come true. Thinking the end of the world was near, they saw no need to defend the city. Instead, they fled to the mountains and let their Jewish neighbors battle the Romans.
Even with the help of the Christians, the Jews would not have been able to prevent the Romans from destroying both the city and the Temple. Nevertheless, this incident caused the already strained relationship between the Jews and the Christians to deteriorate even further until Christianity and Judaism became two completely separate religions.
Jesus was not trying to give us clues about the exact day or hour when the world would end but was reassuring us that we have nothing to worry about if we just put our faith and trust in Him. Jesus will be with us whenever and however the end comes.
(Adapted from Jerome J. Sabatowich, Cycling Through the Gospels – Gospel Commentaries for Cycles A, B, and C, pages 334-335.)
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, 15 November 2019
A Christian Pilgrim