Gospel – Luke 21:5-19
While some people were speaking about how the temple was adorned with costly stones and votive offerings,
Jesus said, “All that you see here – the days will come when there will not be left
a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.”
Then they asked him,
“Teacher, when will this happen?
And what sign will there be when all these things are about to happen?”
“See that you not be deceived,
for many will come in my name, saying,
‘I am he,’ and ‘The time has come.’
Do not follow them!
When you hear of wars and insurrections, do not be terrified; for such things must happen first,
but it will not immediately be the end.”
Then he said to them,
“Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom.
There will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues from place to place;
and awesome sights and mighty signs will come from the sky.
“Before all this happens, however, they will seize and persecute you, they will hand you over to the synagogues and to prisons, and they will have you led before kings and governors because of my name.
It will lead to your giving testimony.
Remember, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand,
for I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute.
You will even be handed over by parents, brothers, relatives, and friends, and they will put some of you to death.
You will be hated by all because of my name, but not a hair on your head will be destroyed.
By your perseverance you will secure your lives.”
Reflection on the Gospel
Let us remember that we are in the holy presence of God.
The end of the liturgical calendar means an increasingly apocalyptic tenor in our readings. Such a style and tone can easily tempt readers to become despondent or anxious, assuming that God intends a cataclysmic conclusion to creation. This is not a healthy reading of the texts for this Sunday. Rather than thinking about the readings as prescriptive (what God is intending to do), it might be better to consider the ways that such scripture passages are descriptive (an interpretation of the signs of our times). This descriptive reading presents us with a question about how we are to respond and what we are to do in such a setting.
First, what is being described here?
The context of Jesus’s announcement about the destruction of the Temple and the general disarray associated with it is one in which the commenters who open this Gospel passage are seemingly distracted by the appearance of superficial things, like a disproportionate interest in the décor of the Temple. Jesus disrupts what we might call the “small talk” of others by drawing his followers to something more important.
Now, we know that by the time the Gospel of Luke is written down the Second Temple had already been destroyed. Like those at the outset of the Gospel passage distracted by the superficial concerns of appearance, we too could get sidetracked, this time by Jesus’s apparent fortunetelling. However, if we recall the contemporaneous reality of the Temple’s destruction alongside the persecution and murder of some Christians, we begin to realize that Luke may be addressing the present situation with Jesus’s words.
This approach to understanding the litany not as a forecasting, but a description, invites a modern contextualization. If Jesus were to speak to the current moment and describe the distractions, challenges, and threats of our day, what would they be?
While for most of us, especially those of us in the North American context, the threat of persecution, violence, or death for being a Christian is practically nonexistent, there are other inhibiting factors that mitigate or even silence us. As Christians in a world plagued with injustice
and violence, are we distracted with the superficial things of our time? What is Jesus calling us to see among the “griefs and anxieties” (Gaudium et Spes) of the people of God here and now?
Once we begin to see the litany of threats and challenges, those realities that demand a costly grace and not merely the “cheap grace” Dietrich Bonhoeffer famously decried in the face of the Second World War, we may start to see what we are called to do in response.
Clues come to us in each of the three readings today. The First Reading assures us that God is steadfast, committed to those who are faithful to the covenant and will be there with us, supporting us, lighting our path on the way to healing justice. The Second Reading is a reminder that we have models for how to live the Christian life—it does not need to be reinvented. But those who have gone before us as models of Christian life did not have it easy. They worked hard and at times sacrificed and suffered for their beliefs. Why would we think it should be any different for us?
Finally, Jesus’s message is clear to his followers that imitating him has real consequences. However, one’s faithfulness to the Gospel and the will of God is the measure of our ultimate protection in the face of threat and death. It is perseverance, and not perfection, that God asks of us. The question is whether we are willing to accept that call, the same call we received at baptism.
Daniel P. Horan, OFM, PhD
Assistant Professor of Systematic Theology and Spirituality
Catholic Theological Union, Chicago
Saint John Baptist de La Salle – Pray for us.
Live, Jesus, in our hearts – Forever