Nov 13, 2010

33rd Sunday: God's promise - our hope

Mal 3: 19-20
2 Thessalonians 3: 7-12
Luke 21: 5-19

Rudyard Kipling once addressed the graduating class of McGill University in Montreal, Canada. He spoke on this theme: if a person’s scale of values is based solely on material wealth, that person will be in difficulty all his or her life. “Do not pay too much attention to fame, power, and money,” he advised the graduates. “Some day,” he said, “you will meet a person who cares for none of these, and then you will know how poor you are.” (World of Stories. William J. Bausch)

What is it about the external that excites us? We indeed are attracted to appearances, to fame, power, and money. Today’s Gospel passage from Luke, set in its original context, is timely. But, the message is not a comfortable one. Jesus sounds ominous in his words of warning. The people are awed by the beauty of the temple which King Herod had built They gawk and stare in wonder at the construction with the same confidence that the builders of the Titanic proclaimed their ship “unsinkable.” They are mesmerized by appearance as we can often be about success, money and power.

But Jesus rains on their parade. He states, “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, he goes on later to speak of wars, insurrections, false prophets, terrifying movements in nature, nation against nation and kingdom against kingdom, persecution, and imprisonment.

I occasionally do wonder just how “good” the “good news” really is. This is no Sermon on the Mount or inspiring parable about the prodigal son! Here the words of Jesus seem very harsh. And in just about 40 years after his resurrection, that Temple was indeed destroyed by the Roman army in the destruction of Jerusalem, 70 A.D. All that remains is the famed “wailing wall” in Jerusalem today. For the ancient Jewish community it became a stark time of reassessment. Now that the Temple is gone, what does it mean to be a chosen people?

It seems that Our Lord is attempting to shake his audience out of complacency or false comfort. Only words of hope can sustain the followers of Jesus in the midst of such a gloom and doom image. In one sense we might summarize the words of Jesus today in the phrase, “Nothing new under the sun.”

Can you name a time in human history that does not speak of such events as Jesus describes in today’s Gospel? The history of humankind is that of war and peace; war and peace and everything that goes with that in the social order. I think we can safely comment that like it or not, this is the way life is this side of heaven.

In the midst of it all, Jesus’ words, “By your perseverance you will secure your lives,” were offered to a people who faced the worst of times and felt they lived in the worst of times. “Is this the end of it all?” the early Christians must have wondered as they saw their friends, family, and thousands of others who had come to believe in the Way Jesus taught, slaughtered by Christian-hating pagan rulers and thirsty crowds. What could possibly give them hope that their faith was not in vain?

As we come quickly to the end of our liturgical year next week with the Solemnity of Christ the King, we may hear these warnings in a different way than the early Christians who faced fearful opposition. However, we all know that the stuff of life can bring both joy and disappointment; good times and tough times to endure.

Here Jesus becomes not a prophet of doom but a sign of hope and comfort in the midst of the reality of life. In effect he is inviting those who will have their world shattered in what they thought was security, to keep their eyes and hearts fixed on him and to not despair or loose hope. To the ears of the early Christian martyrs and to our own generation today that advice is comforting but indeed stretches our faith.

The challenge Jesus puts before us today is a call to clear vision. Do we have enough faith to look beyond the crisis of our personal lives and the troubles in the world around us to see God’s strength in the midst of chaos? Our Christian witness demands that we take a stand somewhere and that we live by certain principles. If we honestly do so, we run into opposition, to rejection, to judgment by others. But, Christ is our hope and we like the early Christians, keep our eyes fixed on him.

Our Eucharist celebration proves that God can conquer darkness and be present with us not only in our joys but most especially in our times when we may be tempted to give up. What we need to do is check our own perspective and wonder if we are more concerned about appearance than substance.