[Sunday Gospel, November, 17th 2013]
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?”
He answered, “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.”
Jesus’ lessons from Luke’s Gospel before the Passion end with an urgent and severe speech, which is called “eschatological discourse” because it refers to the end of time –from the Greek “éschatos”, “last”). It all starts with some absent-minded disciples who valued the beauty outside Jerusalem’s temple, built by Herod the Great’s order over decades. It was one of the largest and more impressive buildings and it fascinated the pilgrims who went to Jerusalem every year, specially during Easter.
Jesus insists –as many other times – that they should not be carried along by appearances. The temple’s greatness does not rely on its beautiful stones or rich ornaments. The apparent beauty will be destroyed. In fact, less than forty years later, Jerusalem and its temple were destroyed in the war against the Romans.
The temple’s destruction was a catastrophe for the Jewish faith and culture. It primarily meant that God had abandoned them, reproached their sin and asked them to convert to the greater punishment that a Jew could imagine. At least, this is the interpretation given by the prophets when the temple was destroyed by the Babylonians centuries before. A contemporary Jewish writer, Flavius Josephus, who lived himself the siege of Jerusalem and its destruction, told that a voice was heard in the temple shortly before the Roman assault announcing that God was leaving that place.
Then, the disciples asked in surprise: When will it be? How will we know?
Jesus replied that they were misguided again. The disciples wanted to be ready for that moment; so, if they have clear signs of its arrival, they could breathe a sigh of relief until the signs began. Jesus remarked that this attitude is wrong. It is not about driving slower when there may be a radar detector, but it is about prudence and attention at all times. Similarly, Jesus is trying to tell his disciples that they shouldn’t look for signs of the end of times because they would be exposed to teasing and taunting. “Don’t let yourselves be deceived”: all that matters is perseverance.
When Luke’s community remembered the words of Jesus, they were living a very tense moment. Many of them expected that Jesus’ definitive coming –his return in glory – would happen soon. They cared for recognizing the signs and came to believe that they were the wars between countries or the persecutions they suffered. Luke is clear that: the end will not come right away, and that the difficulties are overcome with perseverance and Jesus’ support.
Difficulties are real, that’s why Christians can not be naïve. There exists evil, suffering and pain in the world. Using expressions of his time, Jesus describes the end as the accumulation of all evil: wars –caused by men; earthquakes –manifestation of a damaged and fragile nature; plague –a disease which damaged the weakest; and famine –to which not even the strong ones could survive.
It seems that Jesus is finally answering directly to his disciples’ question, but he replies in such a general way that he is just saying that the whole creation “is groaning in labor pains” waiting the new era (Romans 8:22).
Suddenly, Jesus goes back and says: “but before all that…” focusing on the Christian community’s suffering. That was not the question, but it was the topic Luke was interested in. The community has already had the experience of persecution, complaints from close relatives, witnesses of fidelity to the Gospel in painful situations, and probably defections also in case of difficulty.
The message is clear: “all this does not happen because God has forgotten about you, but because you shall be witnesses of the Gospel to the whole world.”
Moreover, Jesus himself will give you the words that you will say and he will be by your side. He just needs that you trust him thoroughly.
After all the calamities described, today’s text finishes with a call to hope: “not a hair on your head will be destroyed.” How can this be, if the text previously said that some will be killed? It is because not even death will be able to separate Jesus’ disciples from him. Jesus himself will pass through it and rise, as the first among many brethren.
That’s why Jesus can say: “don’t be led by the ephemeral beauty; don’t worry about the day or hour of the end of time. You should pay attention to the essence: perseverance, endurance, fidelity, trust. I am with you.”
Translated by: Rocío González Romero