November 13, 2022 at St. Peter & Saint William Parishes in Naples, FL
Malachi 3, 19-20 + Psalm 98 + 2 Thessalonians 3, 7-12 + Luke 21, 5-19
About forty-six years before the birth of Jesus, Herod the Great, looking for favor and admiration from the people began refurbishing the Temple. It was not because he was a holy man or necessarily because it needed it, but because he wanted to impress everyone with his vision and power. Archeologists tell us that some of the granite stones as big as boxcars were cut with such precision that they fit together so well there was no need for mortar. The episode in this Gospel today takes place on a hill just opposite the hill on which Jerusalem is built with the Temple sitting there like crown. The sun reflecting off the brilliant white marble made the Temple visible or miles. To imagine Jerusalem without the Temple or to imagine that Temple coming down would have been impossible. It would be like us trying to imagine Washington without the Capital Building or the Washington Monument, like New York City without the Statue of Liberty. Yet, because of what Jerusalem had become and how the Temple had become a place of commerce and the domain of the Scribes and Pharisees, Jesus knew it would come down. It did not take any divine knowledge to believe that. Just about 40 years after Jesus said these things, it happened.
A thirty-year-old roman general named Titus stood just about where Jesus was and with sixty or eighty thousand men, and he starved the city into submission. Historians tell us that when the Romans finally entered the city they found that the Jews there had been fighting among themselves. Fanatics, extreme nationalists, and bandits held control of various parts of the city. Enraged at the stubborn behavior of those citizens, Titus allowed the soldiers to sack, burn, and destroy that Temple carrying off everything they found of value.
Luke wrote shortly after this disaster, and the signs he recorded had already happened. The false messiahs, wars, earthquakes, plagues, and persecutions happened before he wrote. Judaism had excommunicated Christians from synagogues, families were betraying each other, Mt Vesuvius had cast darkness over much of the Mediterranean world, and the Roman persecutions had begun. We could ask why Luke writes like this and certainly wonder what are we to do about it, and these are questions we ought to ask.
The answer to the first question is there in the text. Luke writes to people living at critical times with words of hope for the future and a wisdom that will guide human life. Rather than be frightened by whatever tragedy is happening, we cannot miss those words: “Not a hair on your head will be destroyed.” Those tragedies, that fear, that violence from the time of Luke still goes on. The World Trade Center came down, children are running wild with guns shooting their parents and friends. War and rumors of dirty bombs are still a reality. Christians are still persecuted for their faith even here at home. The church itself is torn apart by those refusing to listen to the Holy Spirit, and this country is ripped into red states and the blue states. Luke’s comforting message must still be proclaimed.
And the answer to the second question is found in the wisdom of God’s Word: “By your perseverance you will secure your lives.” This kind of endurance is an essential quality of discipleship. There is no measuring the good that has failed to happen in this world because of hesitation, faltering and wavering cowardice. Fear keeps people quiet and timid. This cannot be so for us. It was never so for Jesus Christ, and it cannot be so for those of us who claim his name. We endure all things as Saint Paul wrote because of love which is patient and kind. It is never jealous, pompous or rude. It does not seek its own interest. It does not brood over injury but rejoices with the truth. It bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.