33rd Sunday Year C – Lectio divina on Lk 21,5-19
Today’s gospel reading is bound to surprise us: it is not often that the words of Jesus seem so far removed from the normal concerns of our daily lives. What interest do we have in the destruction of the temple in Jerusalem? Are we really interested in an incident that happened more than two thousand years ago? Who worries today that the end of the world is near? It is true there are voices that proclaim that disaster is imminent. They see the current difficulties as a bad omen. There is always someone who thinks that things are bad and will get worse. But these predictions do not convince us. We are so accustomed to seeing today the same as yesterday, and so convinced that we have already seen it all, that we do not expect anything different. We do not fear the worst, because the present is already bad enough, and we do not expect the best, because we have learned to be content with what we have. And, so as not to be disappointed, we have stopped hoping. It was not like that at the time of Jesus, nor at the beginning of the church. Jesus and the early Christians were convinced that the end of the world was coming and they feared the day of universal judgment. They were already faithful but they wanted and expected to be confirmed in their fidelity.
At that time: 5 As some spoke of the temple, how it was adorned with noble stones and offerings, Jesus said 6 “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.” 7 And they asked him, “Teacher, when will this be, and what will be the sign when this is about to take place?” 8 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 hand!’ 9 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.” 10 Then he said to them, “Nation will rise against nation, and kingdom against kingdom; 11 there will be great earthquakes, and in various places famines and pestilences; and there will be terrors and great signs from heaven. 12 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. 13 This will be a time for you to bear testimony. 14 Settle it therefore in your minds, not to meditate beforehand how to answer; 15 for I will give you a mouth and wisdom, which none of your adversaries will be able to withstand or contradict. 16 You will be delivered up even by parents and brothers and kinsmen and friends, and some of you they will put to death; 17 you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. 18 But not a hair of your head will perish. 19 By your endurance you will gain your lives.
I. Read : understand what the text is saying, focusing on how it says it
A simple observation by the disciples as they were going to the temple (Luke 21:5) led to a hard and unexpected sermon from Jesus (Lk 21:36). It was perfectly reasonable that some Galileans arriving in Jerusalem, should be astounded at the magnificence of the temple, even though the building was not yet finished. At the time Luke was writing, the fall of Jerusalem and the destruction of the temple had already happened. His readers knew that the words of Jesus had already come true.
Jesus has a different way of seeing things. He does not trust the appearances of this world, no matter how impressive they may seem (Luke 21:6). He contemplates reality as it is in the eyes of God. The listeners’ reaction is clear. They are concerned about the when and the how. They want to know when the end will happen, and what signals will tell them that it is about to happen (Lk 21:7). Without answering their questions, Jesus describes three situations, warning his listeners in time how they should react. First, he says, the last day will be preceded by false prophets and messiahs who will upset believers by foretelling wars and revolutions, events that will not lead to the end, but will anticipate it (Lk 21.8-9 ). In the second stage, the situation will become frightening. Evil will reign on earth. The disciples will be persecuted “for his name’s sake”, not because they are bad but because they are faithful witnesses. This will be the time of extreme witness, during which Christ himself will be their advocate (Lk 21,10-15). At the end, division and disaffection will triumph over true believers. Even people related to them, and those they love most, will hate them, torture them and kill them. Then, and only then, will the prescribed time have come, the time of endurance. Jesus pledges himself to protect them on that day. Even if they lose their lives they will not perish. (Luke 21.16-19). Today’s Gospel should not terrify us, but we should take it seriously. Bad and all as we are, and no matter what evils we suffer or dread, God will take care of us, even to the most insignificant detail. All that we are and all that we have is of interest to him, and all will be saved … provided we are faithful, even if we are betrayed by the people closest to us.
II. MEDITATION: apply what the text says to life
The enthusiasm the disciples felt when they saw the temple, as Galileans who had just arrived in Jerusalem, prompted Jesus to speak. They had good reason for their enthusiasm. The temple of Jerusalem was the most imposing and magnificent building of the whole city. The inhabitants were proud to have God in their midst and had never ceased, down through the centuries, to beautify the place where he dwelt. Jesus, however, was not impressed by its present splendour because he knew with certainty that it faced future ruin. And it was indeed destroyed. Then, as now, a world that opposes Jesus, rejecting his gospel and his person, a world where God has no place, is a world without a future.
Jesus’ contemporaries were convinced that their lives had been spared by their God. They were sure that God was always available to them in the temple, waiting for them whenever they went to visit him. He was not going to refuse them when they approached. They thought they could never lose him because they knew where to find him. But they did lose him because they looked for him only in the temple of Jerusalem. They failed to recognize him every day in their own lives and in the world. Jesus warns us today, with unusual severity, that there is no future for a world that locks God away, even if it is in a beautiful temple. The world and the temples of those who turn away from God and fail to appreciate him, have disappeared in the past and will disappear in the future.
Do we, today, close God away in beautiful temples? Do we think he dwells only in holy places, far away from our daily lives and our concerns?, We believe that God exists and is close to us. If we do not feel the need to wait for God, or feel that God is waiting for us, and if we do not worry too much about seeking God and His will, it is because we delude ourselves that we know where God is to be found.
We believe that God remains always in the place where we put him. We think if we keep him in one place, we will not have to look for him anywhere else. By closing him up in a temple, we expect him always to do our will. We feel that we do not have to do his will in the places where we think he is not present. A world where God is not present in everyday life, but locked away in a beautiful temple, has no future. No matter how magnificent it may, no temple can be beautiful or attractive for us, if it is the only place we look for God.
The destruction of the temple, the dwelling place of God, as foretold by Jesus, implies the disappearance of a world in which there was no place for God. It was a great tragedy for a people who had lost everything else but still had this corner where they were sure they could find their God. Jesus could therefore make a twofold prophecy in a single discourse – the destruction of the temple signals the end of a world without God. Knowing that this will cause perplexity and sorrow, Jesus tells his disciples to pay no attention to those who make false predictions. Catastrophe and persecution are the two signs that will precede his second coming.
When he tell his disciples what is going to happen, Jesus prepares them for when it does happen. Betrayal and hatred will separate the disciple from his own family, but fidelity to Christ comes before any other loyalty. In this way, Christians who wait for the coming of the Lord, learn that their home is the place where the Lord will come, and that their hearts belong to the Lord who is to come. The disciple can wait for the Lord’s coming without having to rely on others and without looking for any signs other than those foretold by Jesus.
Jesus does not want to cause unnecessary alarm with his horrendous foretelling of the end that is to come. God does not want to destroy the world where he is present, and where his will is done, but he will crush the world where he is ignored and forgotten. As Christians, we should look forward in fervent hope to this intervention of God, not because we want the destruction of all we have achieved in this life, but because we look forward to the certainty of not losing God forever. The evil that afflicts us at present, and the evil we fear in the future, the tribulations we endure, the hatred we suffer – all these have no future. They will come to a certain end if we live today in the world of God, making God the Lord of our lives, the only master of our little world, in our families and in our hearts.
We should pay no attention to those who try to convince us that the end is near. We have no need to listen to the predictions of soothsayers. We have God in our world and we do not want to lose what God has in store for us. We know that God is close to our lives and he has no wish to take our life away from us. Anyone who remains faithful to God in this present world, nourishes hope for a better world. For the faithful, and only for them, the end of the world will be the end of their tribulations, the reward of their efforts, and the triumph of their perseverance.
To help us to be faithful, Jesus has told us in advance that misfortune and persecution will precede the end. He has warned us that this world can become inhospitable and hostile to God’s friends. This is the most frightening thing, the thing we find hardest to understand and accept. Christians cannot feel totally happy in a world where God is not present . If we spend our days seeking selfishly the best for ourselves, then we will lose God here and in the world to come.
When Jesus speaks about persecution and ill-treatment by those near to us, including even family members and friends, he is telling us to put our trust only in God. The one who has suffered the betrayal of his loved ones, knows that he belongs only to God, and that with God we lack nothing, and have nothing more to wish for.
Believers, like Jesus, are always in the place where God is. Their home is where God dwells. Knowing that their world is also the world of God, they are not afraid of having to suffer, because they know they will not suffer forever. God is in the family of those who lose their family members because of him. If our hearts belong to God, if our desires and plans are for the God who lives among us, we will find brothers and sisters among those who do the will of God, and we will have nothing to fear. The end of the world will only be the end of our sufferings. God is committed to our salvation and we will not lose God in our world because, for those who remain faithful to God, the end of this world is the definitive encounter with God. The only good this world has to offer is the certainty that God is present in our world and He is close to us. For as long as we live in him, we will be safe under his gaze and sure of his loving care.