33d Sunday in Ordinary Time
Nov. 17, 2013
Luke 11: 5-19
A camping trip with Boy Scouts this weekend fell thru. Here’s the homily prepared for them.
“By your perseverance you will secure your lives” (Luke 21: 19).
For the last several weeks we’ve followed Jesus as he made his way up to Jerusalem. Mostly our Sunday gospels gave us some of the parables he told along the way—parables that help us on our journey thru life toward the New Jerusalem, i.e., eternal life in the Father’s home.
The last 2 Sundays, tho, we saw Jesus in Jericho, where he encountered the tax collector Zacchaeus and won his conversion, and finally in Jerusalem disputing with the Sadducees about the resurrection to eternal life.
This week we find Jesus teaching in the temple in Jerusalem. It’s already past Palm Sunday, and he’s in the last week of his earthly life, altho his disciples are clueless about that.
The disciples are admiring the splendid temple, home of the one true God, sign of God’s special relationship with the Jewish people, a sign—they trust—of permanence and endurance.
But Jesus predicts its utter destruction: “The days will come when there won’t even be one stone left upon another. It’ll all be thrown down” (cf. 21:6).
|The Siege and Destruction of Jerusalem by the Romans Commanded by Titus, by David Roberts|
To imagine that must have been more shocking to those who heard Jesus than for us to imagine NYC without the Twin Towers. As horrible as the destruction of the WTC was, and as much as our world has changed since that awful day, I don’t think anyone linked 9/11 to the impending end of the world.
But the end of the world might have seemed at hand for faithful Jews who contemplated the destruction of their magnificent temple, the dwelling place on earth of the living God. The gospels of Matthew, Mark, and Luke all make such a connection, and they warn us—as we heard from St. Luke tonite—of terrible events that “must happen first”: wars, “powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues … and awesome sights .. will come from the sky” (21:9-11).
That sounds like the times we’re in, doesn’t it? Guess what? There’s never been a time that didn’t know such afflictions, man-made ones like wars, genocides, and economic collapses, and natural ones like plagues, famines, hurricanes, and earthquakes.
St. Luke had the advantage of some hindsight as he wrote his gospel. He knew what Jesus had said about the temple, and he also knew that the prophecy had been essentially fulfilled in 70 A.D. when, after the Jews revolted against Rome, a Roman army besieged and starved the holy city for weeks, captured it, and burned it—destroying the temple except for what today we call the Western Wall or the Wailing Wall, which for Jews is the most sacred place in the world because it’s the last remnant of God’s house on earth.
Besides the historical event of the Jewish revolt and Jerusalem’s destruction, St. Luke had also seen political turmoil and war. The year from 68 to 69 A.D. saw 5 emperors because of a series of rebellions and coups d’etat. And he’d seen natural disasters like the eruption of Mt. Vesuvius in 79 A.D., which buried 2 cities under 75 feet of ash and lava in a burst of thermal energy 100,000 times that released by the atomic bomb on Hiroshima. You will “hear of wars and insurrections, and there will be powerful earthquakes, famines, and plagues and mighty signs from the sky,” indeed!
|Vesuvius from Portici, by Joseph Wright|
But for Christians there would be worse: “They will seize and persecute you, they will put you in prison, and they will lead you before kings and governors because of my name…, and they will put some of you to death. You will be hated by all because of my name” (21:12,16-17). In this world tortured by strife and war, by all kinds of natural disasters, Christians will also face persecution because they follow Jesus.
Luke had witnessed persecution firsthand as he traveled with St. Paul in the countries of the Eastern Mediterranean and on to Rome. He’d seen Paul put in jail, attacked by mobs, threatened with assassination, put on trial, and shipped off to Rome for more prison and court proceedings. Luke knew of Nero’s persecution in the 60s, in which Paul was beheaded, Peter crucified, and hundreds of ordinary Christians thrown to wild beasts and burned alive as public entertainment.
In all of this, Jesus tells his disciples not to be afraid, not to worry, to be faithful, to persevere. When challenged for their beliefs, Jesus will provide them with the wisdom to defend their faith verbally and the strength to stand fast against threats. He’ll be at their side.
That’s the kind of trust, the kind of faith, the kind of hope that sustains persecuted Christians today in China, in Pakistan, in Egypt, and in other places. It sustains us as we face a society that is becoming more and more hostile to our beliefs and to our moral values—consider how Tim Tebow has been mocked, for example—and that threatens us with legal proceedings if we preach and practice Christian morality.
There’s tremendous pressure on us from society—from the media, from popular entertainment, from the educational system, from the laws, from peer pressure—for us to buy into an individual kind of morality: everyone decides for himself what’s right or wrong, everything is OK as long as it doesn’t hurt anyone (“hurt” being very subjectively defined, and if it feels good, do it.
N.Y. Sen. Daniel Patrick Moynihan once said, “Everyone is entitled to his own opinion, but not his own facts.” You can’t make your own law of gravity; it’s a fact you have to live with, and if you defy it you may kill yourself. You can’t decide that 2+2=5 and think that reality will conform to your wishes. Likewise, human nature and the laws of nature are realities—and so is God and our status as God’s creatures. We don’t decide what’s right and wrong, e.g., in the matter of the dignity of every human person (racism or genocide will always be wrong, regardless of anyone’s opinion or any law), or in the matter of abortion (it’s a biological fact that what’s conceived is a human being, and no amount of pro-choice rhetoric and no Supreme Court decision can change that), or in the matter of sexual morality, or in the matter of what marriage is.
We Christians have taken and will continue to take a lot of heat and scorn and maybe more from sticking by our faith and its true teachings. Jesus commands us, nevertheless, to “give testimony” (21:13), to give witness that he and only he is the standard of truth. Only he has risen from the dead, and only he can save the world from death: “not a hair on your head will be destroyed [by everlasting death]. By your perseverance you will secure your lives” (21:18).