Rubble from the Destruction of the Temple, 70 AD
First reading Malachi 3:19-20
Responsorial Psalm Psalm 97(98):5-9
Second reading 2 Thessalonians 3:7-12
Gospel Luke 21:5-19
One of the things we must always remember about the Word of God proclaimed by the Holy Scriptures, is that it is never just “once upon a time.” Rather, the Word of God is “alive and active” (Heb 4:12). Sure, the bible certainly describes things that happened once upon a time in the distant past, yet, as a general rule, it at once speaks of what is intensely and mysteriously present, whether obvious or hidden. The Gospel reading we’ve just heard is a perfect example. Our Lord predicts very concrete and specific events that have happened in what is now the distant past for us. He talks about the Jerusalem Temple, which was once “adorned with fine stonework and votive offerings,” foretelling a time in which “not a single stone will be left on another: everything will be destroyed.” Well, the destruction of the Jerusalem Temple happened in 70 AD, and has never since been rebuilt. He talks about “wars and insurrections,” which did in fact take place, leading to the sacking of Jerusalem. He predicts the persecution of his disciples, a time in which they will be handed over “to the synagogues and to imprisonment, and bring you before kings and governors because if my name…” – All of the apostles were indeed persecuted and martyred, except the apostle John, who died of old age.
Yet, while the things Jesus foretold would happen to the first generations of Christians have indeed taken place, they have continued to take place in every age. His word has remained present and true in the lives of Christians of every generation. Right now, there are wars and revolutions taking place, nation fighting against nation, there are earthquakes, plagues and famines here and there, there are faithful Catholic bishops –successors to the apostles– being dragged before “kings and governors” because of the name of Christ. Cardinal Zen of Hong Kong is a current example but by no means the only one. And if we look back throughout all of history since the time of Jesus, we see the fulfillment of his word time and time again, such that the words of Scripture are never locked in the past but always continuously and mysteriously present.
Now, I wish to suggest this is Good News! For if the Lord’s ominous warnings have remained continuously contemporary, so do Jesus’ words of assurance and encouragement regarding these frightening events. He says, “take care not to be deceived”; “do not be frightened”; “not a hair on your head will be lost”; “Your endurance will win you your lives.” There is, then, in every generation, an earnest call from Jesus to hold firm to him who is the Truth, and not to be deceived by those ideas, things and people who in every generation rise up and declare “I am he” – those which claim the place of truth and pretend to hold the key to our ultimate happiness. There is, also, in every generation, the earnest call not to allow fear to take hold of us such that we flee and look for refuge elsewhere than in God. We must remember that although the edifice of the temple which human beings attempt to built here on earth will be destroyed, such that not a stone will remain upon a stone, not a hair on the head of Christ’s body, the Church, to which we belong, will be lost. For that edifice is built by God and not by man. So long as we endure in the Barque of St Peter until the end, through all the frightful, painful and even scandalous events of history,“your endurance will win you your lives,” says the Lord.
Dear brothers and sisters, the Word of God is alive and active, here and now, continuously contemporary even as it was 2000 years ago. The question remains, do we know how to listen? The Word is spoken, but it has to be received. Are we people who listen? I’ll give you a hint, we can only be people who listen if we are people accustomed to silence and stillness, and if we are people who want to hear. We live increasingly noisy lives, lives of distraction, lives of frantic busyness such that we feel like we’ve got no time, that the weeks and months and years pass quickly. This “noise” shatters our ability to listen, to attend, to receive the Word being uttered to us by the Father in each passing moment. I firmly believe, dear friends, that this is devastating our capacity for the Kingdom of Heaven. For in heaven there is nothing to “do”. There’s no busyness, no distraction, no stimuli; there is only a single adoring gaze, an attending to, a total and perpetual reception of the Lord himself. How, then, will we be able to bear the weight of this gaze, of this uninterrupted communion with our Lord, if in this world we cannot sit still and silent, without external stimuli, and simply listen, attend, receive? My friends, I doubt whether we will be able to bear the intensity of the single, eternal moment of heaven if we cannot endure even its fragile influx while here on earth. “Your endurance will win you your lives”, says the Lord. We must learn, then, to endure and to embrace the present moment, in which the Lord speaks to us, rather than seek to escape it through work, entertainment and distraction. Let us begin to say, then, with the prophet Samuel, “speak Lord, your servant is listening” (1 Sam 3:9).