"FIRST IMPRESSIONS"

33rd SUNDAY -C- NOVEMBER 13, 2022

Malachi 3: 19-20; Psalm 98;
2 Thessalonians 3: 7-12; Luke 21: 5-19

by Jude Siciliano, OP

Dear Preachers:

I never liked scary movies as a kid. As time has passed nothing has changed – I still don’t like them. I just don’t find it entertaining to be frightened out of my wits. Today’s gospel sounds like a script for a scary movie. If it were made into a movie not even Tom Cruise, in the hero’s role, could save the world from the destruction Jesus predicts. Talk about scary movies!

In our time Jesus’ description of the end seems to be happening. As I write this Russia has intensified its missile attacks on Ukranian cities and Putin is threatening nuclear attacks. Hurricane Ian has done terrible damage to Florida, and longtime residents there are wondering if they will ever be able to rebuild – which they have had to do in the past. Forest fires are spreading throughout the western states and so many others are parched from drought. What surely seems like a vision of the Apocalypse... the icebergs are melting and the seas are rising, threatening coastal cities around the world and islands in the Pacific. It doesn’t look good. A street preacher holding a sign reading, "The end is near!" might have a point.

Luke’s gospel, written about 50-60 years after Jesus’ life, death and resurrection was narrating what actually happened to Jesus’ followers: they were thrown out of their synagogues, imprisoned and brought before civil authorities, because they were followers of Christ. Passages like today’s must have encouraged and comforted them, as it might comfort us. When our world collapses, or events raise our fear levels, Jesus’ words help us see opportunities to live out of our faith and witness it to others. As Jesus summed it up: the endings, difficulties and persecutions, because of our faith, "will lead to your giving testimony." At the darkest times suffering can provide opportunities for us to express our hope. Which would raise questions from those around us, "Where do you get your strength from?" "What makes you so hopeful?" Just as Jesus said, this will "lead to your giving witness."

What was going through Jesus’ mind and what was on the disciples’ minds? If Luke is including the disciples with those who were admiring the Temple, then we know what was preoccupying them – the magnificence of the Temple and probably other worldly attractions. Herod may have been a cruel tyrant, but he was also a master builder and the Temple topped the list of his dazzling architectural achievements. Everyone who saw the Temple was awed by it.

Except Jesus, who predicted "the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down." Luke’s readers would know that what Jesus said had come true. In 70 CE the Romans destroyed the Temple, looted it and took its treasures back to Rome. Early Christians, recalling Jesus’ prediction and knowing what had happened, could put confidence in Jesus’ other words: that he would be with and enlighten his disciples when they endured the anticipated persecutions. "I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking that all your adversaries will be powerless to resist or refute."

It is another reminder that, after the resurrection, Jesus did not leave his disciples on their own during difficult times. He would be with them and enable them to persevere, "By your perseverance you will secure your lives." The reader of Luke’s gospel might go next to his sequel, the Acts of the Apostles, to see how Jesus’ words were fulfilled. In Acts his disciples were "handed over" to authorities, arrested, and gave testimony "before kings and governors." Just as Jesus had anticipated. They also manifested a wisdom that confounded their persecutors (Stephen in Acts 6:10), just as Jesus had promised.

The end time may still be far off, but Christians are persecuted right up to this present time. We can be reassured that even as we suffer for our faith, in big ways, or daily smaller trials, Christ has not left us on our own. We have the confidence of Jesus’ words that he will give his followers wisdom to witness to him and the strength to persevere. Through all the trials Christians have had to endure his promises have held: he has been with us and finally we will be totally safe in his hands. Jesus’ words are as relevant for us now as they were to his disciples. Is that what he means when he speaks the paradox, "Not a hair on your head will be destroyed"?

Despite all the disasters, false prophets and personal afflictions, Jesus speaks words of confidence for us. Can we rely on his words; can we be strengthened and patiently endure based on his words, when all else collapses around us?

The biblical narratives describe what has happened and, as in today’s gospel, what will happen. But we are not just reading the Scriptures for the sake of learning history, or predicting the future, but to learn how to interpret and respond to what is happening to us and our world today. We live within verses 12 – 19, the time during which Jesus says we are to give testimony. These are difficult times that can humble the believer, make us aware of the weakness of our faith, but also encourage us to fall back on Jesus and his promise to us that we will endure and "secure our lives" – or as another translation has it, "You will gain your souls."

Click here for a link to this Sunday’s readings:
https://bible.usccb.org/bible/readings/111322.cfm