November 13, 2016
XXXIII Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Today’s Gospel opens with an image of destruction and closes with a consolation.
The image of destruction is about the Temple: Jesus is inside, and “some disciples” are admiring its beauty and splendor. And Jesus says to them, ““All that you see here—the days will come when there will not be left a stone upon another stone that will not be thrown down.” (Lk 21:6) Then this first image of desolation develops into a series of equally dramatic images (earthquakes, famine, persecution …), which seem to dominate the entire passage, and do not seem to give hope, nor respite.
But suddenly there is a breach and the final image is of a completely different tone: Jesus warns his disciples that they will live in difficult times, “but not a hair on their head will be destroyed” (Lk 21:18).
How can these two images go together? What does Jesus mean?
First of all, Jesus is speaking not so much of a future and distant time, but of late, the time preceding the end, between the Ascension to the Parousia (Second Coming). He does not speak about extraordinary events, particularly difficult or remote times. He is speaking of our time, the time of the Church, of our daily life.
And Jesus does not cast illusions upon his disciples, he knows that these will be difficult moments, as life is often difficult.
Jesus does not linger in unnecessary details, and does not respond to disturbing questions of those who, faced with this prospect, immediately wants to know when and how it will happen.
Jesus, on the other hand, makes an effort to tell us how to live during this period of trial. He does not focus on the future but on the present because this is the time during which we can take action and prepare for the future.
He simply says that we need to face this challenging time and not flee: “by your perseverance, you will save your lives” (Lk 21:19), that is, moving forward without holding on to anything, without looking for an escape, alibi, or even special privileges.
At a time when so many certitudes collapse (even that sacred certainty that is the Temple), the only possibility of life is taking the time to move forward without avoiding anything.
This is why Jesus warns against certain temptations or illusions.
The first is to follow anyone who comes in His name (Lk 21:8), offering an easy solution for the paradox of life and suffering. In particularly dark moments, these people increase in number, and the temptation is particularly attractive.
The second is the illusion of knowing the times (Lk 21:7), to know how the story will end, but this is not in our hands, and the desire to know the future is the best way to escape the present.
Then there is the temptation to rely on one’s own efforts: it is when Jesus says, you are not to prepare your defense beforehand (Lk 21:14), and not to pretend that what we do by ourselves will be enough to survive the ordeal.
Finally, there is the temptation to despair, to fear (Lk 21:9), when the trial seems too great, when there is no hope, and we give up …
In fact, all these “erroneous” ways of behavior in the story are only ways of escaping, attempts to avoid the problem, to declare the game is over without ever playing.
The invitation of Jesus is quite different, in fact, he invites us to persevere. But how do we move forward in the midst of adversities? It is possible, if one enters as Jesus entered into his passion.
The words with which Jesus describes the tribulations to the disciples, closely resemble the three declarations of the passion (Luke 9:22, 9:44, 18:31). But for Jesus, the statements about the passion are also announcements of his resurrection, so it will, of course, be the same for the disciples.
The important thing is to move forward with the same confidence that Jesus has in the Father, confident that the story is in His hands, and that nothing will be lost.
Jesus assures us of one thing: “I myself shall give you a wisdom in speaking” (Lk 21:15), I will not leave you alone, I will be with you and in you.
Then it is precisely during the time of trial, at the moment when God seems most absent, that it will be the moment to experience more closely the consolation of the Lord. It will be the time of testimony, until the Lord returns (Lk. 21:27).