November 17, 2019
XXXIII Sunday in Ordinary Time, Year C
Even though the passage of today’s Gospel (Lk 21:5-19) does not immediately follow, in the account of Luke, that of last Sunday (Lk 20:27-38), it would help to consider them together.
We are still in the Temple, and by now the disputes with the leaders of the people, the scribes and the Sadducees are finished. In this chapter, which precedes the account of the Passion, Jesus invites His disciples to be vigilant because the times for which they are preparing are hard.
The occasion prompting this reflection of Jesus comes from some who are stopping to speak about the beauty of the Temple, its costly stones and votive offerings (Lk 21:5). Well – says Jesus – that’s all true, but the Temple is not eternal; indeed, the days will come, when there will be practically nothing of all this beauty (Lk 21:6). The Temple is beautiful, but it will not last forever.
Last Sunday, we listened to the account of the woman who married seven different husbands, we heard the account of a barren life that, despite all the attempts permitted and suggested by the Law, was unable to conquer death.
Today, we see a Temple, a sacred space that, despite all its beauty, cannot bear the brunt of time and so cannot be truly a place of salvation.
In that case, where to look for salvation, where to rest one’s life in the difficult times announced by the Messiah? Jesus’ answer is paradoxical and says that we cannot recognize the fulfillment of the Kingdom by the fact that all is well, that things are working, that we are getting it right. Like the beautiful stones of the Temple, nothing remains of it all. On the contrary, we are always able to recognize the presence of the Kingdom of the Father by a single sure sign, namely, the fact that the disciples encounter difficulty and persecution.
It would be natural to think the contrary, and to judge the Kingdom by human criteria of success and handling it. Jesus, instead, reminds His disciples to pay attention not to fall into the trap of success, and it is on this that they must be vigilant and not deceived. New sight is necessary as that of the blind man Jesus encountered at the gates of Jericho (Lk 18:35-42).
If the eye is sick, it gets confused, it does not see where the Lord makes Himself present and instead sees Him where He is not (“many will come in my name, saying, ‘I am he,’ and ‘The time has come.’ Do not follow them” Lk 21:8).
Where instead do His disciples encounter the Lord? Wherever they go through trial (Lk 21:12 – “they will seize and persecute you”) and go through it without fear, without the worry of having to defend themselves (“You will then have the opportunity to give witness”), with the trust that the Father also watches over even the smallest detail of their lives (“But not even a hair of your heads will be destroyed” Lk 21:18).
Persecution is in some way necessary because it is a sign of the new thinking, which the world does not recognize as its own and so rejects it. It’s necessary but it’s not the last word, it’s not everything because only in persecution can Christians witness that they belong to the Lord. They are not recognized by other marks except by this ability to go through trial without fear of dying.
All this, however, does not come from them, from their power or ability: “I will give you wisdom in speaking” (Lk 21:15). It is a gift that simply must be welcomed, but precisely because it is a gift, this ability is sure, stable, definitive, unlike the beautiful stones of the Temple, which do not stand the test of time and the violence of men.
Then it is a matter of being vigilant, which does not mean trying in every way to avoid pain, rejection, death. Au contraire, we remain fragile, free from the obsession of having to always get away with anything, of having to be saved from ourselves, of never having to make mistakes. We are free from the idolatry of our ego, from having to look after the appearance like the beautiful stones of the Temple. Free from the idea that suffering is wrong, that weakness is frustrating, and able to recognize how, in our weak humanity, the Lord unites us to Himself.